For the love of science: Community promotes fun STEM education among students
“Leadership tomorrow depends on how we educate our students today -- especially in science, technology, engineering and math,” the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, said in one of his speeches on the Educate to Innovate campaign on Sept. 16, 2010.
Indonesia has also started to practice what Obama said. Students are expected to learn many things related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), especially at school. However, this is not without flaws, as the students are not taught how to use that knowledge.
In a bid to improve effective learning, several groups have called for more practice rather than memorizing.
“Science at Indonesia’s schools is taught theoretically through textbooks. In fact, science needs to be taught through hands-on experience. Otherwise, it won’t attract children,” the founder of the Jakarta Society of Women Engineers (SWE), Jane Nawilis, told The Jakarta Post during an event called “For The Love of STEAM -- Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math” in Jakarta on Feb. 22.
The event was hosted by SWE as the main part of their engineering week program which provides coding, robotics and science engineering class. Prior to the event on Feb. 22, the group visited five schools in Jakarta to boost the students' interest in STEAM.
“When I asked students what they thought of engineering, most of them related engineering to machinery, cars, hammers and nails,” Jane said, indicating the common misconception about science and engineering among students. She further added that there was a wide variety of fields within engineering study, including aerospace engineering, bio-engineering and civil engineering.
At the event, the students were given a chance to watch Dream Big: Engineering Our World, a 42-minute documentary film that celebrates the human ingenuity behind engineering marvels to transform what kids used to think about engineering.
First- and second-graders at elementary schools were taught about science and chemical reactions by making ice cream. The older students were given experiments such as building hand-made rockets to learn about gravity and hand-made mini washing machines to learn about rotational motion and centripetal force.
According to Jane, low interest in STEAM education was also caused by the little exposure to the engineering field. She gave the example of the late third Indonesian president, BJ Habibie, who was also an engineer, which made people appreciate scientists at that time.
However, according to her, Habibie was the only scientist role model who was widely known to people. Interest in science and engineering faded after Habibie retired from the engineering field.
In contrast, Jane gave the example of the lesser known Pratiwi Pujilestari Sudarmono, a microbiologist from the School of Medicine at the University of Indonesia, whose work was monitoring the growth of human pathogens in space and cell differentiation on NASA’s STS-61H space shuttle mission.
“How will people be interested in STEAM education if there was little to no introduction about it in the first place?” Jakarta SWE cofounder, Davida Ayu Gondohusodo asked rhetorically.
The 2018 OECD Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) reported that among 79 countries, Indonesian students aged 15 years old ranked 73rd in mathematics, 74th in reading and 71st in science. Indonesia’s poor record on science and math was a slap on the nation’s face, especially when four other ASEAN countries -- Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Thailand -- were racing ahead.
Regardless, Davida claimed that the second year of engineering week held by SWE recorded an increase in the number of participants, from 56 last year to 77 this year.
Mei Liana, 27, one of the tutors at the event echoed Davida saying that students were excited about fun science learning.
“They might find hurdles and challenges, but when the science projects went well, most of them found science quite interesting,” she told the Post.
Astari, 35, brought along her 7-year-old son who, according to her, loved building blocks and assembling toys. The Depok resident claimed that she had been longing for the robotic class for her son to develop his talent and interest in science engineering, which she couldn’t find in most regular schools.
“It enhanced kids’ creativity since they were able to experience it first-hand,” she said, referring to her son who joined the aerospace engineering class at the SWE event and was able to create his own hand-made UFO and rocket launcher models.