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[KUALA LUMPUR] Scholars are urging Muslim countries to reform their science education in the university level to boost scientific and technological advancement and improve their economic development.

At the seminal meeting of the Task Force on Science at Universities in the Muslim World, held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on 16 December, Tan Sri Zakri Abdul Hamid, science adviser for Malaysia’s Prime Minister and chairman of the task force, noted that science and technology in member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has generally lagged behind other parts of the world.

Spearheaded by the online platform Muslim-Science.Com and hosted by the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology, the meeting brought together 13 leading experts from the Islamic world and other countries to examine the state of science education in Muslim countries.

According to UNESCO, the average spending for science in OIC countries is only one per cent of the national budget. Latest data from Thomson Reuters report that only 5 of the 57 OIC member states have highly cited researchers in the world.

“We are being left behind in the mastery of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) and reforming science education is the way to alleviate the situation,” said Zakri.

Nidhal Guessoum, convenor of the task force and a physics professor at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), pointed out that Islamic faith cannot be blamed for this situation because some Muslim countries are more advanced than others.

Guessoum believes the problem lies more in the pedagogy or the way science is taught in the universities of Muslim countries such as the language of instruction.

“In the UAE, students study science in Arabic during the elementary and secondary years but when they enter university, they are lazy to read because the textbooks are mainly in English,” he explained.

He also noted that the current pedagogy needs to be urgently evaluated and changed. He added that critical thinking or inquiry-based learning is also not facilitated in most parts of the Muslim world.

In the case of the curriculum, Michael Reiss, a science education professor from University College London, said that Muslim countries should broaden the contents of the science program in their universities by including more relevant social knowledge such as the history and philosophy of science.

“Historically, we know that science doesn’t come solely from the West but also from the Islamic world and China. By understanding how knowledge is built, it is easier for students to understand what science is,” said Reiss.

Members of the task force will finalise their recommendations on science education in June 2015 and submit these to the OIC as well as the education ministries of all Muslim countries.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South-East Asia & Pacific desk.