IN The technology and education circles, FrogAsia is arguably a well-known name.
While most associate the company with the 1BestariNet project, a nationwide virtual learning platform for primary and secondary schools, FrogAsia has its hands full with other tech-related endeavours in schools.
At the moment, it’s the Leaps of Knowledge Conference that is the current focus of FrogAsia executive director Lou Yeoh.
Intranet, online classroom and social space for schools, all in one
Let me try: A boy attempts to answer a question while Yeoh (second from left), looks on.
“We know that exciting things are happening in schools across the country, and this is the chance for people to see all these changes in place,” said Yeoh. “By seeing what these teachers are doing, others can get ideas of what they themselves can do with their available resources – that’s what we want to inspire and encourage.”
The theme for its upcoming event on Thursday is “Inspiring Changemakers in Education”.
Among the feature speakers this year are educational psychologist Dr Susan Wilder, who has developed children’s programmes such as Blue’s Clues; Frog Education’s education director Alistair Smith, a popular speaker on teaching and learning methods; and Sport For Freedom founder Julia Immonen, who develops awareness raising campaigns on human rights issues using sports.
Yeoh added that Immonen was in Malaysia in June to talk to students about cultivating values in education.
“A lot of schools who picked up the “For Freedom” project will be also be showcasing their work at the conference.
“One such school is SMK Kiaramas, where students organised a ‘free market’. The students collected items they wanted to give away and brought in children from two orphanages to “shop” for whatever they wanted.
“Students from another school in Johor not only collected books for an orphanage, but also spent some time teaching children lessons via the Frog Virtual Learning Environment (VLE),” she said.
Yeoh explained that this networking among teachers and others interested in education was key in driving more change in schools.
“One teacher started to pull together teachers she met at the conference last year, so they had a small community of like-minded people.
“What she did was to get an expert to go round the mangrove farm at the Kuala Selangor Nature Park with his laptop, and set up a live feed that students could log on to from their classrooms and directly interact with the expert.
“We’ve run similar sessions ourselves on careers and health and even Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) revision programmes,” she said.
FrogAsia has run 16 such sessions involving 650 schools over the past two months, and plans to scale up the project in the near future.
One of the greatest challenges in maximising the potential of technology in classrooms is in changing mindsets.
“To quote (educationist) Sir Ken Robinson, ‘the great problem for reform or transformation is the tyranny of common sense’,” said Yeoh.
“People tend to say we can’t do something (new) because things have always been done a certain way – but this is just perception.
“You can have all the devices and educational materials, but if the mindset is the same, these resources will still be wasted.”
Yeoh however stressed that any changes implemented in schools would only work if they address the real needs of teachers and students.
“For some of us, the first thing we do when we come into the office is to switch on our laptops to check our e-mails and Google Calendar invites, but this is not the norm in schools.
“This doesn’t mean that teachers don’t have the same (technical) ability, but it’s about whether that is relevant to their work.
“What teachers want to know is how this technology is going to save them time, how it’s going to help the school save costs, and how it’s going to improve students’ grades.
“At the end of the say, the technology is not going to give you the As, it’s still the teacher,” she said.
An example of how technology can help teachers cater their lessons for students is a revision portal FrogAsia plans to launch, with the help of local textbook publishers.
“Our idea is to combine games and learning; so students can have their own avatars, where they can play games in between revision questions.
“Parents and teachers will have a dahsboard where they can see students’ scores, and how many eattempts they’ve made with the questions.
“In a classroom setting, teachers can then see where the class as a whole is struggling.
“If most of the class is getting certain questions wrong, the teacher can clearly see it and plan a revision class on a particular chapter – it’s harder to keep track of this kind of thing when you have to mark 40 exercise books,” said Yeoh.
As a whole, one of FrogAsia’s goals seems to be to act as a conduit for collaboration between schools as well as other partners.
“With our Frog Store, we want to be a trusted place for educational materials, working with reliable partners who have quality content.
“Then there’s also pairing schools with the right corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives; a school that is already keen on environmental issues would be a good fit for a WWF project, for example.
“Since we know the schools well, we can help our CSR partners choose the right schools for real impact, and these schools will go on to be good case studies for others,” said Yeoh.
One of FrogAsia’s latest pilot projects for schools involving the corporate sector is a collaboration with TGV Cinema in the latter’s screening of documentaries on IMAX.
“At the moment, the screenings are free for our partner schools around the country,” explained Yeoh.
“Aside from bringing students in to watch the documentaries, they also get educational packs with materials and there will be experts present for a question-and-answer session after the screenings.”