I highlight briefly the most interesting sessions of the 3rd and 4th day of the World Conference on Science and Technology Education (WorldSTE2013).
Dr. Azian Abdullah discussed the Malaysia’s Education Blueprint, aimed enhancing the quality of STEM education and aiming at achieving developed nation status by 2020. The country spurred into action on its education system after sharp drops in the international TIMSS and PISA (PISA+ 2009) rankings for science and maths and alarming signals from employers:
”The growing mismatch between the supply of skills and the requirements of various industries in the local market is a reflection of the inadequacy of the country’s education system in producing the relevant human capital that can drive the country’s economy in this globalised, new world order,” (2010) (1)
- Some interesting elements in the blueprint:
- The blueprint contains a set of clear targets and SMART indicators.
- Strong attention for early-childhood education, aiming at a 80% enrolment by 2020.
- International benchmarks to assess the quality of education are deemed more reliable than the local exams by the Ministry of Education itself.
- Strong attention for achievement gaps between rural and urban areas, socio-economic groups and gender.
- Focus on the efficiency component of educational quality.
- Explicit attention for fostering shared values and experiences by embracing diversity between the three main ethnic groups in Malaysia (Chinese, Malay, Indian).
The situational analysis complementing the plan shows:
- Lack of awareness about STEM education with parents and students, e.g. about career prospects. Parents prefer law, business, accounting (as in Cambodia!).
- Content oriented curriculum: a lot of teaching to the high-stake exams, as teachers are rewarded based on exam scores.
- Although scientific inquiry been officially promoted since the 1960s, teacher-centred pedagogies continue to prevail. North’s Framework of Institutional Change or Engeström’s Activity Theory would be very suitable to analyse this!)
Some interesting action points include
- Changing timetables to give teachers more time to plan lessons collaboratively and engage in Communities of Practice.
- Installation of school improvement specialist coaches (SICS+) in low-performing primary and secondary schools who act as mentors and coaches and deliver professional development.
- Compulsory testing of teachers in their content and pedagogical skills. (This raises the question what knowledge a teacher exactly needs to have in order to teach well, better to organize accountability on the school level instead of the individual level.)
- Campaign to educate public about STEM career opportunities
- Mobile science centres to access rural and remote schools
- The plan contains strong encouragement to study sciences. Students with good results are (almost) compelled to study sciences, as parents of selected students need to apply to the Ministry to ask permission to something else.
- Tax relief for parents with children doing stem subjects!
The problem analysis and suggested solutions were clearly laid out. The impression is really that of a decisive attempt to improve the quality of its education system, focusing on efficiency, learning outcomes and equity. The policy focus of the presentation was welcome and extremely relevant for the Cambodian delegation, as it faces similar problems (although in at a different level of development).