“Science beyond scientist” – A Malaysia case study

Scenario

Science beyond scientist is a philosophy that intended to help Malaysia building a civilized society that live science in their life. In order to be a science nation, inculcating the culture of science, technology and innovation (STI) at all levels is critical. STI should be a part of everything that we do in life. From waking up to preparing food to reading news to driving to using computer, science is everywhere. The children future will be filled with leaps in technology and science literacy will no longer be an advantage but will be a necessity.

Based on this philosophy, Malaysia has implemented various policies and programmes to establish and promote a holistic purpose of science. The development that has started more than ten years ago will be intensified as we are approaching the year 2020. The government has introduced a vision 2020 policy in the year 1990 that plan out a framework to be a developed nation by the year 2020. Science, Technology and Innovation is the back bone of this vision. Over the years, high number of science related programmes have been implemented including World Innovation Forum in 2012, Year of Science and the National Innovation Movement, Innovative Malaysia and promotion of science and mathematics in the year 2011. These programmes managed to improve the interest level in Science and Technology among the people. Overall, 78% Malaysians were interested in STI but this number still lacking compared to the US and EU with 89% and 83% interest level respectively.

However, the high number of interest does not reflect to the level of science literacy in the country. The science literacy level is 46% (based on correct answers on factual science questions) which is fairly low. Furthermore, the interest level is temporal and driven by issues or events. This makes the interest level varies from time to time and highly dependent on the issues/events that happen in the country. Low literacy level will impact the ability of the public to follow or participate in science related issues. The government is committed to work hard towards improving the interest and literacy level in science and technology. The existing policy will be reviewed and improved to make science and technology an essential part of the culture – a process known as STI enculturation.

Percentage of correct answers, source: MASTIC 2014
Percentage of correct answers, source: MASTIC 2014
2014 National Science Challenge
2014 National Science Challenge

Enculturation process

The process to make science as part of the culture in daily life has begun more than 10 years ago. This can be seen from various initiatives and programmes that being planned and the amount of budget that has been spent for this purpose.

Academy Science Malaysia (ASM) is a science advisory body and think tank under the ministry of science, technology and innovation. This agency was formed to promote STI agenda through various platforms and engagement with media, industry and societies. In 2002, a monthly science magazine named ‘Estidotmy’ started its first publication. Until the year 2012, the magazine has garnered a total of 99.75 million readerships. However, the magazine was discontinued in 2012 due to lack of funding. In 2004, ASM organized a Nobel Prize Centennial Exhibition with the aim to produce Malaysia’s Nobel prize winner.  A science portal, ScienceBuzz was launched in 2011 to bridge the gap between science and the society.

Malaysia National Science Centre (Pusat Sains Negara) was established to attract the public interest in science through various activities. The activities include science at the village, science on wheels, science wanderer program and science camp program.

National Planetarium was established to promote many outreach programs. This includes astronomy workshop for teacher, Earth-hour night and interactive website. The interest in astronomical and space exploration was aggravated when the national astronaut program was launched.

Petrosains – a science centre setup by Petronas in 1999 helps to boost the interest in science and technology. Petrosains has organised various activities such as national level competition, several outreach programs and develop interest in STEM. To date, Petrosains has attracted more than 5 million visitors.

It can be seen from these programmes, the government and non-governmental agencies have actively participated to promote the science for society paradigm. The science enculturation process in Malaysia has started long time ago and we are still working very hard to identify the gaps to realize the aspiration to build a scientific nation. To fulfil this aspiration, ASM has anchored an initiative named as Malaysia’s Science Outlook with the objective to review Malaysia STI landscape and evaluate our preparedness to achieve the STI target and emerge as a developed economy through science.

Way forward: enhancing STI enculturation

ASM has published the first Malaysia’s Science Outlook in 2015. This outlook provides independent review of key trend in science, technology and innovation in Malaysia. There are 6 pillars in the outlook and STI enculturation is one of them. Being a biennial policy recommendation report, a new outlook should be out in the year 2017. Based on the recommendations made in 2015, the new report will review the recommended programmes and identify the gaps for continual improvement. As for STI enculturation, the aim is to update on the existing initiatives, reviewing STI contents in governmental and non-governmental activities, STI contents in mass media and finally formulate enculturation index.

Dr Sawal attended the steering committee meeting of the Malaysia Science Outlook 2017
Dr Sawal attended the steering committee meeting of the Malaysia Science Outlook 2017

The new recommendations will be based on three scopes namely: Science literacy level in Malaysia, STI contents in society related activities and parameters for enculturation index. Several research methods and data indicators have been identified including public surveys, data collection from STI agencies, ministerial level surveys, benchmarking and discussion with media producers.

Dr. Sawal with Malaysia STI Enculturation workgroup to discuss on STI enculturation index parameters
Dr. Sawal with Malaysia STI Enculturation workgroup to discuss on STI enculturation index parameters

As part of the Malaysia 2017 Science Outlook committee member, I have prepared several activities and agendas to formularise STI enculturation index in Malaysia. However, the term used to define scientific culture varies across countries. Therefore, the first task to identify the definition of the term before proceeds to derive the parameters associated with STI culture. Despite the fuzziness of the definitions, there is a general agreement on the methods of science and general knowledge on some of the scientific contents is what indicated by the notion of scientific culture. The methods of science and knowledge on some of the scientific contents will be the foundation of the research in coming out with the enculturation index. The immediate task of the working group once the definition has been defined, is to identify measurements criteria on the level of scientific understanding of the scientific culture. The research will cover two dimensions of scientific culture: individuals and society. These parameters will then be used to define indicators for STI culture and finally an index will be formulated.

The new science outlook will demonstrate ASM and ASEAN-US Fellowship commitment to provide the best science related advice to the country. This advice will be based on multi-sectoral feedbacks and approaches that transcend conventional discipline. The policy will be crucial in the vision to transform Malaysia into STI-powered high-income economy. The report will provide necessary impetus and motivation to produce a science beyond scientist society.

 

About the Author:

Dr. Sawal Hamid Md Ali is currently an ASEAN-U.S. Science &Technology Fellow and based in the Academy of Science of Malaysia.  Prior to joining the Fellowship, he is senior lecturer at the Department of Electrical, Electronic, and Systems Engineering at the University Kebangsaan Malaysia.  Dr. Ali holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Electronic and Computer Engineering from University Putra Malaysia (1998) and both a Master’s Degree in Microelectronic System Design (2004) and a Ph.D. in Electrical and Electronics (2010) from the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom. Dr. Ali’s work on analog circuit optimization has been published in several professional journals and conference proceedings. He has authored and co-authored more than 50 articles and has been granted two patents.