The series of education discussions over BFM Radio entitled “Malaysia’s education challenge: seeking solutions”, jointly organised by Edunity Foundation, G25 Malaysia and BFM Radio, explores the issues affecting our education system.
Page Malaysia has been an avid participant and observer of the series, contributing support where needed. It is our hope and desire that the powers that be would seriously take cognisance and make decisions without fear or favour to jump-start the process of transformation as they had set out to do in 2013.
The roadmap has already been outlined in the Malaysia Education Blueprint (MEB) 2013-2025. The targets are good. However optimistic we are for the improvement and transformation to happen, we need to accept the reality that the targets of the MEB will not be achieved on schedule. On hindsight, what we would like to see more of is that there is progress made and steps taken to move closer to the targets.
The Covid-19 crisis in education should serve as a lesson for us. It may delay and hinder the progress of the MEB, but it certainly cannot be used as an excuse to do nothing or delay us further from the goals of the MEB. The Covid-19 setback is just like any other issue the education system faces. These are issues that we must overcome, resolve and move on. The focus now needs to move beyond the standard operating procedures for school reopening. There must be strategies planned and undertaken that will add value to learning when school reopens.
In the absence of face-to-face learning for over a year, school-goers and their teachers have learnt to cope with alternatives to classroom teaching and learning with the use of technology for digital learning, as well as complementary methods, like TV Pendidikan.
It would be a waste if we do not leverage and capitalise on the digital learning foundation that we have built thus far, and have grown accustomed to. We cannot and should not reverse and go back to the old ways of just face-to-face teaching and learning without combining the digital element as part of the learning tool.
The solution is blended learning, where students learn from both methods, online devices and traditional face-to-face teaching. It is essential to ensure the success of blended learning, now that we have the experience of months of digital learning.
The fact stands that some students and teachers would still depend on the remote learning ways, particularly due to the fluidity of the Covid-19 situation, where some would be affected should they need to face quarantine time. In order to minimise disruption to teaching and learning, it makes good sense to continue with the digital learning method.
Furthermore, the aim of using ICT in learning is also to improve the under-served schools — the rural and under-enrolled schools to provide them with quality education, while improving equity.
With reference to the MEB on “The Roadmap: Leveraging ICT for Learning”, it is said that we need to ensure that the fundamentals are in place. This would mean that the devices, infrastructure, networks, applications, teacher competencies, curriculum and assessments must all be in order, to maximise the benefit of using ICT.
This is also in line with the Ministry of Education’s aim to make all 10,000 schools qualify as smart schools. The target for school infrastructure requirements by 2020 in the MEB is to have at least one device for 10 students in all schools. And between 2021 and 2025, the final leg of the MEB, all students in secondary schools should be equipped with a device each.
We would therefore like to see Budget 2022 allocate funding and make good on the promises outlined in the MEB for ICT in education. In order to make ICT and blended learning effective and successful, there must be allocation and spending on a good virtual learning platform, a well-defined syllabus structure, well-trained teachers, and supply of suitable equipment such as devices and data connectivity in schools.
The hiccup in the distribution of 150,000 laptops from the Cerdik programme of Yayasan Hasanah due to issues with the supply of raw materials can be overcome by sourcing devices from second-hand computer shops or collecting unused laptops in the corporate sector to be refurbished for educational purposes.
To get around the problem of internet connectivity, bandwidth or even device shortage, the ministry and schools could collaborate with community libraries or resource centres, community internet centres and various learning hubs to ensure that students can take advantage of digital learning despite the limitations.
It is quite distressing to hear current and ongoing parliamentary debates still in discussion about repairing dilapidated schools when this should have already been resolved in 2015, according to the MEB. Discussions should instead be about equipping schools to be ICT-ready and get blended learning started.
Digital learning is here to stay. It is most crucial to get physical and virtual classroom teaching and learning right, and ensure that our students are well prepared to navigate this hyperconnected world. The world is moving on, but are we?
Tunku Munawirah Putra is honorary secretary at Page Malaysia