Mentors can guide their mentees based on their individual capacity rather than imposing the same material and structure to all of them on the STEM e-mentoring system.

LEARNING in traditional classrooms in schools usually follows a pattern of “listen and learn” and “remember and regurgitate”. Students are given facts and steps, and told: “Do and say exactly what was taught to succeed in this subject.”

As in other subjects, the learning of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related fields also takes this path in many instances, said Dr Kalaivani Chellapan, a senior lecturer at the Electrical, Electronic and Systems Engineering Department at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s (UKM) Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment .

However, this method of education deliveryis no longer applicable for studentslooking towards having a future career in science — attempting to move into STEM roles after the completion of their schooling, she said.

“STEM programmes, too,have been frequently providing a theoretical education where experiments are conceptualised, physical actions are imagined, chemical reactions and biological processes are described, and perhaps, students may getto see the video of these concepts.

“This may sound good, but those students are, generally, being handed the answers and told to memorise, rather than being encouraged to find the answers and apply critical thinking,” she said, adding that this is not the essence of STEM, where curiosity and exploration take centre stage.

Kalaivani believes students would be able tounderstand the different levels of STEM and possible applications based on the underlying concepts if they are mentored.

“By having educators or teachers mentor the students,paving their curiosity with fundamentals, showing them how to find additional resources and answers to their questions, then releasing them into an immersive education, their breadth of knowledge will expand,” she said.

“The students will learn tobe more independent and have higher competency and versatility in their future trades, as well as set a new standard for their fields.”

Another development thatis evolving the way STEM subjects are being taught at schoolsis the rapidity of technological growth.

Kalaivani said with interactive communications enabled by technology,educators and teachers are no longer regarded as the sole source of information for students.

“In the 21st century education system, students have the ability to capture the depth of knowledge across disciplines via technology.

“As such, learning a science topic from a teacher in a schoollimits the mind growth among studentsas compared with having access to a mentoring system, where they can capture data from different mentorsand integrate the knowledge into information and translate it into creative and innovative thinking.”

She believes higher learning institutions can play their role by preparing their postgraduate students to be engaged as mentors based on their expertise.

The Graduate Academic Competence Empowerment Programme (PKAS) at the Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment, of which Kalaivani is the director, has introduced an online mentoring platform formotivated mentors and mentees to be engaged virtually under a guided platform to share data and translate it into meaningful information that facilitate learning.

“Thee-mentoring system provides mentors a platform to exercise their mentoring by personalising the needs of each mentee by takingtheir learning abilities into consideration. The platform allows a mentor to facilitate five mentees at any point of time. Mentor and mentee are matched based on their interest areas stated upon their enrolment in the system,” she explained.

Thee-mentoring system won a gold medal in the recent Malaysia Technology Expo 2019, The 18th International Expo on Inventions & Innovations in the STEM Mentor-Mentee Awards 2019 category.

The STEM e-Mentoring Platform is an in-house design that was used to facilitate the UKM- Selangor State Education DepartmentMentor-Mentee programme, which ran from 2017 to last year.

The system matches the mentor (undergraduate and postgraduate students of UKM) and mentee (school students) based on the area of interest.

“Mentors can guide their mentees’ progress in learning STEM concepts at different paces depending on their individual capacity rather than imposing the same material and structure to all of them. All mentoring structure and material can be controlled and monitored by the system administrators. And all communication between mentor and mentee and their activities will be recorded for security purposes,” said Kalaivani.

The e-mentoring system has been on trial for the last 6 months.

“It will take time to achieve the targeted objective fully due the cultural and technological barriers. Both the mentors and mentees are still in their learning curve in adapting to the new approach of online mentoring rather than the classroom setting,” said Kalaivani.

Asked about future plans for the system, whether it will be rolled out to a bigger audience, Kalaivani said there are plans to introduce this platform in other potential mentoring application in both industry and academia.

“We won the gold medal in the Mentor-Mentee category in which the participants are evaluated on their inventions and innovation in creating the ability to reach mentees in large numbers and at the same time able train the mentors among the university graduates who can share their knowledge to the mentees in need.

The gold medal confirms the need of such system in making mentoring a reality in the long run and also approving that our approach is innovative,” she said

She shared that PKAS is also interested to explore the potential of this system in STEM knowledge development to be used in mentoring housewives in an entrepreneurship programme if there are potential investors.