Wednesday, November 12, 2008

25,000 laptops for students in Terengganu

I had a chuckle when I first read this newspaper report. Apparently the Terengganu state government wants to give out 25,000 laptops to Primary 5 students to replace their heavy textbooks. This is another example of a policy decision that was poorly conceived and will probably be poorly implemented as well.

I think that the idea of giving away free laptops to students is a bad idea in principle especially if they are conventional laptops. (I'm a little bit more agnostic about the 100 dollar laptops which are being promoted by OLPC) I think it diverts attention from other bigger problems which kids in rural and poorer schools face which is the lack of resources, poor infrastructure and poor teaching. There is no guarantee that having a laptop will improve the quality of teaching or learning or if it will help in reducing the digital divide between kids in urban and rural schools.

But this specific idea in Terengganu seems even more ill-conceived. For example, these laptops are supposed to replace the heavy textbooks which these students are now carrying around. But there is no guarantee that the 'format' in which these textbooks appear in soft copy will be conducive for learning or teaching. One reason why books have not gone extinct despite the increasing prevalence of PCs is that the PC screen is not conducive for reading. Granted, Primary 5 or 6 textbooks are not novels but I think some of the same principles apply. You cannot just transfer a textbook wholesale from hard copy to soft copy. There needs to be quite a bit of customization in terms of interface and graphics and user friendliness before this can be done. Frankly, I don't trust that the Terengganu government has done their due diligence and confirmed that the DBP has the capability to do this for ALL their textbooks.

Furthermore, I wonder if these guys have thought about how these kids are going to recharge the laptop batteries. Unless these laptops can be 'handcranked' (some versions of the 100 dollar laptops I've seen on TV are recharged in this way), I can easily forsee a situation when kids are queuing up behind limited 'pluck points' to get their laptops charged in between periods.

What about when these laptops start acting up? Or require fixing or repairing? Will the state education department also come up with the funds to do this? I can easily forsee a situation whereby these laptops breakdown for a variety of reasons and teachers are finding a queue of students who want their laptops to be repaired.

To make matters worse, the state Education, Higher Education, Human Resource, Science and Technology committee chairman Ahmad Razif Abdul Rahman wants to set up a factory with Intel in Terengganu to start producing laptops and expect to produce 10,000 units a month. Now, I'm a bit disconnected with the corporate world but if I'm not mistaken, Intel produces processor chips and not laptops. So unless this is part of the larger One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative, which Intel has signed up for, who is going to produce these laptops? Surely not Intel. Is the Terengganu state government going to own and manage this company or factory?

The same exco chairman predicts that in 3 or 4 years, all the kids in primary school in Terengganu will be using laptops instead of textbooks.

Here's my prediction. The laptops won't be given out in April because of technical delays. The DBP has not gotten the materials ready yet. The laptops are given out in July instead (or maybe August or September or later). Teachers are finding that they cannot teach their students because the batteries on the laptops run out after 2 hours and there are not enough power sockets in the schools to recharge these laptops in a timely fashion. Laptops start breaking down after 3 months. The teachers get frustrated and call for the students to go back to using textbooks. 6 months to 1 year after the laptops are given out, the state government abandons its plan and goes back to the drawing board citing technical difficulties. The cost to the taxpayer? RM30 to RM50 million.


Shawn Tan said...

Intel has the Classmate PC, which is their competing product to the OLPC. Maybe this was what the state government had in mind when they mentioned it. The 2nd generation (dubbed 2go) claims to last 6.5 hours, which should be enough to cover one single school session. The kids would still have to charge it at home though.

Doesn't change the other points you've made, but thought I'd chime in with a technical perspective.

Anonymous said...

Just another example of Malaysia Bodoh antics of the BN politicians. Creating a RM3,000 solution to a RM300 problem.

SCTang said...

I foresee that our coming generation will use labtops to replace books.
But, I don't predict that this will happen so soon.
As, many of the schools still not well-equipped with essential facilities.
Not a wise plan, for this moment.

Anonymous said...

If the sole purpose is to eliminate heavy school bags, isn't it much cheaper for the state government to just buy 2 sets of textbooks for each student? One set for home, one set for the classroom.

If the purpose is to eliminate heavy school bags and to save many trees, then something like the Amazon Kindle or Sony e-Reader would suit the purpose better than a conventional laptop.

Anonymous said...

Who gets 10% cut?

Anonymous said...

As an FYI,

1. Working with other manufacturers, Intel produces "Classmate PC" laptops, as part of the Intel World Ahead program for developing nations. The goal here is to offer an applications and operating systems ready student laptop with full compatibility to standard PC (unlike the one from OLPC which btw, costs $200 because you buy 1 and donate 1 the last time I checked) for about $300-400 (retail). It has features aimed for rugged use and extensive battery life and in my opinion, has features which mimic a real laptop education environment better suited for students.

More data:

Weng Hong

Anonymous said...

It'll be great if the laptop will be used to its fullest potential. But at the moment, it looks like they only plan to use it as an e-book reader. It's almost as bad as buying a computer for the calculator function.

Anonymous said...

Good idealah.

Some Umnoputras can cari makan.

The students can also spend more time playing games in the laptop instead in cybercafe.


clk said...

New tech products are created with very short lifespan+low entry cost in mind. However they come with high long term maintenance cost so as to encourage "throw and buy" spending habits.

Hence many reasons it will go kaput over 6-9 mths including battery lifespan, insufficient power points (some schools don't even have proper electricity), software bugs, wrong set-up or installations, hard-disk crashed, LCD panel spoilt.

My guess is, if implemented, the teacher will either be a full-time IT trouble shooter or he/she will dump the PC and replace our good old reliable "paper + pencil"!

mikemathew said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

Ouch.So the next generations would stop using pencil. Oh they better opt a mouse.

cDi said...

I only got one question.

If they were to use the laptops for these students in Terengganu, does that mean the Free Textbook scheme introduced last year will back off?

Interesting that they could skip from one plan to another in a jiffy. What are the students like? Guinea Pigs?

Anonymous said...

Is there really any advantage in using computers for studies? I'm an EE by training and I say give me a book over a computer anytime of the day.

I program and work on the PC but I don't think there's any advantage in studying from a PC. It would be better to have 1 or 2 PCs as a reference tool but I think it's not a good idea to replace textbooks with them.

Can anyone point me to a study where they show that learning using computers has an inherent and greater advantage over books? Not a whitepaper by Intel or their ilk, please.

Anonymous said...

Well said. No matter how, Msia has yet to grasp the concept of being practical and their ability to foresee the consequences of something they do.

Anonymous said...

I think they should use PowerPoint presentations instead.

Soo Huey said...

Putting aside the question of whether all schools are ready (HR-wise) and equipped (facilities), and the improbability of adequate state-wide support/maintenance for sustained use to warrant the money spent, I am curious... How light and durable are these laptops?

1. My current laptop (inc battery and charger pack) is only very slightly lighter than my school bag when I was in school. It's still heavy.

2. I remember throwing my bag around in the school bus and dragging it on the ground when I got to school. Even when not throwing, I would just drop it down with a thud when I got to the hall/classroom/home. I know there are heavy-duty durable laptops, but my current one would definitely not withstand how I treated my school bag when I was a kid.

Anonymous 11/14/2008 08:29:00 PM - I don't know about studies but I personally feel more connected to what I'm reading when I'm able to hold the book, feel its pages, flip from section to section, scribble on sides (using comment function on acrobat just isn't the same) and easily move around with it. I'm a proactive environmentalist and have initiated and implemented several sustainable practices at my work place, but when it came down to writing my PhD thesis this year, I found I was writing too slowly and inefficiently without having printed out and have all the material in front of me when I write. I eventually gave up and printed important papers out using paper that had been printed on one-side and thrown out by others. Point is, I'm so connected to my laptop that it practically sleeps with me and might as well be physically attached to my hands, but still nothing beats having printed material. Never tried a tablet tho.

Anonymous said...

Sheeshh. You just have to get it out of your filthy system don't you? You just have got to see that there's always something wrong in anything and everything around you. Here we are having a much improved way in educating our children by giving them the technological tools that will enable them to explore the vast world beyond the coccoon of their classrooms, and you have just got to sense that there's something wrong with it! Ada saja benda tak kena! Ada saja benda jahat! Pessimistic lah lu ni. No wonder la you spend all day whining and bitching in this little crappy cyberworld of yours:- this is the only place where you can cowardly vent out your bitchings. Hahaha. Get a life la loser.

Soo Huey said...

Yes, I do need to get a life. :)

However, without criticism, one will never improve. If everyday, no matter what you do, everyone says you're doing a good job, then how can you be sure you are? For me, I love and value criticism. In fact, people should appreciate it when someone cares to critique. ;)

There is certainly precedence where providing suitably-designed laptops to people in resource-limited settings have empowered them and greatly widened their reach/horizons. On flip side, also precedence of govs giving computers to communities that don't even have electricity! Albeit hopefully there aren't any schools in Terengganu without electricity... Are all homes with electricity so students can charge them?

Hence, my questions are directed towards preparedness of the environment and suitability of the laptops.

There can be niat baik, but no matter how good the intention, if misplaced and poorly implemented, it becomes benda jahat because it is a waste of tax payers' money and they have every right to question it. Actually, they are making sure their money is going to good use so that they may get the most out of life! :)

Soo Huey - Not bitching, just giving whatever little I've got to work out any benda tak kena for the betterment of everyone. :)

Soo Huey said...

Apologies for my question on suitability of laptops. I've just gone to do background research -Thanks Shawn and Weng Hong. Commenting about ill-informed policies when I'm ill-informed myself! Sorry! :$

Anonymous said...

soo huey said:
"Hence, my questions are directed towards preparedness of the environment and suitability of the laptops"

Let me ask you something soo huey:- How prepared are YOU in asking about the "preparedness of the environment and suitability of blablabla.."? Have you done your own research before asking this question? Do you have the facts and figures to back up your contention that the Terengganu folks are ill-prepared to use the laptops? If for example, out of 1000 homes, only 3% of them aren't supplied with electricity, do you think it is fair to deny the other 97% of the population the opportunity to own the laptops and expand the frontier of their knowledge beyond the borders of their schools? Or do you actually think out of 1000 homes in Terengganu, only 3% have electricity? What do you have in mind when someone mentions Terengganu to you:- a kampung nelayan miskin? When was the last time you went to Terengganu? What's that? Never? Ahhh..I see. So you've never been to Terengganu but yet you envision a place where the majority of the people are so miskin they cant afford a decent living standard so there's no use giving these people free laptops. You dont have the opposing facts and yet you play down a reasonably good idea. That sounds a lot like you're bitching! Yep, b-i-t-c-h-i-n-g with a capital B!

Soo Huey said...

I don't ask questions and presume I know the answer! Lol. I ask questions because I would like to learn more, even though I've been to Terengganu. ;)

Learning by inquiry to build on base knowledge must be a novel concept to you. I do sympathise, and hope you get it into your system.

Anyway, this current activity is Bitching, so I'll stop now. Happy Wednesday and rest of week, everyone! :)

Soo Huey - promising no further response.

Anonymous said...

Haiyaaa, you still cannot get it ah? Let it me put it simply for your slow and simple mind to digest lah ok:

"A 2006 survey carried by UNICEF (Vol 6, p.p 734) found that 73% of Malaysian school-children have uneasy access to digital technology, hampered by among others, the relatively low standard of living and and an estimated 60% of the teaching workforce who are IT-illiterate. So how does the Terengganu goverment justify the act of dishing out the 25,000 laptops when we are faced with the obstacles stated, which might render the use of laptops useless?" <---------- THAT, is a well-researched, objective and inquisitive question.

"Oi Terengganu, I HEARD your people are so miskin how come you wanna give them free laptops? They cannot recharge lah! No current in their homes lor. May be they'll sell back the laptops to cari makan! Some more ah, the laptops oso vely heavy one lah not much difference from carrying textbooks. Trust me lor, I had that experience lor, my parents very poor they cannot buy me the very light Macbook Air so I had to use the very heavy one! So if my laptop vey heavy, the Terengganu kids oso very heavy one lah! So no need laptop lah!" <----------- THAT is your silly, idiot, stupid, unfounded, logically-flawed question and argument.

Get it now, tortoise?

xenobiologista said...

I think this could be a good idea IF implemented properly. Measures will have to be taken to prevent theft and reselling on the black market, for one thing.

For another thing, training the teachers to make the best use of these laptops is CRITICAL. The changeover to teaching Maths & Science in English was/still is a mess because it was rushed through. If certain teachers aren't comfortable with computers they're going to be doing stupid things like forcing the kids to copy out exercises on paper and hand them in (rather than typing them up and emailing them in...)

Also, in addition to using the laptops to read books, children MUST be taught computer-specific skills like email etiquette, how to find reliable info on the Internet, etc.

They're rolling it out way too fast though...if they're just starting to prepare for it at the same time this announcement was made. The initial period will definitely be bumpy.

Anonymous said...

There will more bloggers like you!

Anonymous said...

Hey guys,

Using laptops to replace the schoolbag is not really a good idea because to completely replace books and exercises books for comprehension , essay writing etc at the moment is just not feasible. In the end, the combined laptop weight plus the extra books not digitalised would be much heavier.

Know what, have a look at our solution. We lighten the schoolbag by not replacing textbooks with laptops but THUMB DRIVES! Yes , we are able to put the entire 5 years of more contents into a pen drive if need be and together with books or exercises books for those not yet digitised will definitely lighten their school bags.

Anyway, the idea behind our initiative is to go as much paperless as possible in homework assignments and able to provide areas very very remote with multimedia contents through slow dial up lines in seconds.

This way we can create equitable education for rural and urban schools.

Current initiatives that rely on CDs or flash online that need broadband will never work no matter how much money or efforts one put into it. This is because both are rich men's tools trying to reach the poor men.

Is it a wonder that NO NATION including developed ones, has succeeded in effecting ICT in mass education for the entire country?.. and we want to succeed?

Check out our solution at

Currently we are providing Malaysian schools free use of our contents and tools . This initiative is approved by the Ministry of Education of Malaysia.

No need to give each child a laptopn to achieve what they are trying to achieve i.e by giving all the children a computer each.

Learn first how to walk before you start to run.

Anonymous said...

I'm ashamed to say that we have politicians who cant think on the long term. Laptops for kids??? do they want more kids to be harmed by robbers? is the politician thinking that malaysian roads are so safe that no robbers or thieves lurk around?? even as an adult, i seldom lug my laptop around.

Anonymous said...

That initiative is too subjective, a good example of doing things without looking further ahead.

Year 5 students cover materials which doesnt require much research, plus it is not at their level yet to start finding stuff on the internet, so what does a laptop do good to them? Perhaps to give them an exposure on computers?? Still not worth it, giving each and everyone a laptop... thinking about the maintenance and the rapid change in technology, this is not a good idea.

Ebooks can never replace the real physical book (at least for the time being). The reading experience is totally different. Reading an ebook for a long time would also cause eye to hurt... not a good idea...

Lets just say this policy works...
will the kids appreciate the laptop when it is free?
does the kid now how to take good care of it? and also prevent it from thievery?
This will eventually lead to other deeper greater issues....