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Sunday, 9 March 2014

Taking the leap

Shoulder to lean on: Vujicic gets a hug from a student Ishan Singh who was touched by his speech.

Shoulder to lean on: Vujicic gets a hug from a student Ishan Singh who was touched by his speech.

AT THE heart of everything they do, is the desire to see education transformed in a way that helps students become lifelong learners.

Often mentioned in relation to the Education Ministry’s 1BestariNet project, FrogAsia conducts many other programmes outside the scope of the project.

In an interview with StarEducate, executive director Lou Yeoh says, “We believe that one of the ways to make (lifelong learning) a reality is by providing schools with access to world-class knowledge and the right tools to apply this knowledge available through the Internet.”

The 27-year-old believes that one of the key components in making change is to “facilitate the transformation of mindsets”.

“Fear of the unknown and of technology, and lack of self-confidence, can make one feel vulnerable and not open to change.”

She quotes author and education specialist Sir Ken Robinson who talked about the “tyranny of common sense” and how it was the “great problem for transformation”.

He said that there were things that people thought could not be done any other way because “that’s the way it’s done”.

Yeoh says that she understands that the “key problem is perception”.

“So in all we do, we aim to show that it’s not just about the technology; it’s about what you do with it.”

She adds that the Internet has “changed our lives” and one major change is our outlook on education.

“Memorising and being able to repeat information is no longer the key to a student’s success, as it was during the industrial era where order and uniformity were valued.

“Uunderstanding knowledge and critically applying it in a way that creates value is what counts in today’s mobile and increasingly connected world, for a student to progress to higher education or to the workforce,” she says.

“Without proper access to the Internet and technology-based resources, schools and students will be left behind by those who are better equipped to thrive in a digital world.

“That is where (FrogAsia) comes in. In all that we do, we aim to open up greater access to technology and the Internet and bridge the digital divide in order to create a level playing field for all students to thrive and compete in today’s world.”

A virtual learning environment

As part of the 1BestariNet project, FrogAsia delivers a “world-class virtual learning platform” to over 10,000 schools in Malaysia.

They have also created the first online store for teaching and learning, the FrogStore, which is endorsed by the Education Ministry and is available to Malaysians nationwide.

“(We work) with local and international textbook publishers, app creators and other content partners to bring in best-of-breed eBooks, videos, applications and other learning content into the education ecosystem,” Yeoh says.

FrogAsia also works with Yes 4G to provide 4G connectivity and related services, including a national student database, antivirus services and others. But far from providing a platform and leaving teachers and parents to their own devices, FrogAsia also provides resources, training, mentoring and support to schools using the Frog Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).

“(We) organise events, conferences and talks to educate and raise awareness among Malaysians on the opportunities and benefits to education brought about by technology,” says Yeoh.

“We believe that the Internet can be used as a force for good and is a place where people can connect without being in the same place at the same time and inspiration and ideas can come to life. We want to be the platform to encourage and spearhead this.

“Malaysia is the first country in the world where all schools are connected via a single platform. This means that collaboration and sharing of knowledge across the country is possible because everyone is connected through one common platform.”

Yeoh adds that the company is happy that the Government has acknowledged the need for transformation in the country’s education system. The 1BestariNet project is in fact, part of one of the shifts in the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013 - 2025.

There is however, only so much the Government can do and Yeoh recognises this.

“Personally, I also feel that change in mindsets and approaches towards education need to come from all levels of society. If we feel that the quality of education in the country needs to be improved, we cannot just rely on the Government alone to change things,” she says.

“In developed countries, businesses and community groups have a role to play as well. We need the best learning content providers, the best device players and the best textbook publishers to enter the local market and compete so that Malaysian consumers get to benefit from having a greater selection of options at competitive prices.

“We need organisations to partner with schools to conduct research, pilot projects and studies to understand better the evolving needs of our schools.

“We need community groups to advocate the best interests of students. We need parents to partner more closely with schools and lend their voice to the conversation as well. We need teachers who are passionate and inspired to make a difference in their roles as educators.

“And we need all these different people to work and partner together to ensure we all achieve the same outcome — that Malaysian students everywhere will have the right and access to a good quality education.”

She adds that ultimately, the aim is to ensure that “the next generation is equipped and empowered when they leave school”.

“While I think we can agree that the top percentage of Malaysians are globally competitive, there is major concern about the overall education quality of the population as a whole and this can stem from a variety of reasons, and the latest blueprint has been set up to address them,” she says, referring to concerns about issues such as proficiency in language, Maths and Science, as well as critical thinking skills.

“However, I believe at the heart of it all is the issue of equal access to quality education.”

Meeting needs

Calling it an “environment” is apt, as the company is constantly growing in order to address the needs of those in the teaching and learning community.

“We are constantly conducting research into the needs of education in Malaysia and how we can address those needs, especially the needs of teachers and how we can support them better through our solutions and services,” Yeoh explains.

“We are conducting pilot projects in low-performing schools and are working with other potential partners to gather more insights and research into how we can add more value.

“We believe that it begins with understanding the needs and meeting the needs of the teachers, and then communicating back to them how technology can meet those needs in a way that makes sense to them.

“It has been encouraging to see that in the past year, we have started to see teachers warming up to us and who have become active advocates of Frog and all that we do.

“The Leaps of Knowledge series we launched last year has been a huge success as well.

“We have had an overwhelming response from teachers, many of whom have said that they have been appreciated, and inspired to teach again!”

On top of providing content, Yeoh says that she did see the need for access to devices and that the company would work with the right partners to ensure that students would have access to these even while at home.

In the past, FrogAsia worked with partners who develop the devices that students work on. An example of this is the Samsung 4G Chromebook.

“Coming up in the pipeline, we have plans to work on introducing affordable bundled device and Internet packages that will include mobile devices such as tablets as well.

“All this is to ensure that people have access to devices and the Internet to allow them to embark on their learning journey in a meaningful way,” she says.

They also work with YTL Foundation, which is sponsoring devices to schools in need.

In addition to devices, FrogAsia is also ensuring that students have access to quality content and are working with partners like Edunation, Khan Academy, TED-Ed, British Council and more, to put free and paid digital content on the FrogStore.

The company’s content may be digital but their presence extends beyond that.

Beyond just providing information that will help students in schools and exams, FrogAsia aims to create a society that loves learning.

Their events have all been geared towards that purpose. From their Leaps of Knowledge series to their Future of Learning conference to screening of movies like Girl Rising, each of these may provide opportunities for educators to learn from one another or to empower students or inspire them to be agents of change.

Other events like the Word Mania Challenge, a nationwide competition currently in progress, is aimed at making learning fun for students.

Over 21,000 students from 900 schools in Malaysia have taken part in the Word Mania Challenge, which is designed to improve student literacy in a creative and engaging matter.

In this online competition, a joint effort between FrogAsia, Yes and LiteracyPlanet, primary and secondary students learn vocabulary and spelling by forming words out of a set of given letters, while competing for prizes like gadgets, devices and digital content subscriptions.

“Having a good command of English is so crucial for equipping this generation of Malaysians for the global marketplace.

“And the way English is taught needs to be relevant to their everyday lives. With the amount of exposure that a child in today’s world has to technology, games-based learning is the way forward,” says Yeoh.

Many teachers are keen supporters of the Word Mania Challenge and this includes Senathi Rajah, who teaches at SJK(T) Ladang Bute, an under-enrolled school in Sepang, Selangor.

Improving skills

He has been using this competition to encourage students to improve their spelling skills, as well as English vocabulary by holding practice sessions even during the year-end school holidays last year.

On top of that, he also translated a Word Mania guide in Tamil to help his students participate in the competition.

They may have started out as the underdogs but his school is currently in the Top 10 of the primary school leaderboards.

“I was inspired by FrogAsia’s Leaps of Knowledge conference (held in December last year) and that is why I went the extra mile for my school,” said Rajah.

He hopes the school will make it to the Grand Finals to be held later this month.

“The amazing thing about an online competition like this is that there are no physical boundaries for participating.

“Students from both urban and rural schools across Malaysia now have an equal chance to improve their spelling skills in a fun and interactive way through the Internet and technology,” Yeoh says.

“We believe that the Internet can be used as a force for good and is a place where people can connect without being in the same place at the same time and inspiration and ideas can come to life. (FrogAsia) wants to be the platform to encourage and spearhead this.

“Malaysia is the first country in the world where all schools are connected via a single platform.

This means that collaboration and sharing of knowledge across the country is possible because everyone is connected through one common platform,” she says.

Tags / Keywords: Education , FrogAsia , YTL , 1Bestarinet


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