PAC requested the auditor general carry out a thorough follow-up audit into the effectiveness of the 15-year project that was implemented after impact studies were carried out by the Economic Planning Unit.
Although only RM663 million has been utilised so far over 30 months of its first phase, the efficacy of the project to make schools high-tech havens has been raised a few times.
E-learning can only be successful if there is a revolutionary move away from replicating traditional classroom-based teaching practices and not just a copy-paste substitute for old methods. Pic by Saifullizan Tamadi
A main component of the Malay- sia Education Blueprint 2013-2025,
1BestariNet was introduced in 2011 by the Education Ministry for schools to be equipped with the Frog VLE, an integrated solution allowing teaching, learning, collaboration and administrative functions to take place through the Internet.
This ambitious technology in the education project has been controversial since its inception.
There are three phases to the project, with the first implemented under a two-year, six-month contract that ended in June 2014.
Last year, PAC contended the ministry’s request to push forward the second phase claiming that the first phase had failed.
Two years after its implementation, the Auditor-General’s Report 2013 stated that the project had not achieved its objectives of providing high-speed 4G broadband and the VLE platform to schools nationwide.
From a total of 89.1 per cent of the 48 schools tested, including feedback from 70.3 per cent of 491 schools, it stated that the broadband access was unsatisfactory.
Additionally, 58 per cent of 501 schools said the 1BestariNet access did not cover the entire school area. There was also a delay in installing Internet services.
By the end of 2014, while 8,886 schools nationwide were provided with broadband connectivity, another 1,003 were connected through interim Internet services provided by other telecommunication companies.
One reason was that some schools could not be connected to the 1BestariNet network due to the project delivery firm not receiving approval from local authorities to build telecommunication towers in several states, including Sarawak, Penang and Kelantan. Infrastructure is paramount to the future of technology in education.
However, inefficient Internet access and time consuming efforts to produce or use teaching material online will not motivate teachers and students to apply the technology in teaching and learning.
Nevertheless, ensuring that each school is equipped for e-learning activities should not be the only focus to ensure the success of this project.
There is also the claim on the ministry’s failure to carry out proper research on the needs of the schools, liking it to a project that had been rushed from conception to execution far too quickly and without any proper planning.
Technology must be pre-tested by the teachers who are expected to use it every day. Technology companies may understand the mechanics of their products, but it is the teachers who understand teaching and who must be involved in making those products more than just electronic white elephants in the classroom.
Otherwise, computers would be oversold and underused. Ideally, 1BestariNet provides a transparent system to check on a child’s development. It allows parents to monitor their child in school — whether he goes to school on time, does his work in class, or participates in co-curricular activities.
For teachers, they can create content and upload to the VLE to use as teaching tools. For instance, a teacher in Bario, Sarawak, can use a video uploaded by a teacher in Kuala Lumpur in her classroom.
However, according to the same AG report, the usage of the VLE platform among students, parents, and teachers was very low, with less than five per cent of students using the e-facilities.
While the ministry said five per cent usage in the first three years was normal under any ICT integration transformation programme, we need to make it a policy priority as we invest in quality technology.
Many parents feel that computers are not an educational tool and will not allow children access to computers for their homework, thinking that they will use them to surf the web rather than study.
Teachers, too, lacked readiness to access Frog VLE. They also appear to have a fixed mindset that it was a waste of time to utilise Frog VLE while teaching.
Work load was another probable factor contributing to the teachers’ reluctance towards the programme. Teaching in a virtual classroom requires knowing the basics of technology and being ready to adjust.
Teachers need the necessary skills and information support to exploit the technology available to them and integrate it during lessons.
Making technology available to schools without adapting curricula or teaching methods might not be worthwhile. Technology won’t magically make pupils smarter unless teachers use it properly and in a way that encourages learning.
E-learning can only be successful if there is a revolutionary move away from replicating traditional classroom-based teaching practices and not just a copy-paste substitute for old methods.
While schools need a fast, robust Internet connection to embrace the opportunity to provide specific technology lessons to students, continuous monitoring and additional training are crucial to ensure that teachers feel at ease using technology as part of everyday instructions.
There must also be efforts underway to raise VLE usage in schools; making it a part of teachers’ key performance indicator.
Used in innovative ways, with the right teacher training and infrastructure support, technology can open up new ways of learning and bolster core skills.
Applied in the wrong way, it can have a detrimental impact. Only when teachers are exposed to new digital teaching approaches, and use the platform to experiment with technology, can we begin to produce a generation of students who can think and create without being prodded.