IT was a long journey from Bangi to the depths of Kelantan, but that did not deter Professor Dr Mohd Syuhaimi Ab Rahman and his team in their quest to introduce Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics-based (STEM) subjects to children in rural areas.
Syuhaimi, who is the deputy dean of the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment, saw the need to inculcate interest in STEM among children when he was helping flood victims in Dabong and Manik Urai, Kelantan, in 2015.
“When I was there, I could see how difficult their life was,” he said, voicing his worry over the lack of interest in education among the children.
“I decided that something needed to be done as good education will be able to turn their life around.
“A good way to start is by inculcating their interest in STEM.”
Armed with a research grant, Syuhaimi, with friends and students, brainstormed on how to come up with an education plan focused on engineering for students in rural areas.
The initiative was named: “Profesor ke Desa”.
“The programme aims to increase interest in science and technology. It promotes the skills and motivation to continue pursuing ambitions through diligent efforts.
“Students were exposed to science and technology-based activities, which is hoped to stimulate their interest in exploring a topic more deeply.
“To engage with students and share their knowledge in engineering, the team linked the activities to the children’s daily life.”
He said the age of students varied according to the location.
For example, in Kampung Pulau Beluru, “we had participants ranging from 7 to 14 years old in the kampung, while visits to schools in the area involved students aged from 13 to 17,” he added.
He felt that it was his responsibility to promote the importance of learning the subjects of science and technology in the country especially when there is a constant drop in the numbers of science-based students in school.
Community service programmes need to be set up to increase their understanding on the country needs to serve in science and technology.
“Ground events can give them a clear explanation of the importance of taking subjects in science and technology.
In instiling their interest in engineering, Syuhaimi discussed landmarks, such as the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and the Kuala Lumpur City Centre. He also elaborated on Malay legacy architectures, laser-based alignment, energy harvest based on mechanical vibration, high-speed networks and fuel cell engine technology with the students.
He said Burj Khalifa had 1001 technologies behind its construction. For example, the building design is an analogy of a flower, hymenocalis, while its spiralling Y-shape helps reduce the impact of the wind on the tower.
“There are many features that can be learnt from the building, which involved more than 300 engineers in its construction.
“Based on the sharing session, my team and I could see that the children have a profound interest in engineering.”
He said they were inquisitive and asked a lot of questions.
The programme also developed potential among the faculty’s support staff by giving them an opportunity to engage with the community and contribute to the aspiration of Malaysia’s education.
“For the time being, one professor and 15 support staff are involved in this programme.
“However, we want to expand the mission so more professors from various fields can participate in the mission.
“UKM vice-chancellor Tan Sri Professor Dr Nor Azlan Ghazali has promoted the mission to other faculties and emphasised the importance of engagement with the community to support the nation’s development. The programme will expand further to other faculties and involve those in other disciplines.”
To date, Syuhaimi and his team have travelled to Rantau Panjang, Machang, Tanah Merah and Bachok in Kelantan; Grik and Bagan Datuk in Perak; and Seberang Takir in Terengganu for the programme.
Other states also on their list this year are Perlis and Pahang.
Syuhaimi believe the expansion of the programme would benefit the growth of the engineering field, especially with the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
“I hope that one of the children I have met during this programme will enrol as a student at UKM or any university to pursue studies in engineering,” he said.