Making Maths Accessible – and Fun


The Penang Math Platform is a timely addition to the state’s science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) landscape.

With the momentum building up for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0), Penang has to overcome hurdles that hamper our students’ abilities to solve mathematical problems.

Enter Penang STEM. It was launched in July and August this year by Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, whose stated quest is “not only to prepare our young for the future, but also to prepare the future for own young.”

The Education Blueprint 2013-2025 target is for Malaysia to break into the top third of the participating countries, with a goal of 500 points. It is a possible dream – the country scored 519 in 1999 and 508 in 2003.

Students from Singapore have been consistently ahead in mathematics scores. According to a study by Dr Thien Lei Mee and Ong Mei Yean, who are researchers at the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation Regional Centre for Education in Science and Mathematics (SEAMEO RECSAM) based in Penang, Malaysia obtained disappointing results in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2012, lagging behind Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand. In mathematics, our students fell below the OECD average, scoring 421. Although it showed a 17-point improvement over PISA 2009, the score was far below the mean score of 494 for OECD countries.1

So, what gives? Research shows that there are three aspects we need to work on if Malaysian students are to do better in mathematics: increase their mathematics self-efficacy; reduce their mathematics anxiety; and enable students from lower economic, social and cultural statuses (ESCS).

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng at the launch of Penang STEM.

Piquing interest in science and tech with kid-friendly activities.

Self-efficacy is about the students’ belief in their ability to do well in mathematics. Thoughts such as “I am bad at math” or “I am allergic to algebra” can be self-fulfilling prophecies. It is thus important to make mathematics challenging, enjoyable and rewarding for students.

The study by Thien and Ong also shows a 16-point gap in mathematics literacy, correlating to the level of students’ ESCS; those from higher ESCS did better. A direct and impactful way to tackle this problem is to provide equal access to the necessary resources and a conducive environment for students of different ESCS levels.

Penang has been visionary in establishing several centres of education for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), such as the Penang Skills Development Centre, Penang Science Cluster, @CAT Penang, Tech Dome Penang and the Penang Digital Library. The establishment of Penang STEM is to harness the powers of these centres to create a thriving ecosystem that generates the skills needed to benefit from Industry 4.0.

At the helm of Penang STEM is L. H. Ang, a veteran of the high-tech industry. Ang knows that while Penang is a fertile bed for science, technology and engineering, a directed focus on mathematics is key.

A Platform for Mathematics

The recently opened Penang Math Platform (PMP) offers facilities and resources dedicated to the study of mathematics. Housed at the Karpal Singh Penang Learning Centre in Gelugor, PMP is devoted to the advancement of mathematics for students, professionals and experts, with a “hands on, mind on and heart on” tactic. Formal classes are balanced with camps, workshops and seminars.

An open approach to content and delivery is adopted, mining the best methods from the region including Singapore, Korea and Japan, complementing the Malaysian system. The Japanese mathematics that is being offered, for example, develops numerical problem solving skills and also improves the social skills of the students through group examination of the process.

PMP is an equal-opportunity organisation, providing access to all levels of ESCS students, offering subsidised Japanese mathematics classes and affordable tuition to the lower-income group. The product mix includes the more exclusive offerings from the Singaporean, Korean and UK franchises. Adding to resource accessibility, PMP also offers a conducive study lab with WiFi, free for all students.

The hype around Industry 4.0 and STEM curriculum is real. Penang STEM centres are in motion to create awareness and to enable Penang in this area. Hand in hand with its sister organisations, PMP is audacious about giving students much-needed leverage in STEM education, regardless of their socioeconomic statuses.

The Penang Math Platform is located at 1, Jalan Kaki Bukit, 11700, Gelugor. For enquiries, contact A.S. Neoh at asneoh@ or phone +604 373 0796.

Stuart Lim gets a high from turning ideas into words, visuals and humour, and gets lost peeking through the viewfinder.


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