Thursday, 22 October 2015

Teachers' union says 1BestariNet useless for online learning from home

The Free Malaysia Today article which follows at the end of my commentary bears the title - "Teachers scoff at 'advice' to use 1BestariNet".

But first some background on 1BestariNet.

In late 2012 I covered the Champion School Conference 2012 where FrogAsia, a YTL owned company showcased its Frog Virtual Learning Environment (Frog VLE) for students to use to learn online, access online libraries and educational resources, access Google learning content and Google's online utilities such as Google Apps, Google Calendar, Google Maps, for teachers to assign students their homework online, for students to do their homework and submit it online, for teachers to interact with students online, monitor their progress and intervened when necessary, for students to interact and collaborate with each other on assignment projects online using social networking facilities, for teachers interact with the parents online, for parents to check up on their children's progress online and so forth.

Students and teachers can access the Frog VLE system from anywhere on any device, including a desktop PC, notebook PC, netbook, tablet or smartphone which has a connection to the Internet.

The term "Champion Schools" was the name given to selected schools participating in the 1BestariNet pilot project.

The Frog VLE goes along with the Yes 4G WiMAX wireless broadband connectivity provided by YTL subsidiary YTL Communications to the over 10,000 schools across Malaysia, with speeds per school ranging from 2Mbps to 10Mbps in urban areas and from 2Mbps to 4Mbps in rural areas.

In May 2010, YTL Communications formally announced that it had received the contract from the Ministry of Education to implement the first phase of 1BestariNet connect up all schools. The contract was worth RM1.5 billion over the subsequent five years and that sum includes RM663 million to connect up all the schools with Yes 4G WiMAX wireless broadband. Altogether, 1BestariNet is a 15 year project costing over RM4 billion.

Cooked up by the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU) of the Prime Minister's Department, 1BestariNet replaces the Ministry's failed SchoolNet project launched in 2004.

Billy Downie, head teacher at The Streely Academy told Champion Schools Conference 2012 that Frog VLE had helped his school rise from the bottom 1% of U.K. schools for student progress in 2003 to the top 5% in 2012.

The Streetly Academy is a state secondary school in Sutton Coldfield, an affluent middle-class suburb of Birmingham, West Midlands and its 1,400 students comprise 60% from mostly affluent households and 30% from least affluent households.

Behaviour at the school was bad, its reputation poor, few parents wanted to send their children there and it had five different head teachers on five years, and In 2005, the U.K. Office for Standards in Education (Ofstead) had rated Streetly as unsatisfactory.

Downie became head teacher there in 2010. When he joined, Streetly was still a comprehensive school within the U.K. system and one of the first things he did was to implement Frog VLE which greatly helped to facilitate the school's improvement efforts which drew upon the an experience from U.K. Sport, the U.K.'s government agency in charge of national sports development.

Downie basically adopted U.K. Sport's "continuous development in gradual steps" approach at Streetly and it paid off.

Frog VLE was developed by Frog Trade, a Halifax, U.K. based internet service and learning management systems provider and at the time was use by 700 schools in the U.K. On 15 June, 2012, YTL subsidiary YTL Education raised its equity in Frog Trade by 37.3% to a total of around 57.6%, thus becoming a majority shareholder, hence Frog Trade became a YTL company.

In his keynote speech, YTL Education chairman Lord Stewart Sutherland congratulated Malaysia for for implementing Frog VLE so widely across Malaysian schools.

“Governments and business must know how to use this creative technology to change the nature of education and I congratulate Malaysia for her initiatives in technology in education and 1BestariNet is an single, end-to-end virtual learning environment, unlike in the U.K. where implementation is fragmented, with no possibility of being interconnected into a single system,” Lord Stewart said. “A good teacher wants to know about their students and their needs and teachers today must be IT-literate and not have to rely of the technician, while parents can become a part of the school by knowing about their children's homework assignments and they can interact with teachers and the school,” the British Lord said.

This guy sure has impressive credentials, with it said that he is the U.K.'s leading academic in the management of education, with over 30 years experience. He also was principal of Kings College London, vice-chancellor of the University of London and Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools, and vice-chancellor and principal of the University of Edinburgh, and now an advisor to the U.K. government on educational matters.

En. Sukimin Juki, headmaster of Taman Putra Perdana National School, a primary school in Sepang  strongly believes in the use of technology in classrooms to enhance teaching and learning. As head of one of a Champion School, he played a leading role in initiatives to educate and raise awareness amongst parents about the value and benefits of Frog VLE for their children. Taman Putra Perdana school has 1,796 students, 128 teachers and 10 non-academic staff and besides Frog VLE, it also has MyGFL and the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation Planning Unit's (MAMPU's) learning management system.

“We want to turn our students into valuable assets and to make teaching a desirable profession and our teachers work with parents to achieve this,” said Sukimin.

“Since most students don't have computers at home, they were going to cybercafes, where they are exposed to unhealthy influences, so besides our computer labs, we provided computers in public areas within the school for them to use,” he added.

Now that last statement which I have highlighted in blue reveals a major deficiency in Malaysia, especially when Sepang, where Taman Putra Perdana school is located is within or close to the Multimedia Super Corridor (now called MSC Malaysia), that 15km x 50km areas of land between the Petronas Twin Towers, the administrative capital Putrajaya, the township of Cyberjaya which is intended to be the centre of development of Malaysia's information technology and multimedia industry and the Kuala Lumpur International Airport which is in Sepang itself.

For a learning system like Frog VLE to be able to fully benefit students, teachers and parents, it requires that most students, teachers and parents have ready access to a PC, tablet or smartphone as well as access to stable and affordable broadband connectivity and if most of Taman Putra Perdana's students do not have a computer at home and have to go to cybercafes to access Frog VLE because there are not enough computers at their school, then what more students and teachers of schools in other towns and villages across Malaysia?

Sure, Frog VLE may work very well in an affluent area of the U.K. such as Sutton Coldfield where one would expect most students to be running around with notebooks, tablets and smartohones, and Billy Downie told me on the sidelines of the conference, that even the poorest of students at his school at least had a computer with Internet access at home.

However, how many school students across Malaysia have a PC with Internet access at home, let alone can afford to run around with a notebook, tablet or smartphone and more importantly afford the cost of broadband Internet access on the go.

From my own experience amongst real people on the ground, many lower income urban people may be able to afford especially a lower end model smartphone but quite often have exceeded their monthly cellular data quota, so are rather limited in their access to social media and other online facilities such as Frog VLE.

Also, imagine five children having to share one PC with Internet connection at home and having to take turns to do their homework on that one PC.

I know of a low-income family in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur which received a 1Malaysia Netbook  and a loaned desktop PC which is shared amongst four school going children. They could not afford fibre broadband access so opted for cellular wireless instead and with the children accessing social media, posting and downloading pictures, videos and so forth apart from accessing Frog VLE, they soon exceeded the monthly quota well before the end of the monthly billing period and had to pay to extend their quota and eventually their mother could not take it any more and terminated the broadband, so the children had computers but no Internet access at home.

One day, the eldest boy, a teenager when to a friend's house to use her PC supposedly to access Frog VLE but my friend told me that she found him busily accessing Facebook instead.

In November 2014, the media were screaming sensationally about YTL Communications being fined RM2.4 million by the Ministry of Education for failing to connect up 1,003 of the 10,000 schools with Yes 4G WiMAX wireless broadband within the two and a half years or 30 months time period. As necessitated that the Ministry get other telecommunications companies to connect up those remaining unconnected schools. 

However this was not the fault of YTL Communications but of the the local authorities in the areas concerned who were slow to approve the construction of necessary infrastructure such as radio towers and the Ministry of Education is aware of this, as The Star reported below.

"Delays by local authorities and state governments are the reason why a two and a half year objective to implement the 1BestariNet project in 10,000 schools nationwide failed, said the Education Ministry."

"It said the authorities and states were slow in approving the construction permits for towers in specific locations, needed by the RM4bil project aimed at providing 4G broadband connectivity and virtual learning environment (VLE) to the schools."


To me, YTL Communications did pretty well to connect up close to 90% of schools, which would score it an A in any school examination or test. Whilst most of the media screamed about about YTL Communications being fined, they tended to either ignore or downplay the much bigger failure which would amount to an "F minus, minus, minus" in a school exam.

Further down the same article The Star reports"-

"According to the A-G’s report, the project was implemented before teachers and students were fully trained to utilise VLE."

“(As a result) VLE use by teachers, students and parents was very low – between 0.01% and 4.69%”, it said."

"It also stated that proper school requirement studies were not conducted before the broadband system was installed."

"The ministry explained that the contract specified that such a study should be carried out but this was not done by the contractors at all the schools."

“The contractors conducted a school requirement study on 430 of 1,600 schools that have a local area network (LAN)."

“Of the remaining 8,289 schools that did not have a LAN, the contractors only conducted a study on 2,865 of these."

“Subsequently, we only received 430 written reports on this,” the ministry said, adding that YTL has been instructed to fulfil this obligation in the interim period."



So between 0.01% to 4.69% of teachers, students and parents use Frog VLE, which is pretty horrible, and it looks like they are on another planet from the Streetly Academy in Sutton Coldfield.

Now the article above talks about broadband connectivity and access to Frog VLE in schools but how about access to Frog VLE at home or when away from school?

Right now, Malaysia is blanketed by an unhealthy haze due to smoke from the burning of vegetation in Indonesia being carried over to Malaysia and Singapore by the prevailing winds.

As a precaution to protect the health of students, thousands of schools across Malaysia have had to close and the Ministry of Education has advised teachers to teach students at home online through 1BestariNet.

However, the Secretary-General of the National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) protested that "the advice was not practical as teachers most often were unable to log on to the online programme, much less use it for teaching purposes", according to the Free Malaysia Today report below.

I'll leave you to read Free Malaysia Today's article in full below.

======================

Teachers scoff at ‘advice’ to use 1BestariNet
FMT Reporters  | October 22, 2015
NUTP secretary-general says teachers cannot even log-on to the online teaching aid much less use it to teach students when schools are shut due to the haze.


KUALA LUMPUR: Teachers are rolling their eyes at the advice they received from the Ministry of Education that they use 1BestariNet to teach students missing school due to the worsening haze.

Education Ministry director-general Khair Mohamad Yusof had said yesterday that while schools remained shut, teachers could use the time to give students homework online.

Khair said it was not to be taken as an “instruction” from him, merely advice, considering some students were sitting for important public examinations in the weeks ahead.

Commenting on this however, secretary-general of the National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) Lok Yim Pheng, said the advice was not practical as teachers most often were unable to log on to the online programme, much less use it for teaching purposes.

“How can we expect teachers to liaise online with students when they can’t even access 1BestariNet in schools,” she was quoted by Malay Mail Online as saying.

10,149 schools supposedly have access to 1BestariNet, a virtual learning initiative by the Education Ministry and its corporate partners, who developed the online programme as a learning tool.

Earlier yesterday, when speaking to reporters at the national level Smart School Award at Persiaran Bukit Kiara here, Khair reminded students not to view the current closure of schools as school holidays.

He said the ministry would also be looking into long-term solutions on how to deal with the closure of schools due to the haze as they had no current standard operating procedure on it.

He also said there was no need for students to attend replacement classes to make up for the current closure of schools.


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Now that is exactly the point - i.e. 1BestariNet is inaccessible, especially from most homes and even within schools.

Malaysians have a rather cynical nickname for Malaysia - i.e. "Bolehland" of "Anything Can Land" and Bolehland is famous for such grandiose and much hyped projects such as 1BestariNet.

Anyway, I saw this coming three years ago and can proudly say - I told you so!.

Unfortunately, Malaysian policy makers don't seem to be able to think about whether something which works well in especially a highly developed country, will work equally well when transplanted lock, stock and barrel into a very different context in Malaysia in terms of availability, extensiveness and affordability of adequate communications infrastructure and facilities,  the affordability of user access devices and of broadband Internet connectivity, the level of computer literacy and tech savviness and so forth.

Instead of cutting and pasting from the advanced countries to Malaysia, such decision makers should think of ways to implement Internet connectivity and electronic learning most appropriately to prevailing, real-world, local conditions in Malaysia.

The key activity here is to teach students effectively and if a teacher teaching in front of a class works best within prevailing conditions and circumstances, then so be it.

If a country does not have the means and material resources to enable a learning management system like Frog VLE to be used optimally, then do not try to keep up with the Jones in the west and fail, since that will negatively impact especially the innocent students.

As one who has written about the information and communications technology industry in Malaysia for about 20 years, I have encountered so much crap like this in the ICT industry, especially the Internet and new media industries, as well as by the IT media and ICT industry boosters, furturists, CON-sultants and spin doctors.

Phase 1 of 1BestariNet implementation should end in May 2017 and a new contractor will be awarded the contract to implement Phase 2 of an already moribund and floundering project and we'll be bombarded with more hype, hoohah, bullshit and ballyhoo about how Phase 2 will magically "solve all the problems of Phase 1 and Malaysian schools will attain a Shangri-La of educational excellence".

And that is why I have bestowed upon myself the psuedonym "IT.Scheiss" which means "IT Shit" in English.

No. I am not scheiss, the technology is not the scheiss but the marketing hype, hoohah, bullshit and ballyhoo is, and 1BestariNet is a perfect case of IT.Scheiss.

I am yours truly


IT.SCHEISS


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