- Published on Wednesday, 11 July 2018 08:52
Will classrooms in public schools across Malaysia soon do away with old-fashioned pen and paper and move on to learning using high-tech gadgets?
While students’ fate is still up in arms, pending the review of the Education Ministry, its minister, Dr Maszlee Malik ensured that the students will benefit the most from the initiative if implemented, as they are currently looking at the proposal in a holistic and comprehensive manner.
Using gadgets in classrooms is not a concept that is unheard of, as several private institutions in the country have been known to adapt to the virtual classroom concept, but implementing it in public schools is not an easy task.
As technological advancements will continue to thrive, the benefits of using gadgets in classrooms cannot be denied, but how should teachers prepare themselves for the possibility of their students bringing their own gadgets into classes?
Teachers Are Divided Over The Use Of Gadgets In Classrooms
Opinions among teachers on the use of gadgets vary, especially within different age groups.
For Siti Rugayah, a 50-year-old veteran teacher in Kuala Langat, Selangor, she disagrees with the decision to allow students to bring their gadgets to schools, primarily out of concern that thefts involving devices might increase.
“Based on my experience, there have been cases where students stole teachers’ mobile phoneseven when they are in the teacher’s hall. Can you imagine if the students bring their own gadgets?” she questioned.
As far as teaching using gadget goes, Siti has only used a government-issued phone and laptop for her own use to show teaching materials to her students.
“The teachers are also given a tablet under the 1BestariNet programme but personally, I have never used it because I don’t quite understand how to use it.
“However, the younger teachers are more open to the concept as they utilise all the gadgets issued to them to teach the students, with the help of the Frog VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) platform,” she says.
Launched in 2011 by the Education Ministry, the 1BestariNet programme is an effort to connect over 10,000 government schools across Malaysia with high-speed 4G internet and provide an online learning platfrom via the Frog VLE that makes students more engaged with learning.
Developed in the United Kingdom with a track record of 13 years, the platform also allows teachers to access educational materials in Google Apps and Khan Academy to improve their interaction with students.
However, critics of the programme say many schools are yet to be connected with high-speed internet, and some teachers were not given enough training to adapt to the new teaching methods.
Another teacher, Azrie, who serves at a primary school in Sentul says he is still skeptical over allowing students to bring their own gadgets.
“Aside from the serious risk of theft posed by the problematic students, teachers also have no control over the usage of the students’ gadgets when they are in school.
“If the students are connected to the school’s internet network, then the school can detect what the students are using the devices for. However, if they are using their own internet plan, then the students could be accessing unwanted content on the internet and distribute it among their friends,” says Azrie, who started teaching since 2015.
Instead, he suggests for the government to improve the existing infrastructure, including the Frog VLE platform.
“I can see the advantage of using the VLE with the school’s gadgets, however it is very limiting due to the school’s poor internet connectivity and lack of maintenance by the tech staff.
“The previous government was good in introducing e-learning, but did not perform a good job in maintaining the system,” he relays.
If the government insists on allowing students to bring their own gadgets, then Azrie suggests that the low-income families should be assisted in order to help them own one.
Using Gadgets Will Make Students More Future-Ready
Advocates of the proposal to allow gadgets in school meanwhile, say the move will ensure that our students are more equipped to enter universities and future workforce.
“At the university level, students are expected to work on laptops, complete assignments online, communicate via email and other tech-related tasks. With the right implementation, we should train our students with technology early, as it will shape our students to become better independent learners,” says Alina Amir, co-founder of Arus Academy and President of the Alumni Board for Teach For Malaysia (TFM).
Arus Academy is a social enterprise founded by Alina and three other TFM alumni aimed at making learning relevant again through the ‘maker’ approach – by designing, building and tinkering, where innovation and interdisciplinary learning are encouraged.
“Our own Arus Academy requires every one of our student to be able to work on laptops, access assignments on Google Classroom, work with their team members collaboratively via Google Drive and get important notifications via emails.
“Some of their assignments require them to go on MOOCs (massive open online course) independently,” she shares.
Nevertheless, Alina admits that distraction could be a major problem for students when they are using gadgets.
Hence, she advises for teachers to plan their lessons in a way where gadgets have a clear purpose of why it needs to be used, such as for researching new information, collaborative work with teammates, or creating a digital product from the lessons.
“Classroom management is also important. Teachers need to be able to get students off the gadgets when it is not required so a good classroom management strategy should be in place,” she said while pointing out that many of the top private schools in the country are already making use of completing assignments and assessments virtually.
According to the president of the National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) Kamarozaman Abdul Razak, the organisation agrees to the use of private gadgets such as laptops and tablets, but not mobile phones.
“Students are easily distracted by their mobile phones, and it can be used to distribute unwanted materials during classes,” he detailed.
Last year, the former Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid said students are allowed to bring certain gadgets such as tablets into schools for education purposes, with the exception of mobile phones as it could affect the students’ attention during lessons.
Even though other countries such as Australia and New Zealand have adopted gadgets in their learning system, Kamarozaman says the gadgets are only used by students under the teachers’ supervision when the lessons require them.
As a teacher himself, he often lets his students’ access computers during lessons to illustrate his lessons better, but will always supervise them closely to ensure they would not get distracted during classes.
Education Ministry Needs To Carefully Weigh The Pros And Cons
If the government were to approve the proposal, Kamarozaman hopes that they can look into getting support from private entities to help purchase the gadgets especially for students in rural areas first and foremost.
Kamarozaman also notes that although some private schools have already used laptops in their lessons, e-learning is still in its infancy in Malaysia.
By weighing the pros and cons of using gadgets, he believes the ministry similarly has to elaborate them to both the students and teachers of the guidelines to adhere to.
“The major obstacle of using gadgets include theft, should private gadgets are allowed to be brought into schools. These theft cases would undoubtedly be an unnecessary burden for the teachers.
“Students from low-income rural families could be attracted to the gadgets owned by their wealthier friends but since they can’t afford the gadgets, they might end up stealing them,” he said, whilst pointing out to a recent case in Nibong Tebal, Penang, last February, where a student committed suicide after she was accused of stealing her teacher’s mobile phone.
“Bringing gadgets should be seen as a natural progression in the development of teaching methods. In the past, we saw how OHP projectors were introduced in classes, which evolved into LCD projectors much later.
“Now, teachers should adopt to the 21st century by learning to utilise these technologies and making their lessons more entertaining for the students, or we risk being left behind in education technology,” he said.
Though Kamarozaman assured that “NUTP has discussed with the ministry twice regarding this issue,” so far the government has yet to decide on anything.
As for Alina, she says certain pre-requisites in schools must be met, such as having proper infrastructure, internet connection, teacher readiness and safety measures, prior allowing the usage of gadgets.
“There will be many challenges to implement this. For example, infrastructure-wise, our classrooms are not designed with multiple plug points to cater to large number of gadgets at the same time,” she highlighted.
Another point that could deter the use of gadgets in schools is the school’s culture – whereby only a handful of people hold the keys to the computer lab and have access to the school’s gadgets.
“Accessing the gadgets require teachers to reserve the computer lab, sign-in and other unnecessary practises.
“If we are to make gadgets a norm, then the culture needs to change as well where students and teachers are empowered and encouraged to use it as and when they need to without mush hassle,” she opines.
She adds that by making the school’s gadgets more accessible, it can help students especially those from low-income families and besides that, “If students are given empowerment and trust to take care of the school’s computer lab, they can use it when they need to instead of heading to a cyber cafe.”
Lastly, the teachers, especially those who are not very tech-literate, should also undergo courses for them to be able to deliver gadget-related lessons better and to increase the engagement of the students towards the lessons.
Having said this, in the event the ministry goes ahead with the proposal, hopefully they will be quick to adapt to any changes that could be beneficial for the country’s education system, and ease the learning process for both the students and teachers.
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