Author's blurb: When I entered my first day in the science stream in Form 4, I just couldn't pick up on topics like physics and chemistry or find them interesting. That made me drop it altogether and go into the arts instead.
Realizing that only 19% of students chose to join the science flow, Syukran knew that there was a problem in Malaysia's Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education.
So he started a space program to inspire kids to get into high-quality industries like engineering, robotics, and data science.
After working at Petronas for 10 years, he became a consultant to the Malaysian aerospace industry.
There, his job was to support and promote the growth of the aerospace sector in Malaysia.
"If we want to change the trend – the erosion of interest in STEM – we have to change our traditional approach to STEM education," he said.
Coupled with his experience and a surge in edutainment theme parks like KidZania, he decided to devote the next phase of his life to developing space-related enrichment warehouses like no one else in the Malaysian market did.
The Martian brought the idea to market
The idea of founding the Generasi Marikh Academy came to Syukran when he saw The Martian in 2015.
“I was inspired by the ingenuity and tenacity of character astronaut Mark Watney, who was left alone on Mars and survived using science and technology to solve one problem at a time,” he said.
“This is the kind of positive storytelling we need to change the narrative of our next generation. To be leaders and innovators, not just users of technology but also creators. "
Syukran trains a class of "space cadets" / Photo credit: Generasi Marikh Academy
Generasi Marikh Academy runs its programs as leadership camps with an emphasis on STEM and spatial content curated by experienced trainers from the industry.
Syukran expects not only to be an astronaut, but also to ask experts from the space industry.
"Most of the space jobs are on-site, such as robotics satellite and rocket engineers, data scientists, software engineers, planetary and earth observation scientists," he said.
"These talents can also be used in other industries, especially since the country wants to switch to high-quality industries in the future."
Trainers work with learning and development specialists to design modules that are educational yet fun.
This includes hands-on activities, curated tours, role play, and gamification.
Occasionally, they work with robots, drones, and coders to run more in-depth technical workshops.
The kids using VR in their workshop / Photo credit: Generasi Marikh Academy
"One of our key camps, The Space Race Junior, repeats the astronaut selection process by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), where we focus on health, fitness and nutrition education," said Syukran.
“We also value teamwork and communication skills. Astronauts are excellent communicators and some are very charismatic. We want to make our space cadets future leaders, ”he said.
Overall, programs like these aim to improve a child's soft skills while highlighting local societal problems.
For example, Space Race Junior aims to highlight the problem of obesity as Malaysia has one of the highest obesity rates in Asia.
Promote the next generation
The Generasi Marikh Academy currently has 6 camps, each with 25 to 50 children per group.
CSR programs with orphanages and youth in the countryside can bring between 100 and 250 children.
Syukran also maintains close relationships with parents to encourage the child's interest in their programs and to inform them of upcoming space events and workshops that they have appreciated.
“I usually spend some time with parents before and after camps to share my views on how to further promote their children's interests. They follow me on social media and often become good friends. I'm trying to create as much value as possible, ”he shared.
"Of course it will be a few years before the direct impact of my camps on a child's education and career choice becomes apparent, but we try our best to encourage those who show a strong interest."
Syukran welcomes the participants to the program / Image Credit: Generasi Marikh Academy
Syukran leads Generasi Marikh as a passion project. Its team of moderators consists mostly of undergraduate and graduate students studying in STEM areas, with occasional guest speakers from relevant industries.
However, due to COVID-19, the team had to stop their warehouses and sell goods on their website.
He said it helps that the kids already love collecting the academy's merchandise like various t-shirt designs and mission patches that are offered in the camps, which leads them to search for more.
Some Merch / Image Credit from Generasi Marikh Academy: Generasi Marikh Academy
Once the pandemic is over, he hopes to expand the academy by running its programs with schools.
Exploring Malaysia's future in aerospace
Syukran was also recently invited to participate in a workshop initiated by the Malaysian government that unveiled Malaysia's new industrial master plan to discuss the role of the aerospace sector in the country's economy.
So we were curious to hear what he thought is needed for the local space industry to move forward in the future.
Syukran on his research trip to NASA in California / Photo credit: Generasi Marikh Academy
“We have to look at nations like the United Arab Emirates and India to see how they develop a space industry from nothing. Closer to home, we have Australia, Thailand, and Vietnam aggressively expanding their space sectors, launching satellites and other space programs that have a direct impact on the economy and communities. Singapore positions itself as a hub for newspapers and focuses on space applications.
"The UK Space Agency plays an important role in connecting scientists with industry and the government has identified the UK space sector as an important contributor to its economy."
He finally added that the Malaysian Space Agency (MYSA) already had plans to submit a new space bill to parliament soon.
Bottom line: Glad to hear that plans to develop the space scene in Malaysia are underway as it is still a fairly new sector that we hardly hear about locally.
- You can find out more about the Generasi Marikh Academy here.
- More information on other Malaysian startups can be found here.
Selected image source: Generasi Marikh Academy