Malaysia faces low female participation in STEM sectors

Malaysia faces low female participation in STEM sectors

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The Star has reported that women made up less than half of the graduates in Malaysia when it comes to engineering and technology in 2015. In the report, Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM) fellow prof Datuk Dr Halimaton Hamdan said: “Long-time stereotyping has made women feel like they’re not as valued as their male counterparts.”

“This led to self-doubt. Women are also seen as not good enough, and not suitable, for these roles,” she continued. However, she clarified that there is no gender bias in the supply of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) talent.

Dr Halimaton’s concern was that the lower female participation in STEM would mean fewer female role models for girls. She informed that this would affect young women’s choices for furthering their career in STEM sectors.

Adding on, she said that this was one of the greatest barriers to attracting females into occupations that may traditionally be viewed as predominantly male.

“STEM must be the driver of the innovation economy to fuel the future and enhance our social wellbeing,” she commented.

Dr Halimaton said that STEM occupations for women should not be confined to “traditional” jobs like mechanical and electrical engineering. She remarked: ““Software programmers, data scientists, statisticians and systems analysts are also in demand. The right ecosystem to cultivate a STEM workforce is needed. This must start in schools.”

To spur interest in science and mathematics, ASM has started inquiry-based science education in Selangor, Sabah, Kedah and Terengganu.

“Teachers from selected schools are trained to carry out interesting ways of learning. It’s very different from the traditional classroom method,” said Dr Halimaton.

Students are also being sent for industry attachment and training. Encouraging both the public and private sectors to contribute to enhance teacher education, she recommends teachers to be trained in “gender responsive teaching strategies”. She believes that female and male students can develop their full potential in STEM-related subjects this way.

“Such interventions could include teacher recruitment and training policies,” she said.

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Previously on 6 July, deputy education minister Datuk P. Kamalanathan said only 47% of school students opted for the science stream – short of the targeted 60:40 ratio of science and technical stream students to arts students.

He stated that the National STEM Transformation Plan 2017-2025 was expected to be completed by this year or early next year to address the declining number of students joining the science stream and taking up STEM courses for their tertiary education.

Despite substantial investment in STEM education, the nation’s first Science Outlook report showed that interest among students is dropping. Malaysia had set a target ratio of 60:40 science-to-non-science students at the upper secondary school level. However, the ratio of science to non-science students was 48:52 (in 2010) and in 2014, the ratio stood at 47:53 with 29% of Form Five students enrolled in the pure science stream.

Dr Halimaton said the challenge was to increase the number of students in STEM to achieve the 60:40 ratio by 2020. She said: “There are no specific programmes to promote STEM among girls.”

“But there are some policies and initiatives that must be put in place by the education sector to stimulate STEM interest among both male and female students,” she continued.

The 2015 ASM’s Science Outlook Report highlighted that only 21% of students who sat for the PMR were eligible to be enrolled into the science stream in 2014 - showing that interest in science and mathematics is decreasing in schools.

Photo / 123RF

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