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Malaysian STEM Educators Call on Strathclyde in Educational Tour

Braving the UK’s latest cold snap, five teachers from rural Sabah in Malaysian Borneo were eager to learn how STEM is taught here.

The team of Malaysian teachers visiting the University of Strathclyde Motorsport’s (USM) workshop is a student-run body that manufactures single-seat race cars and helps develop its members’ engineering skills. (Photo: Courtesy of Viviantie Sarjuni)

Cancelled flights, misplaced luggage, and a cold snap could not dampen the enthusiasm of five teachers from Malaysian Borneo, who recently visited the University of Strathclyde and its Engineering Faculty as part of their learning tour on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in the United Kingdom.

The team was led by Anuthra Sirisena, a chemistry teacher who had recently won Malaysia’s inaugural “Malaysia Teacher Prize” in 2022 and who, along with two other visiting teachers, runs “Tenom Innovation Centre”, a maker space for local students based near their school.

The university’s international recruitment office helped organise the teachers’ visit around the campus in collaboration with Chevening scholar Viviantie Sarjuni.

At Strathclyde's North Portland Street, the teachers under the direction of Ms. Anuthra (left), along with international recruitment officers Karen Robley and Elena Connell (third and second from right). (Photo courtesy of Viviantie Sarjuni)

For the five teachers, who all hail from rural districts in the Malaysian Borneo state of Sabah, the trip was invaluable in gaining new perspectives on STEM education which they might be able to put into practice back home.

“We wanted to enrich our understanding and knowledge about STEM education in the United Kingdom and what we can do to either foster or scale it further (back home),” Ms. Anuthra said when asked about the team’s aims.

Ms Anuthra (centre) converses with Elena Connell (left), Strathclyde’s International Recruitment officer for Southeast Asia, during the visit to the Engineering Faculty’s building. (Photo: Courtesy of Viviantie Sarjuni)

Before coming to Glasgow, the Sabahan teachers had also met up with STEM teachers in England to learn how their English counterparts engaged students on technical subjects and prepared them for higher education, and were planning to visit the Glasgow Science Centre after Strathclyde as well.

Ms Anuthra said the visit had been eye-opening for the group, and the challenge was to adapt the lessons and ideas they had picked up in the UK to more rural settings, where the lack of resources and internet connectivity could be a major hurdle.

“However, from my point of view, the biggest challenge or limitation for rural STEM educators is our exposure to the many, many layers or ways we can actually make STEM teaching fun, engaging, and relevant for our students,” Ms Anuthra told Breakthrough Press.

Strathclyde post-graduate student Viviantie (standing) conversing with the teachers during their visit to the university’s Technology and Innovation Centre. (Photo: Vincent Tan)

Besides educators’ low expectations of their young charges, another was the students’ environments, which also limited their outlook on pursuing STEM-related studies and a future career.

“In a town like Tenom, many parents have a fixed mindset on wanting their kids to be (a) doctor, lawyer or government servant. Even the understanding of what engineering is, is so limited to civil or electrical engineering,” Ms Anuthra said..

Similarly, Japlee Bakok, who hails from the mountainous district of Ranau, which contains Malaysia’s highest peak, Mount Kinabalu, said teaching a subject such as mathematics, even at the lower secondary level, was challenging.
“People say this subject is boring, and when we try to deliver a mathematics topic, students will not be able to grasp it in a short time,” Mr. Japlee said.

He explained that his purpose on the trip was to look for ideas on how to get students back home interested in the subject.

“I was very inspired by this trip and this visit, I started thinking about new ideas on delivering the subject, study methods, even creating a conducive space, like how this university has done.”

“Those are ideas I want to bring home to my school,” Mr Japlee said.

A memento of the visit, - Ms Anuthra gifts a beadwork necklace of indigenous make from Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, to Ms. Connell. (Photo: Vincent Tan)

Ms Viviantie, representing the Sabah Creative Economy and Innovation Centre (SCENIC), who helped pay for the teachers’ transport around the UK, said helping the teachers first was an important stepping stone towards helping the students back in their homeland.

“They (the teachers) should be equipped with the skills to analyse potential opportunities, turn them into reality, and drive progress.”

“By visiting the UK, I hope the teachers are exposed to new ideas and inspired to bring innovative solutions to their communities,” Ms Viviantie said.


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