Developing the digital school and home-based learning
The teaching and learning of Science and Mathematics in English — introduced in schools in 2003 by then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and supported by then education minister Tan Sri Musa Mohamad — was the start of the use of 21st century technology in education.
Schools were equipped with LED screens and CDs while teachers played a new and additional role as facilitators. Textbooks even had CDs slipped into them for home use. Thus began our high-speed digital journey, supported by the Multimedia Super Corridor. Unfortunately, it was seen as relegating Bahasa Malaysia to the position of a second languange and, by 2009, the policy was abolished, albeit via a soft landing.
The learning platform 1Bestarinet was subsequently introduced by then deputy prime minister and education minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as digital learning evolved. While it had its limitations and the success of its use depended on many factors — such as school leadership, the enthusiasm of teachers, internet connectivity and the number of devices — it kept educators and students abreast of state-of-the-art technology, even if inadequately.
The previous education minister Dr Maszlee Malik took Google Classroom to a higher level and it became a favourite learning tool among teachers and students. Teachers became more confident and adventurous with the use of other types of learning platforms such as Skype and Zoom, as did the students.
Fast forward to today, and we have been stumped by the Covid-19 pandemic, which we have failed to prepare for. The pandemic is here to stay until a vaccine is found and made readily available. Businesses have started to open but will need to follow social distancing procedures. Schools, colleges and universities will need to open too. Social distancing in schools is difficult to enforce. While children and youth may not be affected as much as the elderly, they can be carriers and spread the virus when they go home.
The thought of reducing the number of students per class, maybe by having morning and afternoon sessions, or even cancelling recess to avoid contact, is mind-boggling.
If students can learn remotely, they do not need to go to school every day. Schedule them to come in to check on assignments with their teachers and follow up with online classes.
The solution is to jumpstart the digital school and ramp up online video learning. The priority is for Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia students to go into comprehensive learning mode through the video library. The Ministry of Education has provided the platform for those who want, and are able, to do so, while YouTube is handling the traffic load and will not crash. There should be links to topics in the syllabus to other sites such as Eduwebtv, Cikgootube, Khan Academy and SPMflix.com. For a small subscription, students are spoilt for choice, but they must look at the quality and suitability for their type of learning as well as the teaching style.
The bottom line, however, is that not all teachers and students are connected or have digital devices. In developing the digital school, three main areas that need to be addressed are content, gadgets and storage, and connectivity.
In providing content, there must be some form of streamlining and consistency to ensure students are learning effectively and efficiently. There is a slew of content to choose from, so there is no need to re-invent the wheel. This saves time and money, of which we do not have the luxury.
By now, many proposals for gadgets would have been received by the education ministry. Allow schools to determine their suitability. With cloud technology, storage is no longer a challenge. Another solution may be SD cards that are compatible with the gadgets — students can pick up downloaded SD cards from school.
As far as connectivity is concerned, telcos should consider designing and offering e-learning SIM cards at affordable prices that can be activated quickly, allowing students to access online learning immediately.
Parents must try to give their children a conducive place for learning and they can start by decluttering their homes.
The focus now appears to be on TV Pendidikan, with programmes such as TV Tutor and TV Okey, which is non-interactive and requires a long attention span — something that many children today lack. TV Okey is repeating programmes because it lacks content for TV.
It may be a better investment to focus more attention on digital learning, as the gap between the advantaged and the disadvantaged is widening by the day. The initial investment may be costly, but the benefits will surely outweigh it. We must not gamble away the hopes and dreams of children and the aspirations of their parents.
We trust the present government will put aside politics and make wise decisions to eliminate potential leakages and rent-seeking at all cost. Put our children first at all times.