Wednesday, December 07, 2005
45] Memo to a Malaysian Minister of Education
MEMORANDUM ON MALAYSIAN “SMART SCHOOLS” To: The Malaysian Minister of Education From: Azly Abdul Rahman Center for Digital Democracy New York, New York . Date: November 23, 1998 Subject: On Malaysia’s “Smart Schools” Initiative and the Question of Digital Divide: Some Policy Recommendations Rationale Writing from the perspective of the Chief Investigator of the Center for Digital Democracy, the purpose of this brief news is to make some key policy recommendations on the Malaysian Ministry of Education’s megatransformation efforts in creating “Smart Schools” out of the 10,000 Malaysian public secondary schools by the year 2010. This memo will focus on the following areas: i. within the perspective of philosophical and pedagogical considerations in providing ‘basic quality education in the domain of digital literacy’, it will discuss areas the Ministry should skillfully address in providing equity and universal access to such education to the poor and the disadvantaged in Malaysia’s move towards such second order changes involving initiatives to democratize technological learning and teaching., ii. within the perspective of policy implementation, deriving from the Ministry’s blueprint for the Smart School initiative, this memo will highlight the dimensions and directions of procedural changes which needs to be undertaken in order for the crucial question will mean the closing of the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” in Malaysia’s plunge into the Information Age. Lessons learned from programs of participatory action in basic quality education from developed and developing countries will be included as anecdotes of best practice in democratized learning initiatives in Malaysia’s plan for such a quantum leap in educating its citizenry for the Information Age. Introduction The Center for Digital Democracy find it admirable that Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s Vision 2020 and Malaysia’s Multimedia Super Corridor Project present a grand designed for the nation’s more towards a social transformation based upon the premise that the nation will continue to progress via full scale initiation, implementation, and institutionalization of cybertechnology in virtually all spheres of living – commerce, administration, health, and education. As one of the flagship applications of the MSC project, Smart Schools will be a feature of the initiative attempted in Malaysia program to socially reproduced its citizenry. In our analysis, the idea of “wiring” up of the Malaysian schools can be summarized by the Ministry’s communique which states: By the year 2010, all the approximately ten thousand schools will be Smart Schools. In these schools, learning will be self-directed, individually-paced, continuous and reflective. This will be made possible through the provision of multimedia technology and world-wide networking. (p.1) The plan for such a purposeful change is thus to utilize computer-mediated learning technologies particularly the Internet and the World-Wide web so that the national agenda of creating a “cyber society” will be realized by a targeted metaphorical date of 2020. Echoing Sarason (1996) on the need to look at changes in the school system as derived from inside and outside the schools (p.12), Fullan and Steigelbauer’s notion of politically and educationally- motivated innovation (p.27), the case of the initiated “smart school concept can be said to be derived not only out of “first order analysis”, but particularly apparent and dominant out of “second order” dictates --- out of political economic perception of what constitutes progress and how education must respond to them. As the “smart school” concept relates to this second order changes, the Ministry of Education (1997) notes that: Malaysia needs to make the critical transition from an industrial economy to a leader in the Information Age. In order to make this vision a reality, Malaysia needs to make a fundamental shift towards a more technologically literate, thinking workforce, able to perform in a global work environment and use the tools available in the Information Age. To make this shift, the education system must undergo a radical transformation (p.1) The Miinistry of Education announced that the first Smart School is being built with a cost of Malaysian Ringgit 144.5 million of which, aside from it being “wired”. Will also be equipped with a hostel for 800 students, an Olympic-size swimming pool, a hockey pitch, a hall and other facilities (Business Times, 1996, p.3). It is also said that the school will start operating in January 1999 and eventually all Malaysian schools will be operating based upon this concept. Having stated the philosophical, pedagogical and policy domains of Malaysia’s “Smart Schools” project, we now provide some of our research insights into the question of equity and universal access. Capacity building and the Role of the Ministry We believe that the Ministry as a “top-down” reformer can best play the role of capacity builder not only in generating the awareness of the teachers, students and parents of the importance of making technological access universal but also in making aware the idea that constructivist learning and technology can be a powerful perspective in providing inroads to basic quality education. At the heart of this preposition is the question of the degree of decentralization involved. We analyzed some best practice case studies in this context. Close to home, the Thai experience provides insights into how that state can mediate potential conflicts in its policies to initiate capacity building and resource allocation in its education reform at the primary education level. Schwille and Wheeler’s (1992) study of the variable role of the state in education suggest that state initiative must be let to develop as a multi-level strategic initiatives within the centralized-decentralized man. In Malaysia, whilst the Ministry has provided that blueprint for such a purposeful change, it must now generate a debate and brainstorming sessions of various levels of implementation so that capacity building can be generated at the grassroots level. Related to the lesson of the Thai experience, we share Mc Ginn’s (1994) idea that whilst the state has done the job of outlining the mission, vision and operating principles of reform, democracy then entails multilevel participatory efforts in translating such strategic plan. Malaysia’s Smart Schools, we suggest, must be owned by those who will translate the vision into a reality wherein the wired-up schools must first and foremost and primarily benefit the poor and the disadvantaged. The Center for Digital Democracy in this recommendation for such equity and universal access dimension of reform, cannot compromise in its principles of suggesting for such policy directions. Models of progressive movements striving towards providing such egalitarian awareness are growing albeit their work not specifically deal with “wiring up” educational systems. We suggest the Ministry to look closely at and to understudy initiatives such as Professor Henry Levin’s the Accelerated Schools Project based in Stanford, Coalition or Essential Schools based in New York, The Swadhaya Movement in South Asia, and perhaps, The World Bank “renewed initiatives” in providing funds for developing countries to improve its basic education. These models can become documents of best practice management in liberatory education for Malaysia’s dealing with the question of digital divide. Be they directly related to progressive movements at the school level or to broad-based policies of grassroots capacity building in general, they can provide insights into the philosophical and pedagogical dimensions of how democratic changes in school reform ought to take place. The Center of Digital Divide thus believes that the Malaysian Smart School Initiative should not merely showcase an RM 144.5 million “children of the elite” populated wired up school but must, in its planning, showcase how schools in the most impoverished areas must be made to benefit. Some Recommendations Malaysia is borrowing the discourse from educational reform currently sweeping the United States. President William Clinton’s Goals 2000: Developing America’s Talent highlights, among others the creation of a technologically literate society. The Telecommunications Act of ---- provides the so-called “e-Rate” in which corporations and state boards of education must work hand in hand in realizing the meaning of universal access to technology in the classroom. This entails that upto 90 percent of funding for wiring up schools must go to the poorest of schools computed by the percentage of those receiving free lunch. We believe that Malaysia’s Smart School Initiative can adopt the following framework of egalitarian intitiatives in that: i. corporations collaborate with state departments of education to initiate grassroots reform in providing training to teachers and students , hardware and software to school districts in accordance with the level of socio-economic levels of the children attending., ii. the Ministry creates state-level volunteer groups consisting of professional from the private and public sector which will work as agents of change in digital democracy for the purpose of speeding up reform efforts outlined by the Smart Schools project., iii. the Ministry moves aggressively in securing funding from international agencies such as The World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and other philanthrophic foundations, to be channeled to districts for smart schools projects., iv. faculties of education must orient their research towards exploring the meaning of “appropriate technology, available resources” in the use of educational technology so that the hype embedded in the rhetoric of technological change and determinism cannot easily translate into policies which will further divide the “digital haves and the have-nots”. v. scholars and researchers in the field of technological change in education ought to heighten their research efforts and undertaking towards institutionalizing models of culturally-relevant, dependency-free, and grassroots-approached reform so that ultimately Malaysia’s Multimedia Super Corridor can become a model of cybernational framework of strategic planning able to achieve its autonomy as an independent cybernation liberated from the shackles of post-colonial dominations. Conclusion By way of concluding, The Center for Digital Democracy in its analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to the Smart Schools project attempt to offer insight into the question who ought to benefit. Since this mega project involving billions of ringgit of public investment is still at its early implementation stage, it is hoped that such issues urgent to the discussion s on social change – equity, democratic learning and decision-making, economic and social justice, etc. – must be brought into the big picture. A nation ruled by technocrats in which its citizenry is in the process of being socially, economically, and politically reproduced to be integrated in the “professional and corporate-like” machinery of the international technological-based capitalist system must stop to ponder and reflect upon its policies concerning universal access and distributive justice at critical junctures. In relation to above, the task ahead for the Ministry is certainly a daunting one. This memo signifies certainly the beginning of a dialogue between the Center for Digital Democracy and The Malaysian Ministry of Education to further explore the philosophical, pedagogical, economic, and management dimension of the reform movement initiated via The Smart Schools Project. The discussions ahead will leave a great deal of space for all those involved to explore creatively, critically, ethically, and futuristically what can be possibly implemented to avoid the pitfalls of nations undergoing what we call “cybernetic revolutions”. The United States as an example of an advanced capitalist society struggling with the isssue of digital haves and have-nots can certainly provide us with an example of “contested reform” Malaysia must certainly analyze. The Center for Digital Democracy believes that if technology and the new media must liberate us from mundaneness, issues such as democratization, universal access, and humanistic approach to its use must be made profound. We look forward to further fruitful dialogues.
Posted by Dr. AZLY RAHMAN at 12/07/2005 11:14:00 AM
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- Dr. AZLY RAHMAN
- AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of nine books on Malaysia and Global Affairs. He grew up in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and holds a Columbia University doctorate in international education development and Master’s degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, fiction and non-fiction writing. Twitter @azlyrahman.