In the pursuit of achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) of ensuring quality education for all, passionate changemakers are stepping forward to create a positive impact on the world. One such inspiring individual is Mama STEM or her alter-ego, Professor Emeritus Dato' Dr Noraini Idris, the President of the National STEM Association in Malaysia. With a vision to develop passionate teachers, and motivate students to embrace Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), Professor Noraini and her team are transforming education and making it equal for all children.
Encouraging Fun Learning
The National STEM Association has a clear agenda: to encourage fun learning, develop passionate teachers, and motivate students to love Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). They recognize the importance of future-relevant skills and actively facilitate collaboration between industry and schools to create an engaging learning environment. The focus is on enabling students to acquire tech skills, entrepreneurial skills, communication skills, and critical thinking abilities. Through hands-on experiments, exciting projects, and educational games, the association creates a fun learning environment that nurtures students' interest in these critical fields.
Recognizing the importance of collaboration between industry and schools, the National STEM Association facilitates partnerships that bridge the gap between academia and the professional world. By bringing experts from various STEM-related industries into classrooms, they expose students to real-world applications and future-relevant skills. This collaborative approach equips students with tech skills, entrepreneurial skills, communication skills, and critical thinking abilities, empowering them for the challenges of the modern workforce.
To address pressing educational issues such as graduate employment rates, university enrollment rates, and the student uptake of STEM subjects, the National STEM Association promotes community-based solutions. By engaging educators, policymakers, and community members, they create a collective effort to overcome challenges and improve educational outcomes. Before becoming the National STEM Association, the organization was known as the National STEM Movement. It started as a task force under the Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia and evolved into an independent association in 2018. The support from lecturers and teachers transformed them into a powerful force driving the STEM-related agenda forward.
The Mentor-Mentee Program
One of the impactful programs offered by the National STEM Association is the Mentor-Mentee program. Through this initiative, university students inspire secondary school students to pursue studies in STEM-related fields. The program includes visits to higher education institutions, where students experience university facilities, engage in fun experiments, and gain insights into the world of higher education. Mentors, trained by facilitators who are often teachers and lecturers affiliated with the National STEM Association, guide and encourage students to explore STEM fields. This program has been implemented in 15 public institutions and 5 private institutions, reaching a wide range of students.
Mini Theater STEM Competition
Another flagship program, Mini Theater STEM Competition, an initiative by the National STEM Association, aimed at fostering entrepreneurial thinking and innovative solutions among school students. The competition encourages students to propose unique products or services that solve real-world problems. With guidance from teachers, students learn about product development, market identification, and pitching to potential customers and investors. The competition promotes critical thinking, problem-solving, teamwork, and communication skills. It nurtures an entrepreneurial mindset and bridges the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application of STEM. The initiative empowers students to become future innovators and contributes to their personal and professional development.
Personal Experience as a Driving Force
Professor Noraini's personal experiences have fueled her passion for making education transformative and inspiring. As an alumna of English College (Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar), an elite school in Johor Bahru, she witnessed the school's ability to produce leaders who made a significant impact on the nation. Notable alumni include Robert Kuok, the Malaysian tycoon, Sultan Ibrahim, the current King of Johor, and Dato Seri Khalid Nordin, who was her classmate and served as the Menteri Besar (Chief Minister) of Johor.
During her student years, Professor Noraini's leadership potential was recognized when she was elected as a student prefect. She underwent the process of presenting a manifesto, campaigning, and gathering votes, ultimately leading her fellow students. At her school, there was a culture of empowering students to run events. Teachers provided guidance while students took on the responsibility of planning and delivering activities. Professor Noraini vividly remembers a time when she had to meet the reigning monarch of Johor to request sponsorship for their Maulud Nabi event.
Successful alumni of the school will "adopted" students, providing direct mentorship. During school holidays, students had the opportunity to stay with alumni in cities like Kuala Lumpur, receiving tutelage on leadership and career development. The aim was to inspire and nurture students to become future leaders.
The progressive alumni network at her school played a crucial role in nurturing students. Alumni offering guidance, sharing knowledge, and providing students with invaluable exposure and opportunities to develop leadership skills. Inspired by her school's culture and the support she received, Professor Noraini is determined to ensure that every child has the opportunity to be as fortunate, or even more so, by making education a place of inspiration, empowerment, and fun.
Mama STEM, a hero for student of all ages!
Through her role as the President of the National STEM Association, Professor Emeritus Dato' Dr Noraini Idris is transforming the landscape of education in Malaysia, focusing on quality education and making it accessible to all children. By encouraging fun learning, fostering collaboration, and promoting community-based solutions, she and her team are creating a positive impact on students' lives. Inspired by her personal journey and the belief that education should be an empowering and joyful experience, Professor Noraini's mission is to show the beauty of learning to everyone. As she quotes her late grandfather, "Whatever you do, make sure you do good. Regardless of your situation, you will always feel happy."