Stories > More Than Just Numbers

2023 • Issue 2

More Than Just Numbers

The Singapore International Foundation’s inaugural programme in East Malaysia uses maths as a bridge between cultures.


The Maths PLUS project by the SIF was launched in Sarawak in July.


ith countries around the world making science, technology, engineering and mathermatics (STEM) education a cornerstone of their human resource and skills development policy, there is a concerted effort in the public, private and people sectors to inspire schoolgoing children to take an active interest in mathematics. A push in this direction was seen in a recent collaborative programme between Singapore and Malaysia that brought together teachers for the Mathematics Pedagogical Learning, Understanding and Support (Maths PLUS) project.

Launched on 17 July by the Singapore International Foundation (SIF), in partnership with the Ministry of Education, Innovation and Talent Development (MEITD) in Kuching, Sarawak, the project will see a team of Singapore International Volunteers (SIV) provide coaching to about 100 Malaysian maths teachers from Kuching, Samarahan and Serian. Among these, 20 Malaysian teachers will be identified as master trainers, who will go on to train other teachers.

During the project duration, teachers from Singapore and Malaysia will attend a series of workshops and symposia aimed at augmenting maths pedagogy and making the subject more interesting to students. The Malaysian teachers will also embark on a study trip in Singapore aimed at fostering greater exchange.

The project is supported by the Sarawak State Education Department and the Institute of Teacher Education (IPGK) Batu Lintang Campus, and co-sponsored by Singapore’s Ngee Ann Development.

“Mathematics is the foundation of many scientific disciplines, that includes physics, chemistry, engineering and computer science. It provides the tools necessary for modelling and understanding the laws and patterns of the natural world,” says Yang Berhormat Datuk Roland Sagah Wee Inn, Sarawak Minister for MEITD in Kuching.

“Without mathematics, advancements in fields like technology, medicine and space exploration would not be possible. For this reason, my ministry has always placed great emphasis on STEM education. It really is the cornerstone for education.”

According to the minister, Malaysia aims to raise its student enrolment in STEM programmes from the current 47.18 per cent to 60 per cent by 2030.

SIV Dr Koay Phong Lee (in orange) demonstrating the use of a digital resource pack to Sarawakian teachers.

As Singapore students tend to do well in maths globally, the project provides a good opportunity to further raise its standard and teaching capabilities in Malaysia, while also fostering cross-cultural exchanges between the two countries. Having worked on a multitude of projects across the Causeway over the decades, Maths PLUS marks the SIF’s first foray into East Malaysia.

The first lesson under the Maths PLUS programme was conducted not long after its launch, with SIV trainers and their Sarawakian counterparts participating in a workshop at IPGK Batu Lintang. Among those in attendance was Fiona Charli, a maths teacher at Balai Ringin National School in Seria.

“Our SIV trainer, Dr Koay Phong Lee, shared interesting ways for us to teach whole numbers to our students. One of them is through children’s literature, which surprisingly introduces the concepts of subtraction and addition,” she said. “An innovative approach can transform maths into an interesting subject.”

While the Maths PLUS programme is scheduled to run for four years, Datuk Sagah expressed hope that this new connection forged between the two neighbours will go on for far longer.

“I hope that the SIF will continue with the Maths PLUS programme in Sarawak even beyond the projected time frame of four years. Our sharing of expertise and knowledge can be of mutual benefit to both our communities.”

Yang Berhormat Datuk Roland Sagah, Sarawak Minister, MEITD

“I hope that the SIF will continue with the Maths PLUS programme in Sarawak even beyond the projected time frame of four years,” he said. “Our sharing of expertise and knowledge can be of mutual benefit to both our communities.”

Indeed, more than 80,000 students in Malaysia are expected to benefit from this project. “We are glad to partner with our closest neighbour once again, to uplift the lives of future generations through teaching training,” said SIF chairman Janadas Devan.

“Singapore and Malaysia share a special bond given our shared history, and the deep family and cultural ties between our peoples. It is an honour to collaborate with like-minded partners who share our commitment to providing the best for future generations.”

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