Situated along the winding roads of Jalan Ranau, swallowed up by lush greeneries and almost amongst the cloud mist, is the small but mighty SK Koporingan. A modest school with only 59 students and 13 staff teachers, SK Koporingan has taken great strides in being recognised as one of the “Cluster Schools of Excellence” in Tuaran and the country.
It is a merit-based recognition granted to schools that are outstanding in their school administration and students’ performance. Upon entering the school compound, visitors would be greeted by bulletins of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-related knowledge and programmes carried out by the school.
SK Koporingan strives for excellence in STEM. Last year, the school won the Asian Science and Mathematics Olympiad for Primary Schools (ASMOPS) at the national level and represented the country in Thailand. Five out of 10 students who sat for UPSR achieved an “A” in science, with 100 per cent passes. Similarly this year the school already has a series of STEM competitions and programs lined up for the students.
Alice Kaling, who has a solid 18 years of experience as a science educator, has just set foot at the school two months ago. On one Monday morning, during one of her science lessons for a Standard Five class, she took out a box and told her pupils that the box contained some gulis. She then shook the box at different speeds, from shaking gently (slow), to vigorously (fast). The students listened attentively to the sounds made by the gulis.
Alice asked her class to form a hypothesis – how would the movement of box affect the sound made by gulis? Would a faster movement produce a larger sound?
This warm-up activity may seem ordinary, but Alice has been using the Inquiry-Based Science Education (IBSE) approach. She piqued her audience’s scientific curiosity by encouraging them to use their senses to make observations, form an assumption and allow them to test out the hypothesis. They were also taught to make good notes, an essential skill of a good scientist. One needs to have organised and clear records of their experiments.
This activity would also allow Alice to guide her pupils deeper into a science topic, such as, how are loud and soft sounds produced? Therefore IBSE is about allowing students to take charge of their own learning, facilitated by the teacher, and to stimulate curiosity and imagination.
Alice Kaling is one of the 40 “Duta Sains” or “Science Ambassadors” from 25 schools in Tuaran, an on-going initiative by MOSTI through the Academy of Sciences Malaysia beginning 2016. These STEM teachers have undergone 60 hours of training in IBSE. In November 2016, two French IBSE experts Professor Yves Quere and Ms Ann Laperdrix were invited to conduct a five-day IBSE training workshop in Kota Kinabalu.
The International Science, Technology and Innovation Centre for South-South Cooperation under the auspices of UNESCO (ISTIC) has been a strong proponent of IBSE through fostering international collaborations and conducting workshops. In early 2017, ISTIC initiated a Malaysia-France Primary Science Teacher Exchange Programme, by supporting two primary science teachers to spend a week at the La Cave Elementaire school, Paris. Alice was one of the participants.
They observed first-hand how IBSE was practised in various classrooms, how to be resourceful in their preparation for lessons, and understanding the support mechanism for IBSE.
Upon her return, Alice has been passionately training and sharing her experience with fellow teachers. And now IBSE has arrived at SK Kopisangan.
Yet science enculturation does not stop at schools. At the national level, we have just concluded our very first National Science Week (1st – 7th April). Response from the public was overwhelming.
In the week-long celebration of science, eight ministries, 115 government agencies, 53 institutes of higher learning, 91 organisations from the private sector, 13 NGOs, 253 schools and 38 media organisations worked hand-in-hand toward its success. Alas I am pleased that we recorded more than 88,000 visitors at the country’s first National Science Week!
The activities revolved around piquing visitors’ interest in STEM and to promote critical thinking. For instance, visitors had the opportunity to meet accomplished scientists and know more about their fields; participate in workshops and shows that demonstrated scientific concepts; get their hands on latest technologies like Virtual Reality; learn more about our natural world at the flora exhibition and petting zoo.
Perhaps the most memorable event for 1,740 schoolchildren from Year Five to Form Two was their involvement in producing 1,700 mini-insect robots. These robots made it to the Malaysia Book of Records as the Largest Exhibition of Mini-Insect Robots, which was on display at the National Science Centre in Bukit Kiara, Kuala Lumpur.
We have made considerable progress in advocating STEM among students but more needs to be done. In the coming years, I hope to see the setting up of Sabah’s very own Science Centre, the continuity of the fantastic Science Ambassadors programme and the establishment of the National STEM Centre.
We place heavy emphasis on STEM and the IBSE approach to assure the supply of inquisitive secondary school graduates for STEM courses in universities. Ultimately, we want to nurture a generation of job creators. Equipped with STEM skills and knowledge, they would be pioneers of new industries that are crucial to drive the national economy.
Special thanks to the following who have contributed toward this article:
Dato Lee Yee Cheong, Honorary Chairman, ISTIC.
Alice Kaling, SK Koporingan.
Ernayati and Hani, Pejabat Pendidikan Daerah Tuaran.
Amirul Ikhzan, Academy of Sciences Malaysia.
Pusat Sains Negara.