Research-based Education in ASEAN

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region is recognized for its combination of differences in geography, political regimes, cultures, religions and level of socio-economic development. It constitutes ten member countries (Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, the Philippines and Vietnam). Regardless of the differences among these countries, they have a common goal to emphasize the importance of education as an important and strategic way of developing their local talents that will contribute to the economic growth of the country. 

Singapore is a role model for the neighbouring countries in ASEAN in terms of rapid economic development, and vision in developing a country. As a founding member of ASEAN, practices in Singapore was shared within the constituency and accelerated economic growth in the region. That led to further advancements in job opportunities and eventually better education that is needed to provide a quality workforce for the nation today.

As the world is becoming increasingly globalized and complex, people need to become more adaptable. Hence, education in ASEAN has started to shift its focus on developing critical thinking and problem solving skills. Research-Based Education (RBE) is a method where students learn through evidence-based findings from their project work. No only that, it helps students to internalize and practice research conducts through formulation of hypotheses and method analyses of their work.

In this article, we will explore the traces of evidence of RBE in various countries in the region with the aid of insights from local partners in the education sector.

Education in Singapore was aimed at building curiosity and inquisition in a child. The fundamentals of STEM education approach has been practiced for over 50 years. The aim was to prepare the child to be equipped with problem-solving skills in a world growing in complexity. With this focus in mind, children as young as 3-4 years old have since been exposed to it in the recent years. The implementation of applied learning workshop courses such as coding, robotics and machine learning to young children have shown to develop and prepare them in problem-solving skills in the real world. Students exposed to research-based education are nurtured to be logical thinkers where they are able to identify problems, ask questions and develop a solution for the problems. Furthermore, they can take it to the next level to think critically and build hypotheses for these problems. In the long run, this sets the foundation for human resource which will help elevate Singapore’s innovation and technology advancement for the country’s progress and development. 

In Malaysia, schools have strived for curriculum that focus on analysis, critical thinking, hypotheses building, decision making as well as research and project-based learning. Through adaptive learning programs, it had proven that the students can adapt and familiarize with theory and hands-on work related to any subject or project that they are learning. At the same time, the students show their maturity in making decisions and also their passion in doing a research project. 

The roots of Vietnamese education was based on Confucianism-blended education, which stresses on the importance of correct behaviour, loyalty and obedience to hierarchy, and governance was aimed at building the moral identity of its people. The younger generation are taught in two ways, namely: Confucianism and Confucian institutions. Though Confucianism is practiced throughout the education system in Vietnam, there is a glaring discrepancy between the teaching pedagogy used to educate students in the public and the private institutions (schools founded by Confucian scholars). 

In today’s situation, some public high schools in Vietnam have also begun to apply these skills in the experimentation and practice sessions. However, this is limited to only a handful of public high schools which are currently organizing research activities for their students. 

In Vietnam, RBE is not provided as a standard module in their curriculum whereas private schools are. The fact that RBE has shown its merits, it would be a strategic move to provide it as a standard education curriculum for the masses in the future. However, more planning and consideration should be conducted if the country intends to progress in this aspect of education. The gap between public and private schools can be clearly seen in Vietnamese education in which more facilities is provided for the private schools. 

As for Indonesia, the government and the science educators were tasked in educating its citizens to meet the changing needs of the country, both economically and socially. Indonesia’s approach to achieving this goal is via STEM education, in particular, STEM-D (STEM and disaster), a nation-wide initiative to build students’ literacy through integrating science, engineering, technology, math, and disaster education. This promotes students’ development in problem analysis and solution skills in the students’ learning. Students are able to understand the fundamental knowledge of science and technology before they come up with a solution. In the case of Indonesia, it is the disaster phenomena that affects the country. The STEM-D program also exposes students to basic steps of conducting research projects. Such an approach not only strengthens the fundamental knowledge of the students in science and technology, but also their capability to conduct research projects through proper scientific methods. Through programs such as STEM-D, Indonesia will eventually produce innovators and engineers who will contribute to the sustainability and growth of Indonesia from developing to a developed country in the future.

It is evident that countries in ASEAN have been applying the concepts of RBE in the education system in diverse forms. These practices are usually contrived based on the countries’ foresights on what they need to develop as a nation. For example, countries like Japan, which are prone to natural disasters, tend to have their national education geared towards disaster literacy. This thought process allows local educators to nurture students for local development and equip the local community. If educators champion these initiatives, future generations will be able to tackle the global issues with an inquisitive and visionary mind and become responsible global citizens.

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