Giving Tamil school kids a leg-up

Students seen at the 2011 Asti Science Fair for Young Children. (Pic courtesy of Asti)

PETALING JAYA: For the past 12 years, the Association of Science, Technology and Innovation (Asti) has been working to cultivate an interest in science and technology among primary schoolchildren, especially those from Tamil schools.

Its founder Mohamed Yunus Yasin said Tamil schools were often under-resourced while the children had confidence issues.

His goal is to see them develop enough self-confidence to follow their dreams.

“We believe that if you want to learn anything, you need to have confidence first. If you don’t have that confidence, you will succumb to your environment or suffer from peer pressure,” he told FMT.

Asti organises science competitions at the school, state and national levels under its programme Science Fair for Young Children (SFYC). A number of participants have gone on to compete in countries like England, China, Korea, Indonesia and Canada, and some have even won.

Last year, 370 teams from 326 schools across nine zones participated in Asti’s state-level competition. Of these 326 schools, 68 went on to compete at the national level.

It costs more than RM500,000 to organise the entire programme, which runs for about five months and begins with school-level science fairs.

Since 2011, Asti has been training teachers and providing the materials for them to organise these fairs at their schools so that more students can participate.

The group trains 700 teachers every year at 10 different locations.

“At school-level science fairs, we have almost 60,000 participants each year,” Yunus added.

Some of the schools that participate in these competitions are located in rural areas. However, this has not stopped their contenders, who often defy the odds.

Yunus gave the example of SJK (T) Buluh Akar, which only had 24 students. However, the students competed in the Philippines and went on to win the gold medal.

“SJK (T) Biong Perak meanwhile went to our science fair and won first prize in one of the categories.”

At the time of competition, the school only had four students. Now, it has six.

“Basically, the whole school came,” Yunus joked.

He also recalled a group of students from a school in Pulau Pangkor, who had never left the island before that.

“Although they didn’t win, it was an experience for them,” he said.

While Asti has been operating for many years now, Yunus says the organisation is facing a lack of funding.

He told FMT Asti had been forced to change the format of its competition this year. Instead of organising state-level exhibitions, it asked the students to send in videos of their science experiments.

Nevertheless, the NGO is pushing on. This year’s SFYC project was their biggest and longest running to date, with 111 participants nationwide compared to 68 last year.