Malaysia’s smart school project draws flak

Posted on July 29, 1999 
Filed Under CNET, Julian

By Julian Matthews and Amar Hakim

KUALA LUMPUR–Malaysia’s troubled Smart Schools Project continues to draw flak despite the awarding of the contract Wednesday to a consortium to provide the necessary courseware and wiring to 90 schools in the pilot program.

Education Minister Najib Tun Razak vowed that all 9,000 primary and secondary schools in the country will be made “smart” by 2002, making yet another promised target date that critics say is unlikely to be met.

At issue is the fact that over 1,000 schools still do not even have power, while the proposed official CD-ROM courseware is only due in April next year, four months into the school year.

The project mooted in 1996 as part of Malaysia’s Multimedia Super Corridor initiative, has been bogged down by budget cuts, faulty courseware, lack of computers, and delays in the construction of nine of the 90 pilot schools.

The project is aimed at re-inventing the teaching-learning process and promote creative and critical thinking among students through the extensive use of technology, the Internet and multimedia courseware.

Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang lamented the fact that over 1,050 schools still do not have power supply, the majority of which are in the states of Sabah and Sarawak.

“Will all these schools be provided with electricity supply by 2002?” he asks. “How can you make that ‘quantum leap’ in promoting computer education in the schools without electricity? It is clearly impossible,” said, Lim who is the secretary general of the Democratic Action Party, in a statement.

Lim added that the percentage of computer-literate teachers of the 250,000 teachers in the country was still low, and incentives to boost PC ownership and literacy was still limited.

The National Union of the Teachers Profession (NUTP), which represents 74,000 teachers, also was concerned about the limited training and shortcomings of the project.

“Although, we appreciate the project is finally moving forward, we are especially worried about the disparity the project might cause between urban and rural schools, ” said secretary general N. Siva Subramaniam.

Last year, the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) party fearing Mandarin-based schools would be left out of the project, started its own “smart school” project with an initial adoption of 114 of the 1,289 Chinese schools.

Subramaniam also questioned the introduction of courseware only next April, in the middle of the academic year.

He said the union would express their concerns to the Ministry in upcoming meetings.

The Education Ministry went ahead with introducing an interim courseware in January this year when it was found out that the contract for development of the courseware would be delayed.

The temporary courseware was later said to be flawed and unsuitable.

The chosen Smart Schools, were also forced to make do with limited PCs mostly donated by benefactors. One school in Perak, for example, had as few as 14 PCs to be shared with over 160 students.

At the signing ceremony Wednesday, Education Minister Najib expressed relief that the agreement on the contract had finally been reached after protracted negotiations.

“I am relieved that we have finally reached the end of the road,” said Najib, which prompted laughter and applause from those present.

Najib suggested that it was necessary for the government to speed up the program to encompass all schools but offered no solution how it could do this.

One clear indicator underlining government commitment was the raised value of the contract, from previous allocation of RM53 million (US$14m) to RM300 million (US$79m).

The winning consortium–Telekom Smart School–is to have all components of the project up and running by July 2002.

These include the development and implementation of multimedia courseware and printed materials for the four subjects–Bahasa Melayu, the national language, English, Science and Mathematics–the assessment and school management systems software, technology infrastructure, systems integration and support services.

Telekom Smart School is led by majority shareholder Telekom Multimedia, a Telekom Malaysia subsidiary, and includes nine other companies including local telecommunication giant Sapura, British telco BT, American systems integrator EDS, Indian software training giant NIIT, and various local companies.

According to the Education Ministry, the companies were the combination of two consortia which had pitched for the contract. A total of 49 proposals were received after the project was tendered in July 1997.

Published in CNET Asia, July 29, 1999.

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