By ROUBEENI MOHAN
It’s a common grouse among many parents: “My child doesn’t like studying. All he wants to do as soon as he gets home from school is play computer games, and because of this, his results have suffered.”
Students who are disinterested in school and have poor results are typically labelled less academically-inclined and categorised as ‘bad’ students – but are they really?
Malaysia is one of the few countries that has a centralised education system. This means that students nationwide are taught the same syllabus and sit for the same public examinations, such as the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM).
In contrast, countries such as the United States have an education system that is decentralised, and the syllabus varies according to the different districts and their education guidelines.
Standardised testing is a central component of many education systems, and has long been the bane of students who are not able to adapt to the rote memorisation that is usually involved. The traditional system does little to spark a student’s love for learning, and sometimes snuffs it out altogether.
Teachers, on the other hand, are preoccupied with reports and other paperwork that are not directly related to teaching, which consume their time that could be used to create better lesson plans. The fun of learning is taken out of lessons as a result, and students may not fully understand what has been taught.
The dawn of change
Despite the generally negative perception that many Malaysians have towards our education system, we have taken a step in the right direction in recent years – so much so that even Finland’s former education minister Krista Katriina Kiuru paid a visit to our country in 2013 to see what they could learn from us.
In 2012, Malaysia implemented a single cloud-based nationwide education platform, connecting over 10,000 government schools through the Frog virtual learning environment (VLE) and high speed connectivity Internet.
Teachers are able to upload teaching material onto the platform and make it immediately accessible to five million students and 500,000 teachers throughout the country.
Homework and revision are made fun through the platform’s gamified learning, where students can create their own avatars and solve quizzes to earn points, which can later be used to buy items for their avatar, among other things.
Given that the current generation of students are digital natives who have never known a world without the Internet and have an average attention span of eight seconds, the use of such technology in classrooms (and beyond) is significant in keeping them engaged and invested in self-learning.
“If you notice, almost everyone is playing online games – so it is about navigating the interest from games and entertainment, and guiding the students to do something different through games and education,” says Normizan Mohamad Azmi, a primary school teacher who has been using the Frog VLE since its inception in Malaysia.
FrogAsia Sdn Bhd executive director, Lou Yeoh says: “When you use a platform like this, a shift in mindset is bound to happen. Students don’t just passively absorb information; they are also communicating, collaborating and constantly challenged to speak up.”
With all the information available at their fingertips, students are expected to analyse it and ask questions, thus developing the ability to think critically.
Yeoh shares that the Frog VLE has also been shown to boost students’ confidence levels and academic progress. “More than two million hours were spent on self-led revision, thanks to these gamified learning experiences,” states Yeoh.
“Primary schools saw a 10-12 per cent increase in subject scores, especially in science, whereas for subject scores in the secondary schools – especially for chemistry – there was a 16-46 per cent increase.”
More than games
However, the Frog VLE is more than just a learning platform for students – it also reduces teachers’ burden by taking paperwork and manual tasks out of the equation.
For example, teachers can post official announcements on the portal, making it easier for students and parents to be notified of the latest updates in school.
Gone are the days of photocopying a notice by the hundreds and distributing them to all the classes in person, which is a waste of resources. In fact, according to Yeoh, 669 schools in Sabah using the Frog VLE have gone completely paperless, saving the state’s education department up to RM920,000 a year.
Conducting assessments such as quizzes on the platform also decreases the workload for teachers, as the system automatically marks the questions and compiles the scores for each student.
Normizan says that the automated marking process has freed up a lot of her time, and she is able to make better decisions when planning lessons as the analytics pinpoint areas that her students need more help in.
“Previously, I had to analyse the progress of each student manually, for example, how many of them have got a question right or wrong. But with the Frog VLE, I can immediately see the type of questions they’ve attempted, and those that they were not able to answer. I can then reassign new quizzes to help them do remedial activities,” shares Normizan.
This gives teachers more time to focus on their students and think of innovative methods to improve the teaching and learning experience in class.
The sharing feature of the platform is also extremely useful during peak periods in the semester, when teachers may not have enough time to prepare revision material for their classes.
“I can just access this quiz created by a teacher from another school and assign it to my class. I used to create my own quizzes but now there is a community of teachers who collaborate on teaching material,” says Normizan as she gives us a live demonstration on her laptop.
She continues: “My students are a lot more eager to learn and even beg to go to the computer lab so that they can do their revision through the games. They are more proactive, and initiate their own learning – I don’t have to force them.”
“With the Frog VLE, teachers become facilitators,” says Yeoh. “Since they are able to send out work to students beforehand (through the portal), students are able to prepare for classes in advance.”
“They can post questions on the forum and these will be used to steer the discussion in class. The teachers facilitate these conversations between the students instead of teaching the traditional way,” Yeoh adds.
Leaping to greater heights
FrogAsia’s vision of giving every child access to quality 21st century education regardless of background and geographical location can be seen through the other initiatives they have spearheaded.
Yeoh says: “A lot of people were very interested to come (to Malaysia) and see what we were doing (with the Frog VLE), and we realised that people needed to know and see what’s happening in the rest of the world.”
“That’s why we introduced Leaps of Knowledge, a series of events comprising talks, seminars, workshops, conferences and other events. The whole idea was to open up people’s (Malaysians) minds to what is available in the world today.”
The events, which feature renowned educationists, technologists, thinkers and personalities, aim to create dialogues on how education can and should be delivered, as well as inspire teachers and students nationwide to leverage information that is easily accessible through technology.
The company also organises the Frog Teacher Awards, an annual celebration that recognises pioneer educators. The awards, which is supported by the Education Ministry, are given to educators across the country who have outstanding achievements in adopting technology in classrooms and have raised the standards of teaching and learning.
“We believe that it’s important to bring that experience to teachers because the system is such that you need to get the teachers on board before you can get the students,” says Yeoh.
“But now that we have a community of teachers that are there to support us, we can reach more people. As you get more people on board, these people can then help even more people, until it finally becomes a norm.”