(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): The delay in the full implementation of the Smart School Project, one of the seven flagship applications of the Multimedia Super Corridor, shows that the government is not totally committed to prepare the country for the Information Age.
At the end of 1996, the Education Minister, Datuk Najib Tun Razak announced that the first pioneer intake of 4,000 students for the smart schools will be in January 1999 and that the country’s first five smart schools - two primary, two secondary and one pre-school - would be housed in the new RM144.5 million Smart School Complex in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur.
In 1997, the country was told that 90 schools with a student population of 90,000, have been selected for the Smart School pilot project starting in January 1999 and that the project would be extended to 500 schools in the year 2,000 involving some 300,000 students.
However, there has been delay in the full implementation of the Smart School Project although the school term for the new year has started, not only because the Smart School Complex in Cheras has not been completed according to schedule, but also because the Smart School learning software from a consortium of contractors is not ready.
As a result, the Education Ministry’s technology education division had to spend RM53 million to prepare temporary multimedia courseware and software which will be used until the ones to be provided by the consortium is ready.
What is even more disturbing than the delay in the full implementation of the Smart School Project is the confusion among educators, including principals and teachers as well as parents about the meaning of the Smart School Project - in particular what is the "smart" in the Smart School Concept being implemented by the Education Ministry.
For instance, a principal of one of the schools in Kuala Lumpur affected by the delay in the full implementation of the project as it could not as yet move to the hi-tech complex tried to allay parental concerns by explaining that the smart school concept should not be equated with IT (information technology) and that the focus is on creating a smart teaching and learning culture, "with or without computers".
Such an explanation about the Smart School Project, that it could be implemented "with or without computers", can only cause further confusion among parents and the public as well as make nonsense of the the Smart School Project as one of the seven flagship applications of the Multimedia Super Corridor.
It also makes nonsense of missions statements which had been made by the Education Ministry about the project to set up Smart Schools where "learning is dynamic, lively and brimming with interaction through the use of multimedia technology and worldwide networking", thus "putting interactive IT at the core of the teaching-learning and management process".
It is true that Smart School Concept is not just about technology or the IT infrastructure, but must refer to smart education and learning through the use of technology such as computers and multimedia equipment - but this is very different from saying that the Smart School Project can be implemented "with or without computers"!
It is also true that the term of "smart schools" can have two different contexts, one to schools that make use of computers and computer learning aids as an integral part of their curriculum and classroom operation; and another focussing more on the processes and methodologies to train and produce smart students in schools by developing their higher cognitive skills such as critical and creative thinking, often with no reference to any use of information technology.
I have publicly declared my discomfort with the use of the term "Smart Schools" in Malaysia, as it implies that the overwhelming majority of the rest of 8,500 schools in the country are somehow less "smart".
However, as Malaysia’s Smart School Project refers to the first meaning of a technology-rich environment, educators, especially principals and teachers of smart schools, should not confuse parents and the public by confusing the two concepts.
The lack of total commitment of the government, and in particular the
Education Ministry, to prepare the country for the Information Age is also
to be seen by its failure to seriously act on my proposals three years
ago to launch a three-point IT plan to ensure that the 250,000 teachers
in the country are computer-literate by the year 2,000 so that they can
guide the new generation of schoolchildren, viz:
At the INFOTECH 96 Conference in December 1996, I pointedly asked how the Education Ministry proposed to honour the pledge by its Secretary-General that no school children would leave school without being computer-literate by the end of the decade. There are 12 months left to the end of the decade - but there are no signs that the Education Ministry has any plans to ensure that no school children would leave school without being computer-literate by the end of the year!