Do not fall into the over-promise trap in digital education
Digital education must unconditionally be made a roaring success. But it will only become a success if there is responsibility and accountability — from the education minister and his ministry downwards. Do not over-promise what you cannot achieve, as has been the culture of the education ministry, with blueprint after blueprint, and flip-flop policies too.
Going digital is not new. The education ministry is continually enhancing its teaching tools in phases, from chalk and blackboard to marker and whiteboard, and to smart schools and LCDs in classrooms during the policy of teaching science and mathematics in English. Then, there is 1Bestarinet where, unfortunately, connectivity was limited to the office, the teachers’ staff room and the computer labs but not the classrooms, which would have been the most practical approach, although with added costs.
As primary and secondary schools open in March and April respectively and the focus is on the standard operating procedures (SOPs), will there be anything new that school leaders can expect in terms of better accessibility, where the connectivity is not limited to specific rooms only? It is not rocket science to know that coverage and connectivity in schools is of prime importance.
The government’s most timely and impressive initiative thus far has been Jalinan Digital Negara (Jendela), which has a national target to realise 96.9% mobile coverage by 2022, with a speed of 35MBps (megabytes per second) and 83% or 7.5 million premises.
The 5GDP or 5G Demonstration Projects is broadly about growing the 5G ecosystem. Within this ecosystem, there are nine key verticals, of which one is education. As of December 2020, the 5GDP had been put in place in several states — Kedah, Penang, Selangor and Pahang — as well as Kuala Lumpur. How does this impact the schools in these states? What does this mean for homes where online learning is ongoing and homes that do not have connectivity?
Last year, 940 new mobile sites were constructed, 16,214 existing base stations were upgraded and 352,101 premises were fiberised. The upgrading and fiberising, including sun-setting 3G and migrating to 4G, will continue into 2021. What more can schools benefit from these? How can schools reform teaching approaches as a result? Can blended learning finally be a reality in national schools? Can avatars replace teachers?
Most schools use their own funds to put in extra routers to enable a bigger coverage area. Parents will want to know if connectivity will be fast and furious. What is the dedicated bandwidth allocated per school? If we assume that one student uses 1MB, would a school with 500 students be able to secure an allocation of 500MB?
We also appreciate that there are numerous challenges moving forward, such as accessibility to federal land and buildings. In such a scenario, will some states
be quicker to benefit from others, thus facilitating schools to adopt more technology in learning and hence, improving outcomes?
The easy part is always the purchase of any enhancements. The difficulty always comes with the usage of state-of-the-art technologies. School leaders and teachers play the most crucial role. They must believe that digital education will benefit them too, by improving teaching standards and the quality of education, and not merely for the benefit of the students.
Many challenges, especially mindsets, may have to be overcome. Teachers must be fully, properly and professionally trained to utilise these technologies in order for students to become independent learners. Without teachers’ interest and involvement, expensive digital education will come to nought. This is the time to use digital education to its fullest for our children to jump-start the post-Covid 19 era and become global learners.
We cannot expect teachers to self-learn and, worse, incur expenses out of their own pockets to equip themselves to become competent digital educators. Teachers were forced to teach online when students were connected at home. They became better over time as they took the plunge to enhance their teaching skills.
Teachers have become a greater asset to the teaching profession. However, there were also teachers who did not maximise the time given on the timetable for interaction with students. Some merely posted links for quizzes and activities, which students completed in minutes. School leaders can always randomly join online classes to assess teachers.
Unfortunately, not all teachers have adequate connectivity at their homes and neither do some of their students. So not only are students left behind but teachers too. Teachers also cannot assume that all homes have printers. Educational TV was supposed to have filled that void, although inadequately unless students are no longer formally assessed through standardised testing.
In all cases, we expect leakages and any potential wastage to be eliminated to ensure that the education budget completely goes towards students’ education expenditure and raising the standards of teachers’ professionalism.
There is no turning back on digital education, now or ever.