Using the National Blue Ocean Strategy approach, school facilities are being improved through collaboration between schools, universities and industry.
There was a problem at SMKA Hishammuddin Sg Bertih, Klang. Its 30-year-old science lab was not in the best of condition. The floor was uneven, the drain covers cracked, most tables and chairs broken, the pipes rusty, and the equipment...
It certainly wasn't a conducive learning environment for inspiring the curious budding scientists within students.
To compound matters, students were not able to practice their scientific experimentation skills, which would, in the near future, be tested in national exams.
Fortunately, knights in shining armour, equipped not with lancets or swords, but rather acute knowledge of physics and engineering came to the rescue.
These knights were, and still are, part of a project known as NBOS-PILS (National Blue Ocean Strategy-Project Inisiatif Libat Sama). The project adopts the famed Blue Ocean Strategy approach to solving problems.
According to Datuk Seri Zaini Ujang, the Secretary-General of the Higher Education Ministry, “NBOS-PILS is one of 60 projects under the University Community Transformation Centre (UCTC) which aims to leverage on local talent and expertise in infrastructure and related programmes that are able to have positive impact on a local community”.
In this case, the NBOS-PILS project involved the Higher Education Ministry, Education Ministry, universities and the private sector.
The first immediate task of the knights: To repair and upgrade SMKA Hishamuddin Sg Bertih’s 30-year-old science lab.
The project, coordinated by Encik Shanusi Ahmad from the Education Ministry, was lead by three invididuals -- Prof Azmi Ibrahim and Ir. Mohd Salmizi from Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) and Ar. Nur Akmal A. Goh from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) as the Head Consultant.
These project leaders are experts in various engineering and architectural fields. They would choose the materials to be used and the new lab’s design.
They were assisted by their students, mainly final year undergraduates, also from engineering and architectural programmes. This was an opportunity for the undergrads to apply the knowledge they had gained in their lectures
The upgrading process began with a series of meetings and brainstorming sessions involving the ministries, universities and private sector practitioners.
Above: Before, Below: After
From these meetings, a number of challenges arose: How could they complete the project within an allocated time period, as cost-efficiently as possible, and with the greatest possible impact?
This was the necessary criteria to ensure that efforts were sustainable, scalable and impactful because they would be applied to other schools eventually. The success of this project (or lack thereof) would make or break the NBOS-PILS initiative.
Not-so-coincidentally, the NBOS-PILS mantra is ‘High Impact, High Speed, Low Cost’.
In this regard, the team had two weeks, a RM100,000 budget, and needed to ensure that the science lab was multi-functional, namely that it could be used for physics, biology and chemistry lessons (talk about being demanding!).
Once the meetings were done - and within the respectable duration of a week - the work began.
The team cleared-out the lab and removed broken, unusable fittings. They then fixed the gas pipes, electrical sockets and broken lights. Next, they levelled the floor with cement and laid new tiles. The walls were then repainted and a small raised platform for the teacher's table was built at the front of the class. At times, the lab resembled a Life Inspired episode of the cluttered 'Hoarders’.
Once the cleaning up and construction-related work was done, spanking new lab equipment was installed. A state of the art internet-enabled smartboard was fitted, and tablet computers became part of the new lab set up.
The lab was given a modular design. Its equipment could be rearranged to cater for physics, biology and chemistry experiments, as well as to optimise lectures.
On the 30th of July, a little over two weeks after the clean up began, the science lab was handed over to Sekolah Menengah Sultan Hisamuddin’s principal.
The team had succeeded.
The mix of professionals, lecturers, students and industry practitioners had proven to be effective.
I spoke to Encik Shanusi Ahmad, the NBOS-PILS coordinator. He said: “We are satisfied to have been able to complete the project within the set parameters. People may not be aware of what we are doing but our mission is to ensure that our schoolchildren have the necessary tools to learn science. It’s important for their future”.
When asked about what was in store for the future of NBOS-PILS, Shanusi said, “There’s still more to do. Next up we’ll be upgrading four schools in Terengganu and one in Tawau. There are a few hundred schools that need upgrading, not just its science labs but other infrastructure as well. We believe that getting our universities involved, especially its undergrads, will enable us to achieve our goals quicker”.
“The undergrads," he says, “are especially keen because many have a personal stake in the locality of the work and want to make a difference in their community”.
In the 2014 Annual Report of the Malaysia Education Blueprint (2013-2025), it was stated that 3,070 upgrading and repair projects in 2,410 schools were completed in 2014. The types of infrastructure and repair projects included physical structures (roof and painting), classrooms, toilets, electricity and treated water (safe for drinking).
Datuk Seri Zaini Ujang described NBOS-PILS as a manifestation of the acknowledgment that the Ministry has the capacity to harness talent and resources effectively, with less bureaucracy involved, and in a flexible manner.
He is hopeful that the programme may eventually cover polytechnics and community colleges, and even cater to agencies and organisation outside of the education arena.