Enhancing computational thinking and STEM education

Computational thinking skills are required to solve many quantitative and data-centric problems, and to solve problems in the real world.

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Published by EMIR Research, image from Malaysiakini.

To ensure a smooth transition to attaining the vision of Malaysia 5.0 which is a society-driven phenomenon featuring the convergence between the digital and physical spaces, it is important and essential to spark more computational thinking (CT), along with accelerating solid initiatives in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in the early stages of education.

This is because these are crucially required for future developments in our country, particularly the developments in technology towards the 4th Industrial Revolution such as Big Data Analytics, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and Robotics.

To increase the efforts of instilling an approach to promote problem-solving and Higher Order Thinking Skills among students, more research still needs to be done as the CT skills are not completely explored due to constraints of time, misconceptions and over-emphasis on exams.

Some few flaws can be found in the implementation phase and it is expected that any problems that have hampered the process over the past few years can be addressed by the related authorities.

Some of the improvements for teacher training, modular facilities and technological materials should be made to be relatively in line with the growth of technological knowledge for the current generation of students and towards education 4.0.

A study conducted by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia shows that the relationship between them was statistically significant and indicates that mathematical logic teaching should be considered as improving their CT skills.

Besides, the culture of the classroom is an important factor to consider for enhancing the implementation of STEM subjects in education to increase the interest of students in the subjects.

CT was introduced into the Malaysian syllabus in 2017 to improve creative thinking skills among students but the progress was not convincing and the focus needs to be currently more on leading the CT to drive towards attaining Malaysia 5.0.

Our country’s aspiration to infuse CT skills through lessons for the better achievement of students has also been emphasised in Education Blueprint 2013-2025 and the seventh transition in the education transformation programme.

Moreover, the study conducted by Universiti Teknikal Malaysia Melaka has also shown that most teachers have a poor understanding of CT.

CT skills and STEM education are mostly taught at tertiary level, and this requires a mindset change so as not to rely too much on the higher education system to instil all the skills needed for future challenges.

It is also important to equip students with the foundations of CT, its advantages and usefulness and also its real-life practices, especially at the grassroots level, to grow the potential talents of our young generations.

And not only do computer scientists need CT skills, but our young generations also need to be properly trained in these skills as a stepping stone for Malaysia to move in line with other developed countries such as Norway and Switzerland.

What’s under CT and STEM education?

Coursera, a worldwide online learning network providing vast open online classes, specialisations, and degrees describe CT as the process of systematically solving a problem, and the solution is presented in such a way that constructing and presenting it can be done by a computer.

While STEM education is referred to as a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering and math — in an interdisciplinary and applied approach, based on Live Science.

Based on the Constructionism theory of Seymour Papert, CT skills revolve around the idea of learning by designing meaningful projects for sharing in the community, using concrete objects to construct and explore the world, identifying powerful ideas from focus study and engaging in self-reflection as part of learning.

Thus, CT skills implemented must be at their full capacity so that their advantages among students can be learned and any work in applying it in the syllabus must have an approach to the theory.

On STEM education, the US has historically been a leader in STEM education because of their awareness and confidence that it can bring valuable benefits to the country in the future such as the growth and stability of the economy.

STEM occupations are growing at 17 per cent, according to the US Department of Commerce, while other occupations are growing at 9.8 per cent and the country believes that STEM education creates critical thinkers, increases science literacy and gives birth to the next generation of innovators.

The National Science Foundations also noted to succeed in this new information-based and highly technological society, students need to develop their capabilities in STEM to levels far beyond what was deemed acceptable in the past.

Malaysia also has many initiatives for STEM education, but they have not been as great as other developed countries and some authorities have not yet portrayed their full attention and commitment.

CT concepts in our country have also been misunderstood when most people think it is similar to the concepts of information and communication technology (ICT) although it acts as a way to bridge the gap between the STEM skills.

CT skills are required to solve many quantitative and data-centric problems, and to solve problems in the real world.

It is also believed to be one of the most important elements for building creativity and human capital intelligence, and it must be combined with other computational skills such as programming and software development to help with future technology-based challenges.

Although some experts have said the teaching process of CT skills and STEM education is not such an easy thing, we must be prepared to join forces to help lead our country to flourish towards Malaysia 5.0.

Farhan Kamarulzaman is a Research Assistant at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

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