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Teach our kids how to fish
Published on: Sunday, August 13, 2017

By DSP Wilfred Madius Tangau
It has been about a year since I attended the closing and awards ceremony of Sabah Invention and Design Exhibition (Sindex), where the finalists wowed us with their high standards of entries.

It was a proud moment for the educators, parents, policymakers and of course, Sabahans to learn of the hidden potential of our children.

In my speech at that prize-giving ceremony, I shared how this competition was complementary to our Ministry’s enculturation efforts in science, technology, engineering (STEM).

Seeing how committed the organisers were and how excellent a platform SINDEX was, on behalf of the Ministry I pledged to collaborate with SINDEX in the following year to expand it to a state-wide scale.

Organising any events, let alone at a mammoth one at the state level, as part of one’s community work is by no means an easy task. SINDEX has been organised by Rotary Clubs of Sabah since the idea was mooted by past district governor who was from the Rotary Club of Likas Bay in 1996.

According to current organising chairman George Ligunjang, also from Rotary Club of Likas Bay, SINDEX received an overwhelming 845 entries from 44 schools in 2014. Imagine handling this huge volume of entries and the even greater number of participants.

But the organisers set an even more ambitious target this year – to garner 1000 entries from 60 schools from all over Sabah!

Hats off to them for their dedication and the personal sacrifices they make in giving our young ones a stage to present their talents.

Let us not forget the support from principals, teachers and parents to make such an avenue a successful one, albeit for more than two decades.

The biennial competition is now once again back. I was invited to launch the competition at SM St John Tuaran on Monday.

I was glad to be part of the initiative once again not only because my Ministry promised to follow through, but also because it was a cause I believe.

I believe in giving the best and equal opportunities to all our students to achieve their highest potential.

As the majority of the audience were students – there were probably hundreds of them – I seized the chance to explain an innovation-led economy.

In the plantations industries such as rubber and oil palm for example, although these commodities are still the main contributors to our economy, we are constantly looking into innovative ways to help make these industries sustainable.

We might currently be the world’s number 2 palm producer. But as we face severe labour shortage more than ever before, our country’s top commodity export industry would be adversely affected when harvesting is delayed.

This dire situation was also raised in the recent National Science Council meeting on Thursday, chaired by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

While most organisations in the private sector may be dominated by short-term performance goals by investing less in futuristic technologies and rather set aside their profits for dividends, the government is taking the lead in investing in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

To overcome the lack of foreign labour in our fields, together with the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities (MPIC) we are determined to solve the issue of foreign labour shortages by automating our fields.

In my article “Time to Let Robots Take Care of Your Fields”, I shared that developed countries are accelerating the use of robots in farms.

Japan has automated its lettuce, strawberry and tomato farms, expedited by a shrinking agricultural sector caused by their ageing population.

Hence MOSTI and MPIC are co-organising an incubator project to call for a more concerted effort between the government, private sector and research universities to produce a technologically and economically viable solution to sustain our fields.

Innovation-themed competitions like SINDEX are a commendable effort by the non-profit sector in providing a safe and healthy space to our children to experiment their inventions and to fail.

They are innovators of the future and would be depended upon to solve national level economic problems such as the issue of labour shortage.

For this wonderful cause, MOSTI has pledged a financial assistance of RM 390,000 for SINDEX under the MOSTI Social Innovation (MSI) programme.

Another STEM related competition is the National Science Challenge, organised by the Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM), an agency of MOSTI. It hails from a humble beginning as a science quiz by a group of scientific organisations in 1983.

ASM took over as the lead organiser in 1999 and since then it has become one of the most significant STEM competition for secondary school students.

In the preliminary level, participants are required to do an online test under the supervision of a mentor teacher.

The test covers STEM topics including Biology, Physics and Chemistry that may not necessarily be based on the standardised curriculum.

The teams would then proceed to the state and eventually national level. The grand finalists would get to participate in a seven-day residential science camp at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

This year, ASM has also partnered with ExxonMobil Subsidiaries in Malaysia, Ministry of Education Malaysia and Young Scientists Network in organising the quiz competition.

A total of 3,930 teams comprising of 11,790 students have participated in the quiz this year.

I look forward to attend the grand finals next Friday.

Most excitingly, the grand prize winning team will be granted the golden opportunity to go for a study visit in Stockholm, Sweden and to witness the prestigious Nobel Prize Award Ceremony held on December 10 each year. While programmes like SINDEX and National Science Challenge have raised the awareness and interest in STEM among students, I urge the respective organisers to establish a committee to follow through with past winners.

The good impact of these competitions should not be one-off; some projects by the students could have high market potential.

We also want to retain STEM talents in our country and therefore it is crucial to facilitate and keep in touch with these young bright minds.

On another note, MOSTI will be organising a National Innovation and Creativity Economy Expo 2017 (NICE’17) this coming 12th to 16th October as part of our enculturation programme. All are welcome to attend.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

At this time of uncertainties where jobs of the future have yet to exist, the only skill we can impart to our children is to be ever inquisitive, to never stop learning, to never cease innovating and experimenting.

We need to teach them how to fish.

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