The role of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in terms of students’ learning outcome is a central topic for the educational field. However, STEM education is a very broad term (Baran, Bilici, Mesutoglu, & Ocak, 2016; Bybee, 2013; Hsu, Lin, & Yang, 2017). Therefore, in this current study, STEM education (enactment) refers to teaching, learning, and integrating the disciplines and skills of science, technology, mathematics, and engineering in STEM topics, with an emphasis on solving real-world problems. Indeed, STEM education focuses on hands-on activity (Cameron & Craig, 2016; Yildirim & Turk, 2018) to prepare students in facing the developments of a new competitive era. In STEM learning activities, soft skills such as problem-solving, higher-order thinking skills, and collaborative work are the main focuses on which students’ learning is geared toward (Li, Huang, Jiang, & Chang, 2016; Meyrick, 2011).
STEM activities in the classroom endeavor to improve the quality of the learning process (Meyrick, 2011), as well as learning outcomes (Adam, 2004; Cedefop, 2017). Student-learning outcomes vary in areas, including academic learning achievement, attitude, motivation, and higher-order thinking skills. Moreover, some studies said that the learning process and learning outcomes might differ on many factors, such as the subject of study, learning duration, or even kinds of environmental conditions (Marton, Alba, & Kun, 2014; OECD, 2018). Furthermore, a strong link between the quality of the learning process and outcomes from STEM education, which originated from the west, constitutes a fundamental reason for educators and policy-makers to apply the same principles in Asian countries (Khaeroningtyas, Permanasari & Hamidah, 2016; Yildirim, 2016).
Even though the eastern countries (Asia) and western countries (notably, the USA) have many differences such as in teaching and learning characteristics as well as their culture (Di, 2017; Hassan & Jamaludin, 2010; Lee, Chai, & Hong, 2019), both regions have similarities, primarily in terms of problems and challenges faced in the education field. The birth and development of STEM education in the west were motivated by the low interest of the younger generation in work related to the STEM field (Chesky & Wolfmeyer, 2015). This low-interest condition was also exacerbated by the increasing competitiveness of workplace and uncertain global world challenges (Chesky & Wolfmeyer, 2015). Indeed, this condition is also the same as that faced by most countries in Asia. The problem of low student interest in a subject related to STEM, the lack of interest for young people in STEM-related work, and the highly competitive global challenges of the world, are similar to what happened in the USA (Jayarajah, Saat, Rauf, & Amnah, 2014; Kim, Chu, & Lim, 2015).
New changes are needed for the teaching and learning process that can address the challenges faced by Asian countries. Therefore, it is not surprising that over the last decade, there has been a good deal of research done by researchers and teachers in Asia, especially related to STEM enactment in classrooms (Lee et al., 2019; Lutfi, Ismail, & Azis, 2018; Yildirim, 2016; Yıldırım & Altun, 2015; Yıldırım & Sevi, 2016). Currently, STEM enactments in Asia not only focus on extending STEM-related subjects and students’ interest but also on concerns about students’ twenty-first-century learning outcomes such as real-world problem-solving capacity, academic learning achievement, as well as higher-order thinking skills (Lee et al., 2019). STEM implementation in Asia is often accompanied by a learning approach or model (Suratno, Wahono, Chang, Retnowati, & Yushardi, 2020). An evaluation and current status of whether STEM education also has a good impact, specifically in terms of learning outcomes in the Asian region, is logically necessary.
Several extensive works on the effectiveness of STEM education on learning outcomes have been published (Jayarajah et al., 2014; Saraç, 2018; Yildirim, 2016). Research showed that STEM education is effective in improving students’ learning outcomes, such as academic learning achievement, student motivation, attitude, problem-solving skills (Saraç, 2018; Yildirim, 2016). Further research shows that more than two-thirds of publications in the STEM field come from America (Lee et al., 2019). Lee et al. also state that further research is needed to adjust the STEM education for the conditions faced by Asian countries. The statement indicates that an important consideration is how to redesign curricula in Asia in a way that accommodates STEM education. Another research conducted by Mustafa, Ismail, Tasir, Said, and Haruzuan (2016) reviewed effective strategies in integrating STEM education globally for many purposes, including student-learning outcomes. Based on this study, project-based learning was the most effective strategy to implement STEM education among Asian countries; especially studies were focused on students in the secondary setting. Furthermore, some studies have recently reviewed the trend of research in STEM education. The studies argued that research in STEM education is increasing in importance globally and being an international field (Li, Froyd, & Wang, 2019; Li, Wang, Xiao, & Froyd, 2020). However, none of the studies revealed the effectiveness of STEM enactment in the Asian sphere with all the characteristics inherent in said countries. It is crucial to delve into the effectiveness of STEM enactment in Asian countries, which from some aspects, are quite different. However, many problems faced in education have similarities to the western country, the USA, where STEM education originated. Moreover, that is important to know whether STEM education is a fundamental tool in Asia toward improved learning outcomes. Therefore, this current study will have considerable impacts and substantial contributions to the knowledge body of STEM education throughout the world.
This study points out a systematic result of the review and a meta-analysis pertinent to how the impact of STEM enactment to Asian students’ learning outcomes. The main focus of learning outcomes under investigation is students’ academic learning achievement, higher-order thinking skills, and motivation. The key questions that guide this study are as follows:
What is the portrait of STEM enactment in Asian countries in terms of region, subject, and education level?
Do the STEM enactments influence students’ academic learning achievement, higher-order thinking skills (HOTS), and motivation in Asian countries?
Under what circumstances and for what learning outcomes are STEM enactments more effective in Asian students?
STEM education and its significant development in Asian regions
STEM education has a very broad meaning. Therefore, many definitions were developed and discovered during the last two decades. Bybee (2013) states that STEM education can consist of a subject, intradisciplinary, interdisciplinary, or can be a particular discipline. Furthermore, Bybee (2013) and Sanders (2009) asserted that STEM education is a spectrum that focuses on solving real problems, which have an interdisciplinary nature at its core. Another opinion states that STEM education is a meta-discipline based on learning standards where teaching has integrated teaching and learning approaches, and where specific content is undivided, contemplating a dynamic and fluid instruction (Merrill & Daugherty, 2009). A more modern definition states that STEM education is an interdisciplinary teaching method that integrates science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and other knowledge, skills, and beliefs, in particular, to these disciplines (Baran et al., 2016; Koul, Fraser, Maynard, & Tade, 2018; Thibaut et al., 2018). Thus, STEM education is a term referring to teaching and learning in a STEM subject, which emphasizes problem-solving with real-world problems integrating many disciplines and other skills such as science, technology, mathematics, and engineering.
STEM education has been present for more than two decades (Timms, Moyle, Weldon, & Mitchell, 2018). The term STEM started from the term SMET (science, mathematics, engineering, technology), which came into existence in the 1990s (Chesky & Wolfmeyer, 2015). Some education experts from western countries (notably, the USA) initiated STEM education. This approach grew in popularity after the US government announced the plan to advance education into STEM education in 2009 (Burke & McNeill, 2011). STEM education is highly promoted in the USA to encourage the next generation into training within the fields of STEM. Furthermore, Burke & McNeill argued that another goal was to maintain the enthusiasm of the younger generation in their interest in STEM-related careers. However, the essential goal is that both students and the younger generation can face the competition of the new global world.
The rapid development and functional effects of STEM education programs in western countries have attracted the interest of many researchers and policy-makers from other countries (Sheffield et al., 2018; Timms et al., 2018), including Asia. Eastern countries face similar problems where there is a lack of interest from the younger generation in careers related to STEM (Jayarajah et al., 2014; Kim et al., 2015; Sin, Ng, Shiu, & Chung, 2017). Furthermore, Jayarajah et al. (2014) and Shahali, Halim, Rasul, Osman, & Zulkifeli (2017) exemplify Malaysia consistently registers lower numbers of citizens interested in science, engineering, and technology issues compared to the USA. As for the Malaysian population, it shows that more than one-third of the children clearly expressed a lack of interest in science and technology. Another researcher, Kim et al. (2015), asserts that in the last two decades, Korea has faced a problem in science and engineering education, which is students’ disinterest in science and math, even though their achievement in science and math is high. Another crucial reason is that STEM education promises as an appropriate tool for students in facing challenges and global competition (Kim et al., 2015; Meyrick, 2011; Yildirim, 2016).
Several parts of Asia, such as Western Asia, Eastern Asia, and Southeastern Asia, are now aggressively implementing and developing STEM education (Chen & Chang, 2018; Choi & Hong, 2015; Karahan, Bilici & Unal, 2015; Park & Yoo, 2013). Some countries such as Korea, Thailand, and Malaysia have focused on STEM/ STEAM education as an essential part of their education system (Cho, 2013; Hong, 2017; Hsiao et al., 2017; Kang, Ju, & Jang, 2013; Shahali, Ismail, & Halim, 2017). While in other countries in Asia, even though STEM education has not become a regular part of the education system, many researchers or teachers have enacted STEM education. Several review studies have pointed out that the trend of research on STEM education in Asia began in 2013. Today, STEM has become a phenomenon that attracts many people (Jayarajah et al., 2014; Lee et al., 2019). Therefore, during this booming stage in Asia, it is crucial to know the extent of the impact of STEM enactments, especially concerning the students’ learning outcomes.
The supporting of instructional strategies on STEM education
The implementation of STEM education is carried out in various ways throughout the world, including in Asia. Some learning approaches or learning models are combined and or juxtaposed with the STEM enactment (Chung, Lin, & Lou, 2018; Lou, Tsai, Tseng, & Shih, 2014). For example, the researchers used project-based learning, problem-based learning, or the 6E learning model in enacting STEM education. This combination is needed to strengthen the expected effect after STEM learning (Mustafa et al., 2016). Furthermore, the modification and or combination of STEM with learning approaches or models have a high potential in facilitating implementation and for achieving effective instruction (Martín-Páez, Aguilera, Perales-Palacios, & Vílchez-González, 2019; Mustafa et al., 2016). However, STEM learning may be implemented with or without other learning approaches (Chung, Lin, & Lou, 2018; Martín-Páez et al., 2019). Moreover, Jeong and Kim (2015) proposes that effective instruction occurs when students are given the learning opportunity to demonstrate, adapt, modify, and transform new knowledge to meet the needs of new contexts and situations. Successful implementation of instruction, of course, leads to the accomplishment of predetermined targets, in this case, improved student learning outcomes.
Ample studies suggest using the project-based learning (PjBL) approach to implement STEM education. Mustafa et al. (2016) investigated the dominant instructional strategies to promote the integration of STEM education at different institutional levels. Mustafa et al. argued that combined with project-based learning was the most effective way to implement STEM education. This assertion is reasonable because PjBL characteristics are quite similar to the integrated STEM approach (Siew, Amir, & Chong, 2015). Chiang and Lee (2016) said that the characteristics of PjBL are encouraging students to work cooperatively, developing students’ thinking skills, allowing them to have creativity, and leading them to access the information on their own and to demonstrate this information. Finally, Çevik (2018) revealed that a learning environment created with STEM-PjBL is vital for solving the complexity of critical concepts in STEM fields. Thus, the role of several factors, such as learning approaches (e.g., PjBL), learning models, and or modifying STEM itself, become critical elements that must be considered when implementing STEM education.
Students’ learning outcomes estimated on STEM enactment
Learning outcomes are the main target in a learning process, including on STEM enactment. Cedefop (2017) argued that students’ learning outcomes are all types of results expected during and after the learning process. Another researcher, Adam (2004), states that learning outcome is a teaching result, which is expected to be obtained by students after a learning process. Further, Adam stated that learning outcomes are usually expressed in the form of knowledge, skills, and or attitude. Slightly different, Gosling and Moon (2002) state that there is no precise way of defining or writing the meaning of such learning outcomes, but a learning outcome must be measurable. It can be concluded that a learning outcome is a result of the learning process. Consequently, learning outcomes can be various forms, depending on the purpose expected by a teacher.
In this study, the estimated learning outcomes after STEM enactments concentrated on academic learning achievement, higher-order thinking skills (HOTS), and motivation. Theodore (1995) defined students’ achievement as a measurable behavior in a standardized series of tests. HOTS is the ability to apply skills, knowledge, and values in reasoning as well as in reflection (Pratama & Retnawati, 2018; Wahono & Chang, 2019a). Indeed, such an ability is crucial to making decisions, solve problems, innovate, and create. In terms of practical application, HOTS includes students’ thinking ranked above level three, according to Bloom’s taxonomy (Baharin, Kamarudin, & Manaf, 2018). Finally, the students’ learning motivation defines as a process where the learners’ attention becomes focused on meeting their educational objectives (Christophel, 1990; Kuo, Tseng, & Yang, 2019). Therefore, the educational and developmental fields give strategic reasons for the focus on these particular skills. For instance, these skills have been related to twenty-first-century skills, future educational attainment, and participation in STEM careers later in life (Martín-Páez et al., 2019; Wahono & Chang, 2019b). Furthermore, HOTS can be used in STEM, and research verifies these abilities in STEM fields can be transferred to other learning fields (Lin, Yu, Hsiao, Chang, & Chien, 2018; Yıldırım & Sidekli, 2018). Moreover, the learning outcomes can be influenced by several external factors, including culture and learner characteristics.
Asian culture and characteristics of teaching and learning
Many factors may influence the effectiveness of learning outcomes in STEM learning. However, Han, Capraro, and Capraro (2015) explained that the two most important factors were the learning environment and the level of individual students. The learning environment can be either a classroom environment or a cultural environment. Based on the literature review, there are many definitions of culture. However, most general definitions include that culture is a combination of many things such as beliefs, values, and assumptions trusted and understood among society (Rossman, Corbett, & Firestone, 1988; Schein, 2010). It is widely accepted that the characteristics of a culture affect individuals’ social behavior (Hampden-Turner & Trompenaars, 1997; Hofstede, 2005). More specifically, when cultural influences are insignificant and less integrated into a learning activity, students will likely experience a misunderstanding that hinders interactions between students and teachers (Popov, Biemans, Brinkman, Kuznetsov, & Mulder, 2013; Popov et al., 2019). Many studies show that culture, ethnics, geographical position, gender, language proficiency, and/or a combination of these components have a significant influence on students’ learning success (Han et al., 2015; Konstantopoulos, 2009; Shores, Shannon, & Smith, 2010). Rodriguez and Bell (2018) mentioned that the instruction in the STEM learning should acknowledge some specific contributions of members from diverse cultures. Thus, culture holds a crucial role in the successful process of student learning in class. Therefore, highly probable that the Asian cultural characteristics and habits have a significant impact on students’ performance and learning outcomes by STEM enactment.
In general, in eastern education, students practice remembering concepts; this philosophy focuses mainly on learning and memorization within the teaching and learning process (Lin, 2006; Thang, 2004). The eastern education system is exam-oriented. Time (duration) is a fundamental factor in teachers’ performance (Tytler, Murcia, Hsiung, & Ramseger, 2017) as they must go over textbooks to prepare students for the final tests. As a result, students tend to memorize the facts in textbooks rather than understanding it due to time constraints. Thus, the situation creates positive competition among students and eventually triggers the efforts of students to obtain and understand the knowledge considered pivotal to achieving a good score in their examination. Eastern-culture education is more generally systematic, with a standardized syllabus and timetable, when compared to western-culture education (Hassan & Jamaludin, 2010; Tytler et al., 2017). However, it is undeniable that this type of character (rote learning, exam-oriented, and curriculum oriented) is one of the reasons many of the Asian countries score inside the top ten, in international tests (Marton et al., 2014; OECD, 2018). Therefore, in the case of STEM enactment, in-depth investigation, whether the time (duration) has a significant impact on the students’ learning outcome is paramount.
Moreover, Asian countries are very different from western countries, especially in their educational philosophy, which tends to be robustly laden with religious and cultural-centric elements (Hassan & Jamaludin, 2010). By contrast, the opinions on such characteristics of the eastern-culture education must be addressed carefully. However, any consequences of those educational characteristics in the implementation of STEM in Asia can be assumed, such as the main target of STEM enactments are not merely to attract student interest in the lesson or higher-order thinking skills, but also more to obtain a higher academic learning achievement. In terms of learning materials and processes, the consequences are seen from many STEM enactments that actively grappled to cultural values, i.e., identify halal products by augmented reality (Majid & Majid, 2018; Mustafa et al., 2016). We firmly believed that such consequences are unique, which led to the potential impact of STEM enactment outcomes in Asia. Therefore, the current research aims to prove that STEM enactments carried out in the past few years have generated a wide range of impacts, especially in Asia.