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STEM in Asia: Development in a Unique Context

Rapid advancements in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — or, STEM — are addressing unique challenges in regions across the globe. Such developments are not only key to expanding infrastructure and financial growth, but can also be instrumental in alleviating poverty, empowering the marginalized, and building sustainable livelihoods.

From the barriers facing Indian women in engineering to Malaysia’s position as a global leader in solar energy production, a deeper dive into each of the four pillars of STEM paints a clearer picture of the Asian development landscape.

Science & Sustainability

Science of Life Studies 24/7, Malaysia

An increasingly relevant subsection of science is sustainability science, a new transdisciplinary field that integrates life sciences and natural sciences with economics, public health, and policy. In the face of such multi-faceted issues as migration, climate change, and food security, sustainability science has a number of applications in addressing the complex development challenges facing Asia in the 21st century.

Climate change carries particular urgency in this context, as sea levels in the Pacific rise four times faster than the global average and six of the ten countries in the world most affected by extreme weather events are in the Asia Pacific region (Asian Development Bank). Developments in renewable energy mitigate these threats by offsetting carbon dioxide emissions, and as the world races to master this technology, one Asian country has emerged as a global leader in the field.

Malaysia is the third largest solar module manufacturer in the world. Its solar energy operations have been growing by an average of 124% per year since 2012, yet one million Malaysians still do not have access to electricity and 62% of businesses in the country find it difficult to source skilled workers. To meet the need for a stronger workforce that can expand the reach of new energy, initiatives like the Solar Academy Program provide underprivileged youth with cutting-edge training that serves as an access point to occupations in STEM.

Through a grant from PPG Global Charitable Contributions Program, a donor in Give2Asia’s advised grant making network, the Science of Life Studies 24/7 (SOLS 24/7) in Malaysia has been able to expand its mission of positioning underserved communities as actors in the renewable energy sector. The grant funded the renovation of its Solar Academy in 2016, which educates students on solar energy and harvesting through hands-on experience with techniques and equipment utilized in the field. This award-winning humanitarian organization is premised on a model of empowerment and access which has had far-reaching impacts for rural and indigenous community members. Not only do students acquire practical training and accreditation unavailable to them elsewhere, but they bring this knowledge back to their communities.

SOLS 24/7 is currently in the midst of its second grant from PPG Global Charitable Contributions Program made through Give2Asia, for a project which aims to build off-grid solar panel systems with a 20-year guarantee to provide electricity to two indigenous villages and community centers in Orang Asli, Malaysia. It also operates in Cambodia, Timor-Leste, Laos, Thailand, and India, and continues to act as a leader in sustainable science innovations for those areas that need it most.

About Science of Life Studies 24/7 (SOLS24/7)

Science of Life Studies 24/7 (SOLS) is an award-winning humanitarian organization committed to serve, educate, and empower poor and underserved communities in Malaysia. The Solar Academies provide underprivileged youth with free education covering the technical skills, theoretical knowledge and practical experience needed to enter the solar industry. Through various education and social empowerment programs, it works to transform traditionally underserved communities and break the cycle of poverty.

Technology & Teaching

Agastya International Foundation, India

In the United States alone, the demand for STEM-related jobs is projected to grow by 13% between 2017 and 2027. We are seeing a similar trend across the world. While STEM advancements have enormous potential for influencing the socio-economic sector in the Asia Pacific, it is traditionally taught in a way that leaves graduates unprepared to meet the growing needs of the industry.  Research suggests that STEM education must be reimagined to address the greater context of the social, political, and environmental conditions at play.

In 2016, India produced 2.6 million STEM colleges graduates – the second-most in the world behind China – yet these graduates are unable to meet the country’s demand for workers. The Economic Times reports that the shortage of STEM workers has increased from 6% to 12% in the past four years in spite of high graduation rates, and researchers suggest that STEM fluency is the missing link needed to translate education into practice. STEM fluency integrates holistic, practical applications of teachings into traditional pedagogy. This approach unites various disciplines, such as bringing writing activities into mathematics classes, that better equip graduates to enter the workforce with skills to innovate and address contemporary challenges.

Give2Asia grantee Agastya International Foundation (Agastya) designs unique initiatives to address this challenge head-on. Agastya cultivates cross-disciplinary teaching methods that meet the growing needs of STEM education, starting with instructors in the most under-reached communities. In 2016, a donor in Give2Asia’s advised grant making network funded Agastya’s Maverick Teacher’s Global Summit in South India. The summit brought together educators from around the world, including members of the Education World Forum,  for a six-day workshop on innovative teaching methods of science education for a sustainable world. The summit was guided by 30 global thought leaders, policy makers, and expert practitioners in education. For many teachers present, this was the first time that topics of infrastructure, climate change, and sustainability were called forth as integrated components of science education. Teachers were further introduced to new teaching methods and strategies to better connect with students from rural communities.

By bringing together global leaders in the technology sector as well as politics and education, Agastya’s summit contributed to the reimagining of STEM’s role in global development practice. Educators left the summit with new tools and methods to bring STEM fluency to communities around the world, and understanding their crucial role in preparing students and their greater communities for success in the global workforce.


About Agastya International Foundation

Agastya International Foundation (Agastya) is a transformative educational charity engaged in sparking curiosity and nurturing creativity through hands-on science education among marginalized communities in India. To date, Agastya has directly reached 6 million children and 200,000 teachers. Their programs are holistically designed to spark creative-thinking and problem-solving skills, improve learning achievement, raise confidence and self-belief and expand opportunities.

As a member of Give2Asia’s Fiscal Sponsorship network, Agastya can be easily accessed to send tax-deductible donations through the Give2Asia portal.

Engineering & Empowerment

Action India

Advancements in engineering contribute not only to infrastructure but to financial and technological growth – and often to lowering inequality between socioeconomic classes. However, research indicates gender inequality in engineering and other STEM fields is an increasing challenge. Women accounted for less than a third (28.8%) of those employed in scientific research and development (R&D) across the world according to a 2017 study (UNESCO Institute for Statistics). This inequality exists despite the fact that participation and achievements of female students in STEM topics is on par with their male peers throughout K-12 education. This demonstrates the prohibitive social conditions that keep women from continuing into related career paths.

India is no exception to the challenges facing women in engineering fields. In India, the average tech company has one female engineer for every three male engineers and nearly 50% of women engineers quit after 8 years. It takes women an average of two years longer than their male counterparts to receive a promotion, and they often either move out of core engineering roles into consulting or testing roles, or exit the field completely. A range of studies indicate that more equitable participation of women into STEM would not only improve the gender-biased conditions of workplaces themselves, but would trigger improvements in innovation and research that would benefit the greater sector.

Give2Asia’s fiscal sponsorship partner Action India teaches women the technical and social skills needed to be successful in STEM careers. One of its programs teaches thousands of young women coding skills, an asset with applications in business, manufacturing, health, IT, and many other sectors. In 2015, there were a reported 7 million job openings that required coding – and that number continues to increase. Recognizing that women’s empowerment involves men as well, Action India works with both young women and men to normalize diversity and respect in the workplace. Their Gender Equality – Peer Educators in School program further promotes this mission by targeting girls residing in urban slums and resettlement colonies in Delhi. This combination of education and empowerment is the key to supporting women as they enter and become leaders in STEM fields, ultimately improving the sector’s capacity for innovations that will benefit the entire world.

About Action India

Founded in 1976, Action India is a community-based organization focused on working with the most marginalized sections of the population in and around Delhi. Action India’s approach combines education, health care and economic well-being with advocacy to stop violence against women and girls. Their success in changing the lives of hundreds of thousands slum dwellers and villagers is rooted in the development of collaborative leadership by women and girls from diverse castes, income and education levels.  

As a member of Give2Asia’s Fiscal Sponsorship network, Action India is accessible to receive tax-deductible donations from individuals, corporations, and family foundations alike in order to continue to advance its mission. Learn more and donate to their cause today.

Math & Mobility

Yuan T. Lee Science Education for All, Taiwan

Mathematics is the foundation not only of nearly all STEM careers, but of many other sectors. It is the basis for data science and statistics, for example, which are used readily in business and the marketing industry. Strong math education is therefore critical to prepare children for success in their future careers both within and far beyond traditional STEM fields – yet certain demographics continue to face systematic exclusion from such instruction.

The case of Taiwan embodies the paradox of excellent yet exclusionary mathematics instruction. It is ranked number three in the world for its quality of math education and produces graduates that consistently outscore students from OECD countries on international standardized math exams, yet there lies a great disparity in achievement between metropolitan and rural learners. Rural learners in Taiwan are systematically marginalized, facing barriers to access unmet by those in metropolitan areas including mobility obstacles and a lack of resources.  One study revealed that 58% of children in rural Taiwan “do not have a computer or internet access, while nearly 90% of households living in an urban environment have as many as three or four computers connected to the internet in their homes” (Child Welfare League Foundation). The same study found that 95% of students in rural areas do not have access to resources in English.  These challenges quickly compound, inhibiting students from achieving high marks on requisite math and language skills tested on national standardized exams, thus preventing students from entering high school, university, and the skilled labor market.

The Yuan T. Lee Foundation Science Education for All looks to close this achievement gap by bringing science and math camps directly to under-resourced rural communities. A donor in Give2Asia’s advised grant making network funded their Science Education for All Program, enabling them to run math and science camps in six cities in rural Taiwan, reaching over 500 disadvantaged elementary and junior high students. Through this initiative, students interacted with hands-on math activities, offering many of them key exposure to mathematics programming for the first time. Spreading science literacy to rural schools in Taiwan is a critical step in addressing the unmet needs of a demographic frequently overlooked by the international community because of Taiwan’s high global rankings. By empowering underserved students, Yuan T. Lee Foundation Science Education for All is expanding the pool of participants in a field that serves careers within and far beyond traditional STEM sectors.

About the Yuan T. Lee Foundation Science Education for All

Yuan T. Lee Foundation Science Education for All was founded in 1983 with the vision of spreading science education to those communities that would otherwise be least able to access it. Its main office is in Taipei, Taiwan, with two branches in Kaohsiung and Chunghwa. The major activities of the Yuan T. Lee Foundation Science Education for All include the Fun Science Competition for High School Students, Science Camps for elementary and junior high school students, Math Camps for elementary and junior high school students, and the Gunter Fables Camp for Ecological Conservation. 

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