UM Cultivates Young Science Talent in Secondary Schools

Text│Albee Lei, UM Reporters Christy Kuan & Terence Tan
Photo│Ella Cheong & Jack Ho, with some provided by the interviewees

Besides educating students and initiating influential research projects, the University of Macau is also dedicated to serving the local community. Leong Ieng Tak and Wang Yafan, assistant professors from the Faculty of Science and Technology and Faculty of Health Sciences, respectively, have turned their passion for serving the community into a sense of responsibility to nurture young scientists in local secondary schools.

Persistent Not Only Because of Passion

Prof Leong has been training local students for Macao Mathematics Olympiad for 23 years. After joining UM in 1994, he became the person in charge of local matters related to the International Mathematics Olympiad (IMO). At first, there were not enough students to participate in the IMO, so Prof Leong trained students by himself. Later, as more and more students started enrolling in the competition, Leong began to conduct regular training sessions in collaboration with local secondary schools. Over the years, he has nurtured many award-winning students. Recently, a student he coached won a gold medal in the IMO, which is Macao’s first gold medal at this competition since 1990. ‘I was born and raised in Macao, so I want to do something to enhance the quality of education in Macao,’ says Prof Leong. ‘¬The university provides a platform for young people to develop their talent. I feel very happy to have produced talented students.

Prof Leong Ieng Tak

Prof Wang Yafan last year participated in a science popularisation seminar co-organsied by UM and Pui Ching Middle School. That was the first time she lectured to secondary school students. Now she goes to Pui Ching every Saturday to give life sciences lessons to form-1 students. Asked why she is willing to give lessons to secondary school students during her free time when she already has a busy work schedule at UM, she says, ‘I myself am a graduate of Pui Ching Middle School, so I feel very happy to be able to give back to my alma mater. I enjoy the company of energetic and curious students. It actually helps me de-stress.’

Prof Wang Yafan

Cultivating Students’ Interest in Science

When talking about the prospect of nurturing students, most people would think of boring test questions and incomprehensible theories. ‘¬The form-1 students I teach are usually between 12 and 13 years old, so I cannot teach them very dicult knowledge in life sciences,’ says Prof Wang. ‘Instead, I use simple and fun activities to stimulate their curiosity about science and prompt them to raise their own questions. It is very important to develop a strong interest before starting a career in the field.’ She adds that it is her passion for science that has kept her going when faced with difficulties.

The secondary school students taught by Prof Wang study in a lab at UM

What about the students that receive training for the IMO? Surely they participate in the competition to win, right? ‘Winning is not our first priority, although this could be the goal for many people,’ says Prof Leong. ‘I hope to teach the students to think scientifically and to increase their interest in mathematics. During the training, I expose them to various kinds of test questions and encourage them to apply for the competition, because I feel the experience itself can help broaden their horizons, but I do not force them to do practice questions over and over again.’ Both Leong and Wang agree that education does not always produce immediate results, but it will certainly have a positive influence on the students in the long run. Sometimes it may take years for the effect to manifest itself. Sometimes, the effect may even spill over into other areas of the students’ life.

A student trained by Prof Leong receives a gold medal at the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad

A Little Spark Can Kindle a Great Fire

Most people agree that education should start as early as possible. Therefore, the basic education provided by secondary schools is very important. Prof Leong recalls a case from over a decade ago where a mathematically talented student was forced to give up education because of financial reasons. ‘Things are different today. The government now pours a lot of resources into education. Teaching methods are also being continuously improved,’ he says. ‘Both of us are members of the Macao community, so we feel it’s our duty to serve the community by educating students and helping them discover their talent. This is a better way to use the resources provided by the university, and it also benefits the development of Macao.’ Prof Wang says that she did not have the opportunity to use a laboratory until her third year in college, while secondary school students today can use the labs at UM. ‘Is provides a very good opportunity to cultivate their interest in science,’ she says. ‘Besides fulfilling my duty as a faculty member at UM, I feel the need to give back to society through different channels, and teaching secondary school students is one of them. It is a very meaningful job because I can help to nurture students that will become the pillars of Macao.’

Prof Leong has nurtured many mathematically talented students

A little spark can kindle a great fire. Sometimes the e ort we make to do something may not produce immediate results, but just like a well-attended seed will blossom into a beautiful flower, so too will the e ort bear fruit over time.

ISSUE 16 | 2017

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