Monday, 5 August 2013


By : Quek Yiing Huey
 The e-learning programme has come in for some flak due mainly to the costs involved. - The Malaysian Insider pic Nazir Sufari, August 4, 2013.

The e-learning programme has come in for some flak due mainly to the costs involved. - The Malaysian Insider pic Nazir Sufari, August 4, 2013.Malaysia's ambitious e-learning programme for primary and secondary schools has been hailed as a leap forward by some teachers and students but questioned by critics for its practicality and, in particular, costs since it started last year.


The 1BestariNet is operated by YTL Comms, which won a tender to provide the virtual learning programme through its YES 4G broadband network across the country.


The Education Ministry has said the initial phase to bring technology to education costs RM663 million but earlier reports had put it at RM1.5 billion. Coupled with the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) Election 2013 promise to provide 10 million laptops to students, the cost will scale up in future phases, critics said.


"This shift enables the students to be more competitive as they have the chance to access information using the internet now," said Maizatul Akma Kamarudin, a teacher at Sekolah Kebangsaan Tanjung Keramat, just a stone's throw from Selangor’s famous fireflies’ colony in Kuala Selangor.


Her primary school was one of the first few schools to be installed with the 1BestariNet's FrogAsia Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) which runs on a cloud-based system.


However, Maizatul Akma said students in her rural school can only access the e-learning programme in the school's computer lab as they do not have computers at home and internet access is limited.


And due to Kuala Selangor’s location away from the city, the internet connection experiences occasional disruption, causing inconvenience to the e-learning program, she said.


"What the Ministry of Education has done is very good, but I would prefer them to focus more on rural areas because unlike city folks, most of the people here don’t have the privilege of buying gadgets,” she added.


As the school already had a computer lab since 2010, it was not provided with any Chromebooks. But Maizatul Akma was hopeful the students might receive them if the school scores high marks in VLE usage.


That is possible as the notebook has built-in 4G connectivity that can access the YTL Comms YES network but neither the Education Ministry nor the operators have explained whether the students without internet access at home would have to pay charges to use the commercial network.


Critics have seized on this fact, noting the government is buying 116,399 units of the Samsung Chromebooks that cost RM1,255 each for 2,002 schools but with no details on a data plan. The laptop costs only RM988 with a data plan in YES stores which critics say meant bulk sales should be cheaper rather than above market rates.


"Rather than looking at these scores, the Ministry should consider the background of these children instead.


"Those in urban areas can spend more time on the VLE as they have access to internet at home, but most of the people here are either fishermen or farmers who can’t afford that, so it doesn't seem fair,” Maizatul lamented.


"It's still hard for parents of this background to accept the idea of their children using gadgets for educational purposes. There is a mentality gap between the rural and housing areas even in Kuala Selangor itself," the primary school teacher said.


“The FrogAsia VLE is a good idea but the implementation is a problem as the VLE can’t be fully utilised,” said a vernacular school teacher in Kuala Lumpur who declined to be named due to the issue’s sensitivity.


"Most of the school children live in low-cost flats so they don’t have computers at home. If this problem exists even in cities, what about rural areas? What about Sabah and Sarawak?"


Bukit Bendera MP Zairil Khir Johari (pic) has questioned the justification of the project’s practicality and cost.


“This project looks structured to fit the cronies,” said Zairil.


Describing RM1,255 as “overpriced”, he said that the Ministry could have settled for an amount lower than the retail price of RM988 for the same device, considering the amount of laptops that it is ordering.


“In the end, it boils down to the teachers’ capability,” he said before going on to state the previous e-learning system for PPSMI which failed because of the teachers’ standard of English.


“In a country where the teachers can’t even teach English, how are they going to conduct the VLE?” the first-term Bukit Bendera MP asked.


Education Ministry officials were mum on details of the project.


When contacted, former deputy education minister Datuk Ir. Dr. Wee Ka Siong only said, “This (1BestariNet program) was after GE-13… (it's) not something that I know of" despite the project's start in October 2012, seven months before the polls.


Current Deputy Minister P. Kamalanathan did not reply to calls made by The Malaysian Insider. - August 4, 2013 (TheMalaysianInsider)

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