By RACHEL GONG
MALAYSIANS adjusting to staying at home under the movement control order (MCO) would have quickly realised just how much we rely on having stable, readily available Internet access. Although virtual meetings are not a perfect substitute, white-collar workers are likely finding that many aspects of their jobs can be done remotely, and social gatherings over video chats can be quite enjoyable.
However, as the MCO extends a further two weeks, another test of Internet infrastructure and applications awaits, namely how well Malaysian teachers, parents and students will adjust to distance learning as schools pivot to online classes.
The Education Ministry’s (MOE) section on education resources and technology (Bahagian Sumber dan Teknologi Pendidikan – BSTP) has prepared online resources for parents, teachers and students, and these are available to approved users on its digital learning website hosted by Google.
Additional video resources for teachers are available to the public at two MOE-recommended sites, EduwebTV whose content is produced in-house by the ministry, and CikgooTube whose content is produced by teachers around the country.
In partnership with Google, the MOE is also running webinars to give teachers a crash course on how to conduct distance learning and online classes.
Of course, the pedagogy of online education is not something that can be taught overnight. Nonetheless, current circumstances require innovative methods to ensure that primary and secondary school students can continue receiving education during the extended MCO.
Even though research shows that online learning is still not as effective as in-person learning, research also shows that a prolonged break from school hurts student performance.
But a digital divide means that not everyone can access them.
One of the challenges to effective online education in China has been unreliable access to the Internet and Internet-enabled devices.
A report in the March 17 edition of The New York Times states that “Many parents cannot afford to buy multiple devices for themselves and their children, even though many of the world’s cheapest smartphones - and most of the fanciest ones, too - are made in China. The nation is blanketed in 4G service, yet the signal is spotty in parts of the countryside.”
Malaysia is likely facing a similar digital divide. Although the national mobile broadband (i.e. an Internet connection tied to a SIM card in a mobile phone) penetration rate per 100 people in 2019 was approximately 120%, the fixed broadband (i.e. an Internet connection typically accessible through a phone line or cable in the home) penetration rate per 100 people was only about 8%.
This means that children in lower-income households are less likely to have a device at home with which they can access the Internet and are less likely to have enough data with which to download school materials and resources. This problem is likely to be more pronounced in rural areas.
What can be done: Some parents in the Klang Valley report that their children’s teachers have already begun sending assignments and materials to them via Whatsapp and Telegram. Some teachers, knowing that some of their students come from households that cannot afford to buy enough data to stream or download videos, are recording audio messages of their class materials in five-minute intervals for students to listen to.
Other teachers who left the Klang Valley to balik kampung during the school holidays prior to the MCO, are now stranded with limited Internet access and are struggling to prepare comprehensive online materials for their students.
Telcos are pitching in by offering various additional mobile data initiatives, for example Celcom offers free Whatsapp from 8am to 6pm, Digi offers postpaid consumers 1G of free data daily for use between 8am and 6pm (prepaid customers get extra data only when they reload), and Maxis offers free data for selected applications.
In collaboration with YES and FrogAsia, the YTL Foundation is providing 40G of free mobile data and online learning materials to all students registered in Malaysian public schools.
However, the conditions attached to some of these initiatives may prevent them from benefiting the people who most need a boost. For example, postpaid subscribers are likely to be customers who have a large bucket of data and/or a fixed broadband connection at home. Conversely, prepaid subscribers are the people who are most likely operating on a tight data budget and who would benefit from free additional data.
Also, consider that free access to Microsoft Office 365 is offered from 8am to 6pm, which is a definite benefit to office workers working from home but not one that is likely to be used by daily wage workers who may want access to other websites to look for work or stay updated during the crisis.
In my opinion, telcos should provide additional free mobile data with no restrictions and at no additional cost in order to help teachers, parents and students cope with the restrictions of the MCO. High take-up rates might increase the pressure on our Internet infrastructure, but this may be a cost we need to bear together.
If nothing else, our increasing dependence on high-quality Internet access in all aspects of life presents a strong case for ensuring that the National Fiberisation and Connectivity Plan comes to fruition.
By ROUBEENI MOHAN - December 21st, 2018
Technology is everywhere and it is entwined in our daily lives. It impacts the way we live, play and also learn. The learning environment in schools has the power to influence a child’s learning experience.
As technology advances, schools today must be able to weave knowledge of computer sciences into the core curriculum in order to prepare students for the future.
According to code.org (a non-profit organisation in the United States (US) that is dedicated to expanding access to computer science in schools) founder and chief executive officer (CEO) Hadi Partovi, 44 states in the US have changed policies to recognise computer science as part of the academic core.
Malaysia is also heading in this direction, with the 2016 announcement by the government to expand school-day access to computer science.
Giving classrooms a facelift
The widespread use of technology has paved a new path in the learning experience. This became a catalyst for the creation of the Frog Classrooms, a concept by YTL Foundation to facilitate learning through collaboration and critical thinking, and by encouraging creativity.
The very first Frog Classroom was designed for a secondary school in Puchong in 2014, after YTL Foundation Programme Director Datin Kathleen Chew paid a visit to the school.
“When I entered the classroom, I was rendered speechless. The tables and chairs were broken. There was even a hole in the door,” she tells us.
“The classroom that we wanted to build was something that would make the children excited to go into every day. It had to be fun for the kids, and noticing that the children had a lot of pent up energy, our designer decided to fix a punching bag for the boys. A mirror was also added for the girls.”
“Also, we saw that the kids loved doodling on their tables, so to curb that, the designers drew beautiful murals, quotes and poetry on the tables.”
This, she says, was done to encourage the students to channel their creativity in the right way.
Each transformed classroom also uses the Frog virtual learning environment (VLE), a platform that allows teachers to upload their learning materials onto its system.
“When a teacher retires, they take all their experience and expertise with them. The Frog VLE encourages teachers to create content, and then share and store the content. When a teacher retires, these stored materials will be helpful for the new teachers,” she adds.
The process of building a classroom should be one that is relatively simple, Chew says. “While building the Frog Classroom, we took into account that transforming a normal classroom should be easy. This was done to encourage schools to do it themselves with the help of teachers and parents, (and) with no need for contractors.”
The Frog Classroom was initially a project carried out by the YTL Group of Companies under which 12 classrooms in various schools nationwide were transformed. A year later in 2015, the project caught the attention of schools, students, parents and the Education Ministry.
As more schools became interested, the YTL team realised that there was the potential to get schools across the country to be on board as well. However, the schools needed to meet a set of criteria and work alongside their parent-teacher associations (PTA).
“The school also has to be ready to become a part of the Frog Hub programme, so that neighbouring schools can come and use technology or share what they are doing with other schools,” says Chew.
Through this effort, there are now 250 classrooms. Chew explains, however, that rural schools have a harder time raising funds to set up a Frog Classroom.
Chew says it is when the principals of the participating schools spearhead the initiative to take part in this programme that it becomes a success.
“Some schools are very active in participating as a Frog Hub, and some schools don’t do so well. We just believe that if we can get 1,000 of these classrooms and teachers who are willing to help and teach this way, then we will be able to influence the rest of the 10,000 schools in the country to transform how they teach, utilising technology and the Frog VLE.”
A recent research to study the impact of the Frog Classrooms on teaching and learning was conducted by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, involving over 15 schools with 400 teachers and over 2,000 students.
The results of this study indicated that the Frog Classrooms allowed for more effective learning, active participation and better student engagement. Teachers were also found to be more innovative and creative in their teaching approaches.
Teachers – equipped with the chance to facilitate rather than simply instruct students’ learning –were found to help students become more self-driven in their learning methods. The classroom had also improved peer-to-peer relationships as well as interactions between teachers and students.
YTL Foundation soon realised that school leadership is critical to school transformation. “The whole ecosystem has to work,” says Chew. “Every principal and teacher should take up a leadership role.”
To achieve this, they started incubating a two-year programme known as the Global School Leaders (GSL) Malaysia Programme, in collaboration with Global School Leaders – a successful school leadership programme.
The GSL programme was first started in India and has a cost effective model that has been run in hundreds of schools there. GSL India co-founder and CEO Sameer Sampat was invited to Malaysia to discuss how they could implement this here. At the end of 2017, the programme received government approval and a pilot was launched early this year.
Twenty-four primary and secondary schools – with 75 principals and senior assistants – are currently participating in the GSL Malaysia programme. Participants are trained in utilising technology in classrooms as well as in the school administration.
Aimed at developing school principals and senior assistants, the programme consists of workshops where participants are trained to become more observant. Instead of scrutinising their teaching methods, the GSL trainers encourage participants to reflect and help them realise what they can do better.
These principals and senior assistants will then go on to coach the other teachers in their schools, and GSL trainers will visit the schools at least once a month to observe if they continue to implement what they have learnt from the programme.
Chew adds: “It is sitting with the teacher and talking through the challenges that is the unique part of this programme and makes it stand out from others.”
“Trainers go to the school and coach the participants, hands on. I have asked the teachers themselves, and they said if there was only one part they can take from the programme, it would be this.
“There are a lot of people working to try to improve the education system and we all want to make a difference – how we all can help the ecosystem. We are trying to collaborate to see how we can make a bigger difference when we come together collectively,” says Chew.
Please visit www.frogclassroom.com to check for eligibility and the eight steps to the application process. Schools will have to meet the criteria set by the Foundation before the air-conditioning units, chairs and custom-made tables are provided.
Malaysia has a very unique education system: over the past two decades, the government has invested millions of dollars in equipping all 10,000 public schools with not only computer labs, but also the Frog Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). Unsurprisingly, though, challenges still arise and vary school by school. In our newest report published in conjunction with the WISE Initiative, we found examples that illustrate that blended models are not about the tech itself but about the creative instructional models that educators manage to wrap around the tech. Blended Beyond Borders: A scan of blended learning obstacles and opportunities in Brazil, Malaysia, & South Africa is meant to give a snapshot of blended-learning efforts (or opportunity gaps) in each country, as well as give policymakers and practitioners recommendations on how they can help blended efforts flourish in their context. Our partners at the edtech nonprofit FrogAsia were instrumental in helping us to gather data and understand the landscape of the Malaysian education system.
In Malaysia, some of the most illuminating data came from one specific question we asked in the survey, “What are your key challenges when using technology?” As the graph below makes clear, there are four challenges that the majority of educators are facing: Reliable and sufficient internet (77.31%), infrastructure problems (65.55%), high-quality professional development for teachers (55.46%), and funding and/or finance (55.46%).
This past June, I had the privilege of visiting 13 Malaysian public schools–eight of which, despite these challenges, were implementing fantastic blended-learning programs that were truly changing instruction for their students.
Blending with little financing
SK Bandar Hilir is an all-boys public primary school in the coastal city of Malacca. They are one of 150 schools in Malaysia who have a Frog Classroom–a 21st-century learning space equipped with bright, flexible furniture; Chromebooks loaded with the Frog VLE; and other logistical necessities such as a computer cart for storage and safe-keeping. Schools across the country have the opportunity to apply for one of these classrooms, where half of the funding is provided by the privately-owned YTL Foundation. The other half of the funding, however, is up to the schools to raise. Although a great opportunity, being granted only half of the required funding can still be a barrier for schools to bring in technology to transform student learning.
The headmistress of SK Bandar Hilir did not let the RM 5,000 (about $1,200 USD) fundraising challenge stop her. She appealed to parents and community members to donate whatever they could for this project, including their time and expertise. Through a community campaign, not only did the school come up with the money needed to buy equipment for the classroom, but they also were able to solicit parent volunteers to help paint the walls, set up the furniture, and decorate the interior. Today, students in grades D2-D6 (the US equivalent of second through sixth grades) get to learn in this beautiful new environment where they utilize a Lab Rotation for all of their subjects.
Making the most of available resources
As we saw in the results of our survey, and as I continually encountered in my school visits, internet access and infrastructure are the top two challenges Malaysian schools face when using technology. This is no different for SK Sikamat, a rural school in the state of Negeri Sembilan, near the capital of Kuala Lumpur. With other pressing matters to attend to such as repairing the electrical infrastructure after a severe thunderstorm, schools often put blended-learning efforts on the backburner. But pioneering teachers know that you don’t have to have a 1:1 device program or the best internet connection to transform your instruction.
Despite slow internet and a limited number of devices, Mr. Yuslan of SK Sikamat has managed to revolutionize the way his students learn. His D1 (the US equivalent of first grade) students get to practice their math skills in a Station Rotation where they don’t always utilize Chromebooks or Netbooks. Students at stations with technology usually work in pairs or groups not only to limit the number of devices accessing the low-capacity internet, but also so they help each other work through practice problems. By having only half the class utilizing technology at any one time, Mr. Yuslan has found a way to work more individually with students while keeping within the logistical capabilities of the technology he is given.
Focusing on blended-learning PD
One of the last stops in my journey to visit Malaysian blended-learning schools was in the northern state of Perak. There, I visited SMK Methodist (ACS Sitiawan), who also had established a Frog Classroom in their school. However, their primary challenge wasn’t finding the funding for this classroom; rather, it was finding high-quality professional development for their teachers so that they could make the most of the space. The headmaster of this secondary school was focused on transforming student learning inside and outside of the classroom. That’s why, after deciding to implement a Flipped Classroom model of blended learning, he sought professional development opportunities that were specific to instructional change–not just ICT training.
In addition to holding its own extensive teacher workshops in the beginning of 2017, ACS Sitiawan partnered with the Advanced Global Institute of Learning Excellence (AGILE) to learn the basics of a Flipped Classroom and to see examples in action at a university level. This partnership proved fruitful for the school in understanding how to prepare their teachers to make the instructional shift of giving their students more autonomy in their learning. It also helped to spur protocols and processes for teachers embarking on this blended journey, arming them with resources like lesson plan templates to guide them in their pedagogy. The teachers I spoke with were excited about this new way of teaching, and more importantly, confident in their ability to conduct blended-learning lessons.
Of course, these were not the only schools who came up with innovative ways to tackle their blended-learning challenges–many of the other schools I visited had similar success stories. All, however, are brilliant examples of how even the most common blended-learning setbacks can be overcome. Although it’s safe to say the entire US system won’t adopt a single platform like the Frog VLE, state and regional examples can learn from the variety of models that crop up. With dedicated educators and the right supports, I have high hopes for blended-learning programs to transform student learning across Malaysia.