By the end of this year, up to 100,000 students in Malaysia will benefit from e-learning programmes that are being run by various foundations through funding from their respective state education departments. The pioneer is the Yayasan Selangor foundation, an education non-governmental organisation (NGO) in the Kuala Lumpur surburbs.
Yayasan Selangor has been pioneering an e-learning programme that offers free online tuition courses to tens of thousands of students in the state. It hopes the initiative will deliver long-term improvements to the state’s education programme.
After just one year, the foundation has already issued free online tuition log-ons to 25,000 of the state’s pupils in partnership with an established local education streaming platform.
“We are expecting our e-learning programme to elevate Selangor students to first place out of all Malaysian states in major examinations,” Zaini Sulaiman, Yayasan Selangor’s commercial manager, told Salaam Gateway. Selangor is currently outside the top three states in the nationwide education league table, which is usually headed by Terengganu, a largely rural state in the east of the Malaysian peninsula.
Yayasan Selangor’s e-learning programme has been given the thumbs up by the local government. "This programme is a learning tool that is the latest trend, and it’s extremely easy to use,” said chairman of Selangor state government’s Standing Committee on Education, Human Capital Development, Science, Technology and Innovation, in a statement to Salaam Gateway.
"This programme makes it easy for students to review their lessons according to the desired topics through engaging videos with illustrations and effective demonstrations.”
AFTER-SCHOOL TUITION CULTURE
Selangor took the decision to embrace e-learning at a time when some 40 percent of Malaysia’s roughly five million pupils attend after-school tuition classes, which have been popular in the country for at least four decades.
Usually held at education centres, these top-up courses often demand a heavy commitment by parents to ferry their children to venues in the evenings, and require them to pay thousands of ringgit each year in fees. Online tuition, however, can be streamed onto a phone, tablet or computer at any time and from any location.
“E-learning will make education easier because it’s more accessible,” said Yayasan Selangor’s Sulaiman. “It’s a new style of learning, and students can access it anywhere.
“We know that a lot of parents have a lot more commitments nowadays, and tuition fees are quite high, so we offer free tuition so students can access courses from their phone or tablet, and there’s no need to go to a tuition centre. They can access it at any time they want.”
The foundation is making its first assessment of the programme this month, and already hopes to see improving results in pupils’ school exams.
The e-learning programme has succeeded in its outreach because of its partnership with “home tuition system” iTTV, which is run by former music industry executive Boon Tan.
Tan has been instrumental in bringing e-learning to state foundations and since 2009 has compiled a library of several thousand lessons that can be streamed on demand by students.
The lessons are presented by handpicked teachers and follow the government’s education programme closely. Apart from the students supported by the various state foundations, those in other parts of the country can subscribe to unlimited streaming of the courses.
Two years ago, Tan approached Yayasan Selangor to suggest it collaborate with iTTV. This led to the launch of www.smartselangorfreetuition.com last year, which uses iTTV as its platform.
He subsequently made a similar deal with Yayasan Johor, which serves the southern state, and expects foundations in Sabah and Sarawak in East Malaysia to initiate their own e-learning courses with iTTV later this year.
“I asked Yayasan Selangor why they didn’t look at ways to help more children. Back then they supported something like just 5,000 kids in high school studies; now they can open education up to a lot more people,” Tan told Salaam Gateway.
He set out to bring “equality of learning” to Malaysia when he launched iTTV.
“You probably have around 40,000 teachers and tutors in Malaysia. But this is difficult to control—to have every school employing the best teachers for all the students. Some schools might be strong in some things and weak in others,” he said
“What we do through technology is bring the best teachers teaching into a video format. It doesn’t matter where you are from, a small kampung (village) or a big city, if you’re from a poor family or a rich family, you get the same quality of teachers.”
This, Tan explained, would deliver a level playing field for all students.
“That is a very powerful thing, ensuring that the equality of learning is there. Imagine if every Malaysian child had access to the best teachers. Our corporations could hire the best-educated graduates,” he added.
TEACHERS OFFER SUPPORT
Like in neighbouring Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand, after-school tuition classes have become “part of the culture” in Malaysia, according to Tan. He said that South Korea currently stands as the most enthusiastic adopter of e-learning, where video teachers have become celebrities.
“I hope one day in Malaysia that could be the case,” he added.
Teachers themselves seem to be staunchly in favour of e-learning as a complement to the standard education syllabus. Indeed many appreciate the support off-campus courses provide them.
This is especially the case when video tuition providers closely mirror a teacher’s own lesson plans. FrogAsia, a Kuala Lumpur “virtual learning environment” provider, claims to do this for schools in Malaysia and in 22 other countries.
The National Union of Teaching Professionals Malaysia (NUTP) said it supports e-learning, as long as it is not used as an alternative to classroom teaching.
“The NUTP is always against the privatisation of education. But if you are talking about e-learning as a teaching aid, as a complement to teachers, we welcome it,” Harry Tan, the NUTP secretary-general, told Salaam Gateway.
“There must always be the human factor between the teacher and the student. You cannot get that through another medium.”
WINNING OVER PARENTS
Though increasing numbers of parents are being drawn to streaming tuition, some who spent their own school years attending tuition centres are still wary of this latest innovation.
Farah Nicholle, whose 13-year-old daughter Ammerys Adam attends a tuition centre, says she would consider migrating to online courses, as long as the classes on offer were closely linked to her school lessons.
“Yes, definitely, I would consider it, but it depends on the kind of things they provide,” she told Salaam Gateway.
“I would ask my daughter what the teacher thinks about these videos. There’s no point confusing the child further. Only then would I enrol her on a course. If the teacher says good things about it, then I would replace her after-school tuition with it without doubt.”
For iTTV’s Tan, his three children used the e-learning courses when they were at high school, though he considered committing them even further.
“Since I began this programme, I never sent my kids to extra-curricular classes. I was even thinking about taking them out of school at one point, to use my courses. My partner thought I was crazy, pointing out that going to school is all about the social life,” he said.
“But it shows how e-learning can be useful for anyone who can’t attend school for two or three months because of sickness or travelling—they can use my curriculum and they cannot fail.”
For its commercial e-learning programmes, iTTV offers a money-back guarantee that students will pass their school exams. To date, Tan claims that no parent has asked for a refund.
Subscriptions start at 300 ringgit per year for each of primary and lower secondary courses and 600 ringgit for the upper secondary packages, which include more subjects beyond the core English, Mathematics, Science and Bahasa Malaysia.
For Yayasan Selangor, which offers free e-learning to its district's students, expectations are high ahead of the release of the first assessment of its e-learning programme this month. If the foundation’s hopes are realised, it is likely that more education levels will be added to the programme, which currently only operates for upper secondary levels of forms four and five.
At the moment it receives 5 million Malaysian ringgit ($1.28 million) in grants from the Selangor state government’s education department to keep the programme free for students in the district. Based on early indications, this has been money well spent.
(Reporting by Richard Whitehead; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim firstname.lastname@example.org)
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