Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Smart Schools Audit

Ever wondered whether the billions of ringgit gone to make students and teachers savvy in information and communication technology have been spent wisely? The Star has reported that the Government has appointed a group of auditors to find out.

Being from the IT industry myself and doing a fair bit of work for e-learning type solutions, I'm really curious to see the report when it sees the light of day. In the IT boom years, when the Smart Schools formed one of the key hyped-up flagships by the Multimedia Super Corridor, I remember reading lustily, the type of budgets and tenders which were out there for the development of Smart Schools back in 1997.

Back then, our current deputy prime minister, Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak was the Minister of Education (while I was barely 27). Through one of our bumiputera partners, we managed to secure a presentation to him to present our "breakthrough" e-learning solution which fitted the bill for a low-cost, efficient and speedy nationwide implementation. Expectedly, the meeting didn't lead to anything tangible.

Looking back at all the tender documents for the Smart Schools project (I've kept every single one of it, even though I didn't participate in them), I will be surprised if even more than 70% of it has been successfully implemented. The vision was too big and the parties involved including all the big IT names such as IBM and Microsoft were just too eager to just sell their wares. The execution and co-ordination of the projects by the Ministry were so poor, that there were so many parallel similar pilot projects being implemented all over the place.

The circumstances was so confusing, it gave birth to unscrupulous parties creating non-existent smart school projects to cheat unsuspecting and hungry IT vendors who willingly paid upfront monies to secure these contracts. I know of a listed company who lost hundreds of thousands (or possibly millions of ringgit) for placing hardware orders for a ficticious nationwide giga-infrastructure wireless Wide Area Network project connecting "Islamic Smart Schools" from Kulim to Putrajaya. But that's a story for another time.

Anyway, back to the main topic, the Auditors would do well to compare what has been implemented today to what was envisioned in the "The Malaysian Smart School: A Conceptual Blueprint" prepared by the Ministry of Education some 10 years ago. In particular, I would be interested in the progress of Smart School Teaching-Learning Materials Project and the Smart School Assessment System.

The former is to create materials to be used in classes, which incorporates built-in assessment, promoting "learning in a manner that is best suited to the student's individual learning pace and style." The latter address the Smart School's "assessment packages and the Life-Time Database, which sall assess and record students' academic progress and performance."

But the way things turn out, it appears that our Smart Schools are nothing much beyond equipping the schools with expensive notebooks for teachers and multimedia projectors for classrooms. After all, our Minister of Education had previously redefined the Smart School concept as such, when challenged with an impossible task by the Prime Minister, as blogged here.

And when asked on the spend by the Ministry by the Star, the Minister again focused his replies on supplies of hardware equipment.
He said that under the programme, laptops and LCD projectors are sent to teachers and trained by his ministry to use them ...his ministry supplied the computers and built the necessary computer labs for schools while the Energy, Water and Communications ministry took charge of the networking.

“All this will be accounted for, including how many notebooks have been supplied to teachers, how many teachers had undergone computer courses and how many more teachers needed to be sent for such training.”
So, we'll see. I'll definitely be interested in reading the final audited report, on whether the qualitative and teaching aspects of the Smart School projects will be audited, or will it just be an accounting exercise of determining the number of teachers who possess notebooks.


Anonymous said...

Tony, I'm afraid you'll be sorely disappointed when the audit report comes out, just because there is no proper terms of reference or benchmarks for such an exercise. All it can probably do is to confirm that so much equipment had been acquired for so much money, and if the wrong cronies got the contracts, some witch-hunt will be conducted.

These projects were drawn up on a whim by people ill-qualified to draw up specifications and who has barely any knowledge on the requirements of software needed to give the implementation some measure of success. I had access to some tender documents for a project of a slightly different nature some years back and found that the specifications were copied almost wholesale from a product spec sheet. Most of the officers did not even know what the specs mean!

Frankly, most of the parties who successfully tendered for the smart school project have no expertise or experience in such work. Even most of the schools who have implemented such programs are running them as some glorified typewriters and game machines.

As for the teachers with laptops, let's not even try to find out what they've been doing with these gizmos. Remember the uni which got a mass infection from some worm? If they can't even set up a proper user validation and security system...

Anonymous said...

..thinking aloud,

..by the time some of the above suggestions are done, rectified and implemented, IT being IT, new tech. emerge and will outgrow the existing hardware...

..as we know all new tech. require faster processing power and higher whatever..

..again...more time & money to upgrade existing infra..& debate on which smart schools to upgrade first etc.etc..

Of course as in all decisions, keep things in perspective.. the use of tech. must be driven by strategic all-involved and properly researched value added teaching & learning requirements and not just for the sake of technology itself..

..inspired :)

Anonymous said...

MSC STATUS AND MSC super corridor is just another wasteful pipedream from the opium smokers who spin us such visions

Giving laptops doesnt make a smart school if the thinking is still archaic with no shift in paradigm
If only our country talk or berkokok less and really do the work

I still recollect in the news a few months back about one of the MSC partners siphoning our money? Am I right!

The Malays have a saying, like Pak Pandir or Pak Kadok

" kalah sabung menang sorak"

If our govt want to be serious, we should go back in time and bring back the glory of our education system when it was Scool Certificate and Higher School Certificate. Where only the best rises to the top to fill our universities. Nowadays what goes to the top or rises to the top are sh**! or turds!

Gone are the days when only about 1% of the standard one population ends up in the university!

Gone are the days when only about a small percentage of candidates are first graders!

Now every one, every family and neighbours can boast all their children are 'geniuses' scoring tons and tons of " A"s

Anonymous said...

In Malaysia, to have a concept is important and starting a new project is even more important, as it is the source of new money on the block.

The 'Smart School' project and the the supply of laptops and projectors to teachers (camouflaged as a cutting edge IT project) were smart moves to ensure that the inner circle people had access to new money. The blessed few set up RM2 companies which were awarded the various contracts.

Now the time is ripe for another round of big fat contracts under the 9th MP to replace the old machines that used outdated technology. Audit or no audit, the inner circle people (of course aligned to the current political masters, not to the former political master - that's the mother of the cause of outbursts from our former PM, no more or very little easy goodies for his inner circle of people) will continue to have a lion share of RM committed in the name of national development under the 9th MP.

After so much money invested in the last few years, what IT-based education system or e-learning are our schools or universities practising?

Frankly, don't talk about schools. Even the lecture halls and tutorial rooms of all our public universities are so poorly equipped for e-learning and IT-based education, compared to classrooms in schools say in Singapore.

Anonymous said...

Tony, just out of curiosity, what was your "breakthrough" e-learning solution project, which your partners proposed to the then, Minister of Education, supposed to achieve? I'm a bit sceptical of what state-of-the-art technology they could teach to school kids which needed such cutting edge hardware.

I remember having to learn BASIC and later CLIPPER just trying to flirt with the Intel8088 type computers.

Anonymous said...

Daniel, I think you should read this document from Intel. It explains all what the e-learning solution should achieve.

Tony, you didn't get the project did you?

clk said...

The easy part is to built, show and audit hardware.

It's softskills, intellectual properties, software, knowledge mgmt i.e. the thing btw the ears etc. that ultimately counts. Unfortunately there is less contracts and money to be made for awarding the cells btw one's ears....too dificult to account and show directly.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ jun28 02:20:24pm, thanks. I read the doc linked, but only got the impression that it is a brochure from a vendor trying to justify snake oil as a panacea to all our education shortcomings.

I'm not against the use of ICT or computers in education but I believe that it is overrated and exploited by interested parties at the expense of content. This debate has ding-donged for many years with no real conclusion-just google some keywords and you'll get documents more informative than the Intel one.

Anonymous said...

..that's precisely what I thought elearning should include..using the internet and google key words..

..from the standpoint of education reform should the MOE be interested, the virtue of the internet does not lie in the technolgy-use per se, but rather the internet should be identified as a major educational resource ..thus it is important that internet access be made available to students on a mass basis...not like now on a MESS basis..

..inspired :}

Anonymous said...

Daniel, I'm the anon above. I actually agree with you and anon@Thu Jun 29, 12:14:54 PM.

A lot of money was wasted to benefit a few.

We have lousy ministry and lousy planners.

Anonymous said...

The government had just taken the very initial and brief step to introduce e-learning.
Their only implementation so far is by providing laptops to educationists to assist virtual learning.
When i was in school, the softwares they used were provided by Pelangi thus the content was no less similar to a conventional Pelangi acedemic text book.
So I dont see the tangible improvement in our learning. What they should come up with instead should be a parellel and mutual content within a department for each lesson, online tutorials at occasions and IVLE to keep in touch with respective teachers and common sharing and discussion of knowledge. They should emulate Singapore's e-learning system.. most lessons are conducted parallelly throughout the school and online.