Refreshing Message from PM Lee on STEM Learning

In January this year, I had blogged about how and why Singapore was having difficulty in drawing locals to STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education in the universities here.

STEMI had pointed to the acute shortage of STEM experts even in the U.S. The catalyst for that post was a CNBC report which suggested that three million STEM jobs will go unfilled by 2018.

Since Singapore was happy filling up those posts (and even university places) with foreigners I wasn’t surprised at why it was hardly getting the kind of airing it deserved. Real brain power will take people far, no matter where they are!

So, it was a pleasant surprise to see Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong articulating the relevance and value of pursuing STEM learning in the country.

“STEM skills will remain crucial to Singapore’s success for the next 50 years,” Mr Lee said yesterday, speaking at the opening ceremony of the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD).

Several ministers have periodically been emphasising the importance of STEM education but apparently that has not been enough. More should be done at the JC and O levels to develop an interest in STEM among students.

Women in STEMMessages such as “follow your heart and passion” and a tough science academic climate are not helping motivate them towards STEM.

Singapore cannot have an entire nation of graduates

Making it worse are comments that emanate from some members of the Cabinet spelling out that university degrees are not all that important, leaving students in confusion.

The PM himself had been quoted as saying that a degree should not be the only option for students to consider.

One minister had even thundered: “You own a degree, but so what? You can’t eat it. If that cannot give you a good life, a good job, it is meaningless. Singapore cannot have an entire nation of graduates. Can you have a whole country where 100 per cent are graduates?What you do not want is to create huge graduate unemployment.”

Degree-1024x602All this talk was even amid university places were being increased.

An all-out effort needs to be introduced in secondary schools to drive STEM acceptance and that should go beyond grades and future potential. STEM teaching should be made lively and appealing to students. Harping on the monetary rewards STEM courses can yield without making learning an engaging journey is not going to help.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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