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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Monday, April 05, 2021

Digital Education In Rural Education

 Digital Technology in Rural Education:  The Experience in Malaysia and Elsewhere.


M. Bakri Musa


Last of Four Parts

[Presented in part at a webinar sponsored by the Islamic Renaissance Front, Malaysia, Saturday January 31, 2021, together with fellow panelist Dato Dr. Madeline Berma, and Shamshir Alam moderating.]


Educational achievement, during pre-Covid-19 days as well as today, is directly correlated with the development of a society, and is inversely related to the level of poverty. Whether this relationship is spurious, meaning not related to meaningful, could be debated; likewise in determining whether it is the cause or effect. It could very well be that rich countries have the resources to spend more on education. Meaning, the relationship is consequential not causal.


Nonetheless there are enough examples where wise investments in education would benefit society. In Europe, there were Finland and Ireland, and in Aisa, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea. The latest example is in Africa, Rwanda. Superior education relates to the quality of human capital I alluded to in the beginnning.


            According to economist Muhammad Abdul Khalid, 100 percent of children in the low-cost flats of Kuala Lumpur are in the poverty group; likewise those in rural areas. Poverty in Malaysia today is both an urban as well rural phenomenon.


            Professor Jomo stated that 90 percent of Malaysian children have no access to digital technology. Yayasan Hasanah put that figure as ony 37 percent. In America, it is about 15.


Jomo suggested bringing back the old educational television program of yore. As those villagers could receive those transmissions. I am supportive of this only as a short-gap measure. Television is the technology of the 1950s. The intellectual traffic there is not only one way, but the teachers do not get immediate or any feedback from the students. Poor Malaysian students, in rural as well as urban areas, must be given the same opportunities as those in developed countries.


It would be more appropriate to modify those television bandwith to accommodate Internet signals. That is not an engineering problem but one of legislations. Some poor African countries have done that.


            Bringing broadband access to rural areas whether through cables, satellites, or phone lines is again an engineering issue and after considering costs and local topography. The best choice for Kapit in Sarawak would not be so for Gua Musang in Ulu Kelantan. Likewise the choice for a longhouse in Kapit would not be suitable for a kampung in Kemaman or those highrise flats in Kuala lumpur.


            Whatever model we choose for a particular location, we must be prepared to study and monitor its effectiveness. The initial choice should be just the beginning of the effort. This is where Malaysia fails. We assumed that we have designed a perfect system and that it will work now and forever. Thus we do not study its limitations and acceptance. Even if it were to be successful, we stlill need to study it so we could improve on it and perhaps modify it for possible applications elsewhere.


            Consider what Sugaro Mitra did in India with his first “Hole in the Wall” experiment in 1999. From there he improved on it to develop his “Schools in the Cloud,” “Learning Hubs,” and “Granny in the Cloud.”


            Contrast that to the typical Malaysian experience. I once attended Friday prayers in a magnificent mosque in Kuala Lumpur that was just opened a few months earlier and with great fanfare. Yet there were already wires strung across the beautiful cavernous hall as the architect did not provide for enough outlets for the many television screens. Worse, there were numerous makeshift loudspeakers jury-rigg to the walls.


            In 2003 I visited a school in my old village where the teachers had each been given expensive Apple laptops. However when I asked them, they were all disappointed. They could use those computers only at school. When school was over the computers would be locked up in the headmaster’s office. Those teachers had barely enough time to teach their classes let alone learn new skills. The result? The cpmputers gathered dust in the cupboard.


            Contrast that with the experience in Uruguay. The schoolchildren there were each given those computers to take home. There they could teach their parents how to use them for their little “mom and pop” businesses. As a result computer literacy in the village soared.


            To conclude, my takeaway points are these.


First, all children rich and poor, rural and urban, must have broadband access for free. IT should be considered as a basic and integral part of education, as with desks, chairs, and blackboards, as well as electricity and potable water. With IT schools could become the villagers’ or community’s hub for broadband access. Choose one of the many proven models as OLPC or Learning Hubs and modify for local use.


            Second, because of the current limited access to broadband, e-learning should be confined to subjects that could not otherwise be taught, meaning STEM. Others like history, civic classes, and religious studies should be deferred.


            Third, use the old educational television only as a stopgap measure.


            Fourth, we must try the different models and study them so we could improve on them. Establish local champion leaders and give them the necessary training. Continue collecting data as to use, efficacy, and problems associated. 


            Fifth, DT is now an integral part of education at all levels. With that comes a fundamental change in the role of teachers and educators. They are now less the sage on the stage and more a guide at the side.


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