In the 2000s, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) became a buzzword and education systems across the world scrambled to come out with appropriate policy responses. Some pushed for STEM disciplines as a preferred academic pathway, others revamped the curriculum for a stronger emphasis on STEM, some even made hefty investments in technology for classrooms, while others adopted a modular or integrated approach to the teaching and learning of STEM. What exactly ought to constitute STEM education?
On 1 November 2018, a curated group of academics and practitioners convened at The HEAD Foundation to exchange ideas and share insights on the opportunities and challenges of STEM instruction in Singaporean schools, from theoretical and practical standpoints.
Prof Paul Teng, Managing Director of NIE International, discussed the roles of STEM education in developing students’ problem-solving ability as well as learning adaptive skills for employability. No less important is the role of learning STEM in citizenry by inculcating scientific thinking and enabling citizens to make informed decisions.
Dr Michael Tan, research scientist from the Office of Education Research at National Institute of Education, evaluated the potential trade-offs in the way we learn and promote STEM. He argued the importance of considering not only economistic goals, but also conceptual, epistemic, and social goals in teaching STEM. Dr Michael Tan also called for room for transgression in learning to allow for experimentation and innovation.
Associate Professor Hallam Stevens, Head of History and Associate Director of Academic at the Institute of Science and Technology for Humanity at Nanyang Technological University, challenged the notion that science and technology are always neutral, universal and progressive. He suggested maintenance as an alternative vision to strive for beyond innovations. Associate Professor Hallam Stevens proposed the study of Science, Technology and Society as a complementary approach to the STEM education we have today.
Associate Professor Lim Tit Meng, Chief Executive Officer of the Science Centre Singapore shared about the centre’s work in promoting interest, learning and creativity in science and technology through imaginative and enjoyable experience. In the Applied Learning Programme, students work on authentic open-ended tasks. Learning is demonstrated through application of STEM knowledge in real world problems instead of examinations. Through active learning pedagogy and process-focussed experience, student learning becomes intrinsic and enjoyable.
Associate Professor Teo Tang Wee from the National Institute of Education led the examination of barriers to implementing STEM from teachers, students, curriculum and social milieu perspectives and proposed 16 drivers for STEM education, succinctly summarised as the urgency to reform teaching, mindset and strategies. What needs to be resolved is conceptualising STEM education and contemplating what we want for STEM classrooms. Associate Professor Teo shared about NIE’s upcoming initiative in establishing the meriSTEM Centre to explore these central questions.
Dr Adrian Kuah, Director of the Futures Office at the National University of Singapore, explored the ways to prepare the Singapore workforce for the future. He re-examined the meaning of “pragmatism”, a concept often touted as Singapore’s guiding principle, if it has been confused for materialism, and suggested “pragmatism” as a state of openness to accept being wrong. He also re-examined the concept of “relevance”, and argued that it should not be constrained by immediacy. Dr Adrian Kuah called for institutes of higher learning to allow space for serendipitous discoveries and for researches in seemingly useless areas, to allow authentic innovations to be born.
Dr Brajesh Panth, Chief of Education Sector Group at the Asian Development Bank, spoke about ADB’s Strategy 2030 and its seven operational priorities. Dr Panth elaborated on emerging trends in technology and its changing demands on workforce and education systems. Education systems must prepare students in cognitive and physical abilities, basic content and process skills, and cross-functional skills in resource management, complex problem-solving, social skills, system skills and technical skills.
Through this symposium, we sought to open up discussions about the goals of education. A workshop report will be published to summarise the discussions that took place. We also welcome your critical views on the role of STEM education in the broader socio-political and economic spheres.
View the gallery below for photos from the event.