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Home > Opinion > Columnists

Published: Sunday July 14, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM


Updated: Monday July 15, 2013 MYT 11:02:31 AM

Bringing our children into the


digital age
BY NOOR AZIMAH ABDUL RAHIM

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Teachers should not be afraid of smartphones and digital devices in schools as


the usage of ICT is introduced to ease the burden of teachers.
WHETHER it is the re-introduction of English-medium schools, the teaching of
Science and Mathematics in English, the very existence of vernacular schools or if
one size fits all, we collectively agree that the quality and delivery of lessons have
to be improved. The question is how.
We know that much needs to be done in up-skilling teachers and although this is
ongoing, it will take time. Time we do not have the luxury of.
We know that the urban-rural divide needs to be bridged quickly. Inclusiveness
and equity must be all encompassing. We know that it is long overdue for ICT to
be enhanced in schools to empower students, with teachers as facilitators. This
we must kickstart.

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Teachers should not be afraid of smartphones and digital devices in schools as


the usage of ICT is introduced to ease the burden of teachers, bridge the class
divide and bring the world which is an oyster to the four walls of the classroom.

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We have to persevere
together
students,
teachers and parents if we want to
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make a difference and have a better outcome for the future. It is a tough call and
will not be an easy task. Challenges are many and, sadly, the ministry will not be
there to hold your hand.

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We had the pleasure of meeting Qatar teachers, Noora Saeed Al Marri (boys
primary school) and Seham Muthana Saleh Al Dhahiri (girls secondary school), at
a recent science and technology conference, who were tasked to teach scientific
English. They faced much difficulty but now eight years into the policy, they are
seeing the fruits of their labour. Students are enthusiastic and it is fulfilling.
Similarly, another teacher of 17 years, Divina Gracia P. Gagala of the Philippines,
had little if any support from the ministry there, with up to 60 students in a class
and despite poor learning conditions, the grades have improved significantly.

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18 is not the magic number

Interestingly, the Education Performance Delivery Unit (PADU) has begun to


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monitor progress of the Malaysian Education Blueprint (MEB), solve


implementation issues and manage communication with stakeholders. This may
well be the missing link all this while.
The suggestion for private schools to share and share alike with national schools
is welcoming. One way is to see how ICT is leveraged by private schools and can
be emulated in national schools. This will in many ways overcome the perpetual
problem of teacher-subject mismatch and teacher absenteeism in national
schools. With the proper management of ICT, learning can continue with a
minimal number of teachers.

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A Unesco review states that Malaysia was among the earliest countries, even as
early as 1990, to pioneer a strategic ICT plan for its education system including
the Smart School Roadmap and the Policy on ICT in Education, an investment of
RM6bil thus far on building computer labs for every school then, with the intent of
not merely to be able to employ basic functions but also to foster higher-order
thinking skills. On top of this, several billion ringgit more was spent on hardware
and software.

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Whether or not a return on investment (ROI) was formulated is anybodys guess


but as we move forward, we must ask ourselves if we have progressed. Much still
needs to be done and with PADU in place, frequent interventions will ensure we do
not go astray.

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The investment on ICT must continue albeit at a high cost if we are to keep pace
with global trends. Notwithstanding that, such high costs must be closely
monitored, fully justified and a decent ROI must be attained without compromise.

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In the meantime, by the end of 2013, 1Bestarinet will ensure high-speed


connectivity in all 10,000 schools with 4G Internet and a virtual learning
environment (VLE) with access to a world-class Integrated Learning Solution
which will position Malaysia to move to the forefront of ICT innovation in
education. It has a 4km radius and will therefore power homes as well.
By 2015, teachers should be trained and be competent in the use of VLE. And then
it goes on with Waves 2 and 3 of the MEB until 2025 with specific outcomes, and
finally to be at par with even South Korea, where half of the education budget is
spent on the teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in English.

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Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) should ensure that connectivity is complete


as agreed upon by the ministry and the vendor, award-winning FrogAsia, and that
their schools do not have to fork out a single sen for this service.
In fact, we should be looking forward to the Chromebooks promised by the
government to 10 million students, teachers and parents. For a start, 3,000
schools will receive 41 Chromebooks in its first phase.
Next, the technology arm of the ministry should recommend to PTAs a range of
inexpensive or even free education apps to invigorate not just students but also
teachers.
At the recent inaugural edition of Digital Education Show Asia 2013 organised by
Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC) and Terrapinn and supported by the
Education and Higher Education Ministry, over 1,800 attendees, mostly principals
and teachers, were feted to state-of-the-art technology used in classrooms around
the world.

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It boasted of numerous international and local speakers, exhibitors and sponsors


as well as free on-floor seminars. Several pilot programmes are now being run in
national schools such as Digital Storytelling by SK Bukit Badong, Integrating IThink in teaching English by SJKC Wen Hua, MySTL by SMK Felda Besout and
Joota@School by SMK Sungai Pusu.
Microsoft showcased its Pop-up Classroom which, if utilised properly, is an
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indication of how technology can enhance teaching, impact learning and produce
outcomes unimaginable.
Of personal interest was the Doceri where two teachers from Melbourne were
flown in to demonstrate the mathematics application which was purchased by the
educators themselves at A$30 (RM85) only. They used the iPad to teach using a
sophisticated set of tools to create hand-drawn or hand-written content, add
images, create backgrounds, all from wherever they were standing in the
classroom which was projected onto the whiteboard. At the end of the lesson,
what was taught could be emailed to the student via a pdf file. This may well see
the last of heavy school bags.
Once complete connectivity is operational in all 7,000 primary and 3,000
secondary schools by the year end, every classroom will evolve and transform into
a holodeck, a virtual world, a kind of simulated reality.
There is much to be gained from digital devices without teachers being ready
enough particularly for the subjects of English, Science and Mathematics, which
are readily available for a small price. Principals should be proactive in taking the
lead instead of waiting for instructions from the top. PTAs should be shopping for
apps now.
Parents also should not rely only on teachers to teach English. There are so many
fun ways to learn English now by either just leaving the television on an English
channel local productions Upin and Ipin for the younger ones, the hilarious Oh
My English, Waktu Rehat for the teens, Travel channel for the adventurous, and of
course for the more discerning, National Geographic or the History Channel. And
dont be shy to speak English. Make mistakes and learn from them.
Digitalising education is an ambitious but much needed step to advance our
education and ultimately to reach a level that is on par with developed nations. But
as with any change, we must be fully prepared for new responsibilities. The
choices a school makes on which mobile device to use, which search engine to
set on default, which education application to install they all matter.
In an increasingly digital education environment today, Malaysian educators must
embrace a new responsibility to make responsible choices with the right service
providers. Reinforced by awareness from policy makers and consumers, such
duty of care is essential to keep our childrens data safe.
> The writer is chairman of the Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE)
and can be reached at pagemalaysia@gmail.com.

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