Fostering greater interest in STEM in local communities

Students at STEM Trailblazers 2023

By Associate Professor Bridgid Chin Lai Fui, Associate Professor Fidella Tiew and Associate Professor Ir. Lim Chye Ing

Over the past 50 years, it has become increasingly difficult for education systems around the world to keep up with changes in society, the economy, technology, the requirements of globalisation, sustainability, and the expansion of knowledge and data. However, while this poses a challenge to the viability of current educational strategies, resources continue to be made available to improve education.

The educational demands of today’s youth are very different from those of earlier generations because of how quickly the world is changing. Numerous industry reports have asserted that Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) will have a bigger impact on our daily lives than ever before.

Despite the growing emphasis on STEM-related employment in the job market, enthusiasm for STEM fields is in a continuous dwindling trend. President and founder of the National STEM Association, Prof. Datuk Dr. Noraini Idris, noted a marked decline in students selecting STEM courses in schools over the last five years. However, nine out of the top 10 developing jobs in the year 2025, according to the World Economic Forum’s ‘Future of Jobs Report 2020’, will be STEM-related, making the diminishing interest in these subjects alarming.

In May 2023, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim directed the Education Ministry to form a task force to make recommendations on how to pique children’s interest in science and technology-related topics in response to the problem. The significance of STEM fields is underlined, especially in light of the expanding global emphasis on green technology.

For the government to guarantee an adequate supply of STEM graduates for industry, it is imperative that urgent attention is given to the diminishing interest in STEM, particularly among the younger generation in both rural and urban communities.

According to Krapp and Prenzel (2011), the trend of decreased student interest in STEM disciplines can be attributed to several factors. It is possible that the curricula, the way in which education is organised in schools, or the calibre and style of instruction do not adequately support students’ interests.

Another explanation has to do with the psychological pressures that young people experience in their daily lives, which may lead them to downplay the importance of academic learning in comparison to other facets of life. It is also possible that students’ ideal self-concepts as learners may distance themselves from STEM fields, making them less motivated to put effort into those subjects.

According to Hund et al. (2018), success in school and in the workplace is largely dependent on effective mentorship, which boosts productivity in general. Additionally, mentoring relationships are crucial for improving mental health and attracting and keeping students from underrepresented groups in the STEM disciplines. A few recent examples of successful STEM mentoring programmes initiated in Sarawak were the Raspberry Pi Computer Training Programme, Young Innovators Challenge – Tech Mentor Sarawak, and Yayasan Petronas Coding4All (YPC4A) Programme.

The Raspberry Pi Computer Training Programme saw more than 1,200 instructors across Sarawak being taught how to use Raspberry Pi Mini single-board computers to improve students’ learning of computer programming and coding. The Young Innovators Challenge -Tech Mentor Sarawak is a community service project aimed at teaching Arduino to secondary school students in Sarawak. The Yayasan Petronas Coding4All (YPC4A) Programme is designed to promote education in line with Industry 4.0, which includes activities that enhance student’s problem-solving and critical-thinking skills and promoting coding and programming in three selected states – Sarawak, Sabah, and Johore.

Although many mentors are enthusiastic about assisting others in achieving success in STEM disciplines, they may encounter some difficulties as summarised in Figure 1 below:

Figure 1: Common challenges faced by mentors during peer mentoring

There are a variety of interesting and inspiring activities that could enhance the curiosity and practical learning of youngsters’ interest in STEM. Hosting interactive workshops and hands-on experiences can give them an in-depth understanding of the practical relevance of STEM concepts in relation to real-world applications.

In July this year, Sarawak’s Ministry of Education, Innovation, and Talent Development (MEITD), in collaboration with Curtin Malaysia, Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus, and University of Technology Sarawak hosted the STEM Trailblazers Sarawak event to promote innovation and digital skills among young people through the use of Raspberry Pi Mini single-board computers and showcase the latest developments in STEM.

The event featured over 20 showcases by various STEM and technology-related agencies and industry; 20 showcases from the faculties and academic clubs of Curtin Malaysia; and 13 Raspberry Pi Innovation Challenge and 41 STEM Trailblazers Sarawak exhibits from schools throughout Northern Sarawak. There were also interactive workshops facilitated by leading professionals and educators designed to spark curiosity and encourage active learning, including an Embedded System Workshop, Drone Workshop and Challenge, Human Computer Interface Workshop, Trailblazers Structural Challenge, loT Monitoring Workshop and Challenge, and Introduction to Cyber Security Workshop.

The integration of art and design into STEM projects allows the connection between STEM and creativity which could enhance youngsters’ interest in both fields. This creates an inclusive environment that encourages participation in STEM activities by children from different backgrounds.

Additionally, the utilisation of technology and social media to share STEM content and experiments facilitates reaching a wider group of audience. Both parents and the community can play a significant role in supporting the learning journey of their children.

Lastly, the recognition of youngsters’ achievements in STEM will provide continuous motivation for them to explore and pursue further studies in these disciplines.

The implementation of these strategies and initiatives would only be possible through the involvement of various parties such as educators, parents, and communities to create a dynamic and engaging atmosphere that would fuel a strong interest in STEM subjects and encourage youth to pursue rewarding careers in these disciplines.

Associate Professor Bridgid Chin Lai Fui is the Student and Alumni Committee Chair of Curtin Malaysia’s Faculty of Engineering and Science and associate professor in its Chemical and Energy Engineering Department. She is actively involved in STEM-related activities at the University and was recently appointed organising chairperson for the state-level STEM Trailblazers 2023 event at Curtin Malaysia where she spearheaded a number of initiatives including workshops, competitions and industrial talks. She also collaborated with influential figures in academia, industry and government to help raise awareness of the importance of STEM education through the event. Associate Professor Chin’s research focuses on converting lignocellulosic waste and plastic waste into value-added bioproducts and biohydrogen using green technology. She has received a number of international and national research grants and has authored and co-authored numerous academic journal articles and conference papers on related topics. She previously led an international JASTIP-Net funded research project on the upgrading of bio-oil targeting sustainable jet fuel range and its implementation study in the ASEAN region, and is currently leading an international research project on sustainable production of value-added products and energies from oil palm residues and plastic waste mixtures in the ASEAN region. She is a Chartered Engineer of Engineers Australia and also a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, UK. Associate Professor Chin can be contacted by email at

Associate Professor Fidella Tiew is Director to the School of Pre-U and Continuing Education (SPACE) at Curtin Malaysia. Associate Professor Tiew has teaching in higher education for more than 25 years. Her career at Curtin Malaysia has seen her holding various positions – Head of Student Services; lecturer in Services Marketing, Event Management and Public Relations; Head of Department of Marketing at the Faculty of Business, and her current role of Director of SPACE. She previously worked in the hospitality industry, holding management positions in food and beverage, events and banquets, human resources, and public relations. She was the co-organising chairperson for the STEM Trailblazers 2023 event. Her research interests include event stakeholder, event management and impacts, destination and services marketing. Associate Professor Tiew can be contacted by email at

Associate Professor Ir. Lim Chye Ing is Associate Dean of External Engagement at Curtin Malaysia’s Faculty of Engineering and Science and associate professor in its Mechanical Engineering Department. She leads and coordinates engagement with external stakeholders, including industry, government agencies, NGOs, institutions and community groups. She was advisor to the STEM Trailblazers 2023 event. Associate Professor Ir. Lim is a Professional Engineer certified by the Board of Engineers Malaysia, a Project Management Professional certified by Project Management Institute, USA, and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, UK. She has 10 years of experience working in operations and maintenance, project management in power generation and the oil and gas industry, and 13 years of experience teaching in higher education. Her research focuses on sustainable development and management, cleaner production, and eco-design. She can be contacted by email at