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.