‘The Day After Tomorrow’ raised awareness and concerns over global warming; ‘On the Basis of Sex’ shed light on gender inequality; and the 2020 Oscar’s record-breaking ‘Parasite’ ignited discussions about class disparity and poverty. If films can educate their audience on social and environmental issues, why can’t they teach science, tech and problem solving too?

Goethe-Institut, Germany’s cultural institute, started a film festival to promote the teaching of science and tech. This is part of a broader effort to transform the teaching of soft skills like problem solving and creativity through science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “STEM begins with human problems,” says Andreas Klempin, who leads this film festival.

Klempin shares how the Science Film Festival and an online resource sharing platform for teachers will address the specific challenges facing schools in the region.

Challenges facing schools in Southeast Asia

The programme’s goal is to equip students with critical thinking and problem solving skills that will help them, even if they end up choosing a career path which has nothing to do with STEM subjects. “We will fail substantially if we don’t teach children to think critically and to solve real world problems,” said Klempin.

To understand the challenges Southeast Asian schools faced in teaching problem solving, Goethe-Institut surveyed over 200 educators across eight countries. One of the main challenges was that teachers were not trained to teach problem solving through STEM, and there were no good resources online to guide teachers on how they can do this.

The survey also found that there was a lack of learning resources in students’ native languages. Their level of proficiency in English was too low to “understand foreign language material sufficiently, especially in rural areas of many countries in Southeast Asia”, explains Klempin.

On top of that, many schools in the region that seem to be teaching problem solving in their curriculum are still focusing on exam preparation and teaching facts, rather than encouraging critical thinking. “Teaching often emphasises solving problems correctly, not creatively,” explains Klempin.

Teaching science and tech through films

Goethe-Institut wants to find a way to help make teaching soft skills in Southeast Asia more effective. In 2005, it introduced the Science Film Festival to present science issues in an accessible way. Students learn through a fun medium and teachers learn how to engage students in scientific discussions in the classroom.

Each year, the festival features films surrounding a specific topic, such as food security, material science and light, to educate children about issues in the world around them. This year onwards, the festival’s themes will align with the United Nations’ Decade of Action for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. “If children are given the space to learn, they will use it to expand their own horizons and to learn responsible behavior towards themselves and others, as well as toward the environment,” Klempin notes.

Teachers learn from this festival as well. “The teachers are themselves introduced to new ways of informal learning approaches, how scientific principles and knowledge in general can be communicated in a way that engages the interest of students in particular, who might not have an affinity for science,” explains Klempin.

This festival has also inspired more local science education content, both online and for television. “In Southeast Asia, a co-production of an edutainment TV magazine between nine broadcasters in the region was a result of the festival,” shares Klempin. In the last decade, more than 100 episodes have been broadcast in nine countries in the region.

An online platform to share teaching resources

Goethe-Institut is channeling its efforts into training teachers. “Educators need to champion change,” said Klempin at last year’s GovInsider Live in Bangkok. He has built a digital platform for teachers to share resources, exchange ideas and develop best practices for teaching problem solving.

Teaching materials are provided in all languages of participating Southeast Asian countries so that the information is accessible to students. The online platform is regularly updated with news and events in participating countries, so teachers are able to conduct topic-based projects and experiments in their classes, noted Klempin.

The training content ties in with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, such as having clean water and producing cheap and clean energy. “We want them to connect to issues outside of the classroom,” said Klempin.

These resources provide a launchpad for teachers to teach not just scientific knowledge, but also skills like collaboration and critical thinking in classrooms.

Science and technology doesn’t have to be taught within the confines of facts and figures; Goethe-Institut has shown how creative media can be an effective avenue to teach sciences, problem solving and global awareness.