FUTURE LANDSCAPE: Access to quality education from anywhere and at any place
It is important that we provide technology anywhere, any time and at any age, says P. Kamalanathan.
THOSE who went to school in the 1950s and 60s remember lessons written on slate chalkboards. Those who studied in the 70s, 80s and 90s handed in homework and notes copied in piles of exercise books to the teacher.
Today, students learn in computer labs and/or use mobile notebooks in a wireless environment.
These changes in the education system are reflective of the times and needs of students. Technology has gone mainstream in all aspects of everyday life. It is becoming more pervasive in the education sector and it is important to utilise it optimally as a tool to equip students with 21st century skills by allowing access to and exploration of knowledge, innovation and collaboration across the globe.
Deputy Education Minister P. Kamalanathan said this has always been the rationale for the adoption of information technology in the education system. “The advancement of technology in education started in 1996 with the Smart School programme, an initiative under the Multimedia Super Corridor project. We had a glimpse of the direction the world was heading with the use of technology and its potential impact on education. It (Smart School) became a pace-setter in the local education sector,” he said.
Smart Schools continue to provide students with the right skills for their future and this has been enhanced by 1BestariNet which offers high speed 4G mobile Internet and a Virtual Learning Environment that allow schools nationwide to connect to the Internet and share resources and, therefore, aim to give all students access to quality education.
“It is important that we provide technology anywhere, any time and at any age. Smart School technology and the Virtual Learning Environment will prepare children in the country for the future,” he added.
“Children have an affinity for technology. But how do you attract them to use technology to learn?
“A child will be attracted if there is a fun element, a reward scheme. Imagine a virtual reward scheme, where they accumulate points in exchange for coupons which allow access to a website where they click and learn at different levels.”
While admitting that the use of 1BestariNet and the Virtual Learning Environment are still not up to expectation, Kamalanathan pointed out that after close to three years of implementation, 11,155 educational content has been uploaded by teachers to the system that is available to 10,000 public schools in the country.
“Some 430,000 teachers specialise in a variety subjects in public schools. Imagine the impact if all of them create content. Schools without a biology teacher will get to download videos by expert teachers. So, a teacher in Kuala Lumpur can upload her video to the Virtual Learning Environment and a teacher in Bario, Sarawak will be able to use it to teach. That is what we mean by access to quality education from anywhere and at any place.”
Another stakeholder that has to buy in into the programme is the parents. “In the six to seven hours in school daily, we give students access to technology with the increased availability of computers. But many parents won’t allow access to computers for homework. They don’t understand that computers are not toys for play’s sake but are an educational tool.
“With 1BestariNet, parents now have the opportunity to monitor their child in school — they know if he goes to school on time; whether he does his work in class; and if he participates in co-curricular activities. Technology provides the transparent system to check on his development,” added Kamalanathan.
Technology too, he highlighted, can play a role in improving the country’s ranking in studies such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) where Malaysia was placed 39th out of 44 countries in the latest findings.
“PISA looks at three areas: reading, mathematics and science. It doesn’t cover technology. But technology will help to improve performance in the areas. The National Education Blueprint emphasises science, technology, engineering and math. Through the sharing of knowledge and linking with educational resources all over the world, we can be world-class.
” On whether investment in technology poses the danger of technology lock-in and render obsolete tools adopted, Kamalanathan said the Ministry is open to partnering with technology providers that bring value to education.
“There is enough room as long as the curriculum and pedagogy are intact,” he said.
For technology to be an effective tool in education, there must be buyin from all quarters.
“I encourage the use of technology among teachers and students so that teaching can be more innovative and learning fun.” He hinted at a programme — targeted to be launched in January — that will contribute towards the increase of technology use among teachers.
Kamalanathan was speaking on the sidelines at the inaugural Bett Asia Leadership Summit 2014 conference and expo in Singapore earlier this month.He presented the keynote address, Preparing Children for the Information Age: Malaysia’s Paperless SmartSchools Programme.