Wanna get your kids excited about science? Scientist, father of two, and educator Pang Hoke Woei lets us know how!
We all know the future is a big old question mark when it comes to what careers and skills will be most in-demand when our kiddos grow up, but it’s a pretty safe bet that science and technology will only grow in importance. When we met father of two Pang Hoke Woei and heard about his various initiatives through both his employer, 3M (where he’s a Business Manager), and the Ministry of Education’s landmark Innovation Programme (IVP), we were keen to find out more. Pang has worked with more than 1,000 students in Singapore under the IVP, is a regular volunteer for the SST-3M InnoScience Challenge, and is a lead presenter for the 3M Science Outreach Program. He also gives regular tours at the 3M Customer Technical Centre, where visitors can get hands-on and learn more about 3M’s technology.
From at-home experiments, to fun family field trips, to ways to get girls into science, read on for Pang’s expert tips, mama!
How did you become interested in science as a child?
Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, I lived through the introduction of the colour television, the personal computer and other inventions enabled by discoveries and advancement in science.
A lot of my playtime was outdoors with friends and was influenced by what we saw on TV. Our “toys” were make-believe and more often than not, our imagination got the better of us. I guess this is kind of where the spark was ignited: the desire to see and understand how things are made, and what else can science do.
What sorts of activities and/or classes do you remember inspiring you?
Play is important. A lot of what we played with were either the products of our imagination or homemade. This is where, as children, we would hack and put together toys using materials that we had on hand to mimic either what we saw on television or in real life. When I joined the 3M Science Outreach program, this resonated with what I used to do as a child, except the desired outcome is pre-determined.
Do you think it’s difficult to develop an interest in science in children from a young age?
Parents face many challenges in encouraging their children to be passionate about science, but it is important to engage them and help them understand the impact of science on society, our community and in our everyday lives.
The recent 3M State of Science Index survey revealed that less than half of Singaporeans surveyed (42%) agree that science is important to their everyday lives, compared to 46% globally.
Thankfully, most parents in Singapore (94%) want their kids to know more about science. Below are some tactics that we parents and mentors can adopt to fan the flame of curiosity:
- Make it fun: Children learn through play and emulating others. Rather than trying to explain things, it may be better for them to experience through play and let them understand the relationship between cause and effect. The theories can come later. What’s more important is cultivating the curiosity to explore and discover in a simple and fun manner.
- For example, while tossing a ball, the child may learn “If I throw the ball like this, it will go this way. The harder I throw, the farther it will go.”, or “I can get it to bounce off the wall to get it to go around the corner.”
- Books and children’s programs: Books are a child’s best friend. My kids love to read, so my wife and I give them books. Over time, their curiosity takes over and that’s where they start probing about why things happen or how things work.
- Today, it is possible to have access to a lot of children’s educational programs, both on the television, over the internet and through other media. Some of these are very sophisticated and are designed to engage and capture the target audience attention.
What sorts of activities (whether at home, books to read, places to visit etc.) do you do with your own kids to spark their interest in science?
Personally, I believe in hands-on application. Teaching science beyond textbooks involves application, and the best way to apply science it is to experiment together with our children. In the home setting, these are more likely opportunistic rather than structured experiments that are carried out in schools or at work. Besides focusing on the science, it is equally important to spark the curiosity and creativity.
Another way is to go for field trips together, as children learn best through observation. From the Science Centre to the public spaces, there are many things to be learnt in these fascinating areas. These outings also serve as a means for my family to bond.
Do you have any tips for encouraging girls in particular to get involved with science?
Girls are definitely still under-represented in science. It can be intimidating when you’re the only girl in a robotics/coding class, or when science toys are geared towards boys’ interests. Everyone has their set of preferences and interest.
My younger child is a girl, I believe that science and engineering are not gender-specific. I would like to add that it’s up to us as parents to foster and nurture our children’s interests. Every child is different and they will have their natural inclination and strengths. It is in our hands as parents to create the optimal circumstances to let our children blossom.
I work for 3M, which is an equal opportunity employer, and we have a good balance of gender at all levels and functions of the organization, including R&D. For example, the former head of R&D at 3M Singapore is a female.
What was your career path that brought you to 3M?
I started in the semiconductor manufacturing industry in the mid-90’s when that industry was booming. However, there was something burning in me to seek a career that would take me out of into the field to interact with others and to address the challenges that they face. I interviewed with 3M in 1999 and was offered a technical service position. Since then, I have progressed through various positions in R&D and business within the organization.
What do you like about working there?
3M, as a global science company, supports my ambition to pursue a scientific career. It enables me to apply science to make a positive impact on lives around the world, particularly in Singapore.
Being in a science field gives me many opportunities to collaborate and interact with people of diverse cultures and hone my global scientific expertise. I think this is the key to my growth because it forces me to approach problems in other ways.
Over the course of my career here, I have been in the technical role, completed a Six Sigma Black Belt assignment, set up a technical support lab, and moved to business and business development. Science is a major part of every role I’ve taken on.
I also give tours at the 3M Customer Technical Centre (CTC), which allows visitors to explore the world of 3M science. As a volunteer in the 3M Science Outreach Programme, there are opportunities to share my passion with students.
It is also a platform for me to hone science communication skills and promote the work that we have done beyond the scientific community
What value is there for kids in Singapore to pursue a career in science?
Singaporeans are aware of the value of science but they may not see a value in pursuing a career in science.
Findings from the 3M State of Science Index survey found that 43% of Singaporeans regret not pursuing a career in science but 84% would encourage kids to pursue a career in science, and 94% of parents want their kids to know more about science.
A career in science allows one to develop ideas to drive new inventions and commercialise them to make life easier and better for people around the world. With its unique geography and economy, the challenges that Singapore faces will require customized solutions that can cater to our future needs and development.
Innovation in water management is a good example of how science can help overcome the constraint of a lack of natural water resources. So, it is my opinion that there will always be a place for science in the local economy.
What resources are available to parents in Singapore to encourage a love of science in their kids?
We are very fortunate in Singapore. There is a wide range of public resources available, like the public libraries and the Singapore Science Center’s blog Stir Fried Science. With access to the World Wide Web, the level of access to information gets elevated to an even higher level. Parents can use relevant platforms online to kickstart a conversation on science with their children to spark their interest in the subject matter.
There are many suggestions for simple play and experiments we can try safely at home. 3M has always been keen on bringing science into education. There are a series of global videos on YouTube “In the Lab with 3M 4kids” where 3M employees demonstrate some of the theories of science.
Parents can also make use of social platforms such as Facebook to kickstart a conversation on science with their children. On our 3M Facebook page, we regularly feature stories on the science and innovation behind products used in everyday lives. This helps children to appreciate science beyond what is taught in classrooms.
There is a plethora of information out there, and we as parents have the responsibility to ensure that our kids are accessing sites with appropriate content.