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Bridging the rural divide in STEM Education through culture, design thinking & gamification in Malaysia

I enjoy using games to learn because I want to be smart.” - Student, 10 years old, Long Lamai, Malaysia

Research funded by AHRC and the Newton Fund is creatively transforming approaches to education for school children in rural areas of Malaysia through game design and computational thinking. Malaysian school children in under-resourced areas have increased their engagement with STEM subjects and developed stronger soft skills through these practices.

School children in remote areas are often unable to access the same quality of education as their counterparts in urban settings. When resources are low, subjects that are deemed less academic often take a backseat, placing school children in rural Malaysia at a disadvantage. The widening educational gap reduces the opportunities available for these communities and can hinder economic growth. 

Professor Sylvester Arnab, based at Coventry University’s Disruptive Media Learning Lab, alongside Dr Jacey-Lynn Minoi, Mr Terrin Lim, and Dr Fitri Mohamad from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) were awarded a research grant ‘Creative and Participatory Transcultural Practices and Problem Solving Through Game Design and Computational Thinking (CreativeCulture)’ through The Newton Fund. They have addressed the widening educational divide by co-creating gamed based learning resources and training teachers to develop and deliver their own resources in their respective schools. 

This research has demonstrated the importance of co-creativity and design through play and games in enhancing the learning experience. By incorporating play and games into teaching approaches in Malaysia, school children have not only demonstrated more enthusiasm for STEM subjects but also developed soft skills that are crucial to their development, including empathy, problem solving, teamwork, memory and getting along better with others.

The game design approach was first piloted with postgraduate students at UNIMAS who incorporated their own approaches in designing interactive activities. Three different schools and communities in rural Malaysia had the opportunity to test these innovative games which were then integrated into teaching approaches. Subsequently, school teachers and children in Coventry attended workshops to create their own game based activities and then used video conferencing to share their experiences with a group of school children in Malaysia.

The simplified game design process and the game-based learning resources are being developed into blueprints by UNIMAS to ensure that teachers and students can still access and adopt them beyond the duration of the project. Coventry University will continue to collaborate with UNIMAS to further populate the online hub with open educational resources based on play and games, including instructive videos and case studies. A creative play lab has also been built at UNIMAS to strengthen the interactive learning community between local school teachers and university students, while Professor Arnab and partners recently showcased the research at a keynote address at the European Conference on Game-Based Learning in France.