Students creating a robot during the Perkhemahan Klik Dengan Bijak 2015 programme in Bota Kiri, Perak, last year. It is vital for schools to have proper facilities to teach science. File pic

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will face a serious shortage of human capital in science fields as the target for students enrolling in the stream is not being met annually at the school and tertiary levels.

Based on the Science and Technology Human Capital Report and Science Outlook 2015 by Akademi Sains Malaysia, the country needs at least 270,000 science students sitting the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examination annually, but there are only about 90,000 now.

A total of 500,000 students enter Form Four every year.

The Higher Education Ministry told the New Straits Times that 270,000 students, or roughly 60 per cent, of the annual cohort taking up science would be ideal. To compound matters, of those taking STEM-based programmes in school, 12 per cent migrated to non-STEM programmes at the tertiary level.

STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) involves pure science and mathematics disciplines.

The target ratio of 60:40 for the number of students enrolling for STEM and non-STEM programmes has not been met.

“For the 2015/2016 academic year, 59.06 per cent of students who were offered spots in public universities (out of 42,000 applicants) were for science-based programmes.

“The fact that we offer spots to 59.06 per cent of them means that we are still short of our 60 per cent target. The reality, however, is that we need more,” the ministry said.

Educationists said efforts must be increased to boost interest in the sciences as the situation, if allowed to continue, would lead to the country not being viewed in the same light as advanced nations.

With global economic giants like the United States, Japan, Singapore and Germany having a solid 30 per cent workforce in STEM fields, Malaysia still has a long way to go as it has a STEM-related workforce of only less than three per cent.

This will lead to technical dependency on foreign workers, a phenomenon plaguing the country in many fields, educationists said.

Meanwhile, the ministry said, efforts to promote STEM among schoolchildren were underway.

Besides promoting STEM among students, the ministry is also reaching out to researchers and industries. There are also research and development exhibitions, publication of books and technology competitions.

“The ministry also awards grants to encourage science-based research and discovery. These efforts were undertaken to create interest and disseminate information and knowledge on STEM.

“For instance, competitions encourage students to harness their understanding and talents for better acceptance of STEM as a key to innovation and development of new technologies.”

The ministry said it was doing its best to make students excited about the prospects and potential of STEM in Malaysia.

A Malaysian scientist, for example, was recently named in Thomson Reuters’ list of the “World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds”.

Universities in the country were also ranked in the world’s top 50 best universities in chemical engineering and electrical and electronic engineering, as well as top 100 in STEM-based subjects like environmental sciences and aeronautical and mechanical engineering.

“The things happening in universities here have a positive impact on society. Thus, the ministry’s efforts include communicating with students via traditional and social media that they can be part of something meaningful via STEM.”

The Education Ministry and Akademi Sains Malaysia also have programmes, the ministry said, and initiatives were in place to encourage interest in STEM among students.

“Other organisations, such as BioTechCorp and Nano Malaysia, have been set up to create jobs in STEM-related fields.

“Efforts to increase interest in STEM are ongoing and will take time, but the ministry is confident that students and parents can see the potential of STEM in the long run.”

The ministry was adamant that Malaysia must support a strong foundation in basic science at the primary and secondary levels for students to become catalysts and part of the supply pool in the coming years.