Edu nation: Digital learning is no longer optional

This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on July 20, 2020 - July 26, 2020.
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We would like to take this opportunity to convey our heartiest congratulations to the outstanding Dr Masliza Mahmod, who has been made an associate professor of cardiovascular medicine at world-renowned Oxford University. What an honour and accolade!

While Malaysians have recognised the importance of the English language towards progress, without denying the sovereignty of Bahasa Melayu as a unifying factor, there is still much to be done to equip our students and undergraduates with scientific English. It is scientific English, perseverance, persistence and sheer tenacity that has got our good cardiologist this far and, potentially, even further moving forward.

Parents have high aspirations for their children. While no one should stop dreaming about their children going to Oxford, or Cambridge for that matter, the seed has first to be planted in school. The seed is none other than the Dual Language Programme (DLP), which, since 2016, has been an option that parents can choose for their children as early as Year One right through to Form Five.

With the DLP as a strong foundation where Science and Mathematics are taught in the English language, coupled with the globally tried-and-tested Inquiry-Based Science Education (IBSE) practised in schools, students can endeavour to become independent learners and avail themselves of a vast world of scientific knowledge in the English language.

Parents and students who are on a mission should not wait for the teachers, but should instead chart their own progress for success. A fine example is Veveonah Mosibin of Kampung Sapatalang, Pitas, who, I am told by her deputy vice-chancellor, is an exemplary Science undergraduate in Sabah. Having to tap rubber before sunrise to supplement her household income and confronted with poor connectivity, she was determined that nothing would stand in the way of her academic development.

Armed with a webcam, handphone, power bank, pen and paper, two packets of rice and a bottle of water, a positive attitude and enthusiasm, she sat her examinations in Chemistry and Pengajian Malaysia perched precariously on a tree. She challenged herself to sit on the tree for 24 hours amid bees and anything that goes bump in the night, with mosquito netting for protection.

Since then, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), which has a budget of RM2.6 billion, has pledged that efforts to bridge the digital divide will continue. But we would like to see direct digital access in homes so that no one needs to walk 1.4km to get to a spot where they can enjoy connectivity. Everyone should have equal access from their homes quickly, if we want to progress economically as a nation.

Since March, I have been following the path of the online learning of a Year 4 pupil at the country’s top primary school. It has been a painful journey. For the first 10 weeks of the Movement Control Order (MCO), teaching online was ad hoc, random, unstructured and, in some cases, even non-existent. Come May, a timetable was created, but it was not strictly adhered to by the teachers, who were either absent, unpunctual or missing.

Some teachers would provide a link or two for students to access, followed by a quiz, without any attempt to interact with them whatsoever. Despite the challenges, special mention should go to Mathematics, Moral Studies and Mandarin teacher Ms Han and Science teacher Cikgu Hafizi of SK Bukit Damansara for consistently interacting with their pupils throughout the MCO with discipline, dedication, conviction and commitment.

As for online studies, let’s forget www.eduwebtv.moe.edu.my, a free portal set up by the Education Ministry for students. For starters, it is plagued by spelling errors and has little learning material for Science and Mathematics in the English language. It is most crippling for DLP students, particularly for those in Sarawak, which has adopted the programme throughout the state’s school system.

Still, students should not be afraid to explore other excellent and challenging learning platforms such as www.khanacademy.org, a free global website with separate access for teachers, students and parents. Last month, the Education Ministry launched another online learning platform, called the Digital Educational Learning Initiative Malaysia, or Delima (http://moe-dl.edu.my), which, apparently, is a rebranding of Google Classroom and Google for Education combined. Unfortunately, it is accessible by only teachers and students. Even YTL’s 1Bestarinet had passwords for parents.

Looking ahead, pupils, students, undergraduates and even adults need to get connected. The priority should be to get telecommunication towers up, including in the rural areas. Once this is done, we can decide on the type of devices to be used, enabling households to be connected for education, leisure and even business from the comfort of anyone’s home. Getting connected should no longer be optional for every Malaysian. It has become a basic need.


Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim is the chairman of Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia, an educational lobby group that serves as a channel between concerned parents, the Ministry of Education and other educational stakeholders

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