Lack of science students means lack of engineers

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The announcement by the deputy prime minister on 6th November 2012 that only 20 percent of all students in schools are enrolled in the Science stream is certainly an issue of serious concern.

The immediate action by the government in addressing the issue by providing incentives to encourage and to support students pursuing Science in schools is to be highly applauded.

The Institution of Engineers, Malaysia (IEM) is aware of the declining number of Science students and has initiated the setting up of engineering clubs in schools since the beginning of this year.

The clubs share the same objective of encouraging more students to study Science and we hope that the government will give its full support to this IEM initiative to help make it a success.

Certainly, amongst other reasons, a 'responsive' curriculum and truly dedicated teachers will also help sustain the interest in science in schools.

Why are Science students in schools important? In short, Science students are the resource from which universities produce future engineers.

Any shortfall will hinder the progress of the nation to reach developed status.

There will certainly be many reasons contributing to the lack of students in the Science stream in schools but the IEM is of the opinion that career prospects will be a major factor in the decision by any student in choosing his or her career options.

In particular, the IEM has always believed that the public service, by virtue of it being the largest employer in the country, should set an exemplary role in making its highest posts such as that of Ketua Setiausaha Negara (KSN), Ketua Setiausaha (KSU) and other top posts open to all science-based professionals, including engineers.

Such a structured pathway is currently not available which means that engineers and other science-based professionals can at best be the head of a department.

Providing a structured pathway to the top will be a positive step that will rightfully place science and engineering on par with other non-science based professionals.

It will be the biggest motivator to students and their parents towards the study of Science.

At the same time, if this matter is not addressed, engineers and other science-based professionals will opt not to join the public sector resulting in the loss of valuable talent to the government with the accompanying risk of not being able to implement the many infrastructure projects that the government needs to undertake.

The IEM hopes that the Special Review Commission on Civil Service Transformation will give due consideration to such implications in its revamp of the civil service. If there is a need, the IEM will be pleased to offer its advice to the commission.

IR. PROF. DR JEFFREY CHIANG CHOONG LUIN is honorary secretary of theInstitution of Engineers, Malaysia.

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