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Narrowing the Digital Divide in Education with EdTech

   Posted on 06.02.2023 by Nurul 'Aziizah Binit Haji zulkifli, The Star
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OPINION | Terence Toh, a writer from The Star, wrote an opinion piece on edtech. He highlights the benefits of technology in education and the impact it has had on students and teachers. The article also touches on the challenges that come with the integration of technology in the classroom and the importance of ensuring equal access to these resources.


 Terence Toh | The Star

MALAYSIA. The Star (05 February 2023)Effective learning and digital developments like ChatGPT are intertwined but is enough being done to promote edutech in M’sia?

Edutech can facilitate a personalised learning experience, allowing students to learn at their own pace.

With machine learning, algorithms and data analytics, a student’s progress, achievements and challenges can be monitored, UCSI University vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Siti Hamisah Tapsir told StarEdu.

“Based on the analysis of the student’s strengths and weaknesses, an intervention programme can be designed to cater to the student’s needs. All these can be done autonomously and assessed by learners and educators,” said Prof Siti Hamisah, who is the former higher education ministry director-general and the former science, technology and innovation ministry secretary-general.

Edutech, she said, also allowed students to embrace and practise emerging technologies ahead of time.

“Some of the technologies that are embedded in our education system are robotics, augmented reality/virtual reality, drones, esports, coding and many others.

“Other technologies such as multimedia and graphics help enhance engagements and presentations.”

According to Prof Siti Hamisah, there are four major classes of modern edutech in Malaysia, namely, remote learning and online classes; the use of technology, equipment and apps in teaching; education and learning management; and the use of edutech technology to create experiences.

While most may associate edutech with schools and young learners, this is not always the case. Edutech can be adopted by users of all ages.

Homegrown edutech provider ReSkills, for example, provides career learning classes to help workers upskill and reskill themselves for the digital workplace.

ReSkills chief executive officer Jin Tan started the company in late 2020, with the idea of gathering trainers and coaches who could no longer teach due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and providing a virtual platform to reach out to a global audience of students. While its growth had been fastest during the advent of Covid-19, Tan said users were still increasing steadily, as more people became aware of the benefits of online learning.

“Before this, there was a bit of a stigma about online learning. People thought it was inferior to traditional learning, that it was a phase that wouldn’t last.

“But many of them have changed their tune after giving it a try. Online learning is not here to replace traditional learning.

“There will always be a place for that. But it is here to complement it, to provide additional, more specialised services for those who want to improve their learning experience,” said Tan.

He added that edutech played a crucial role in helping to address future workplace issues.

“The world is rapidly changing, and many traditional careers and professions have been replaced or made obsolete by technological development. According to the World Economic Forum, the global workforce has to develop and promote effective, high-quality education, skills and jobs for one billion people by 2030. Edutech is the best and most efficient method of addressing these issues,” Tan said.

While it has its many benefits, edutech is not perfect and many of its forms have weaknesses and limitations that must be addressed before widespread adoption is even possible.

Much of these issues, said Prof Siti Hamisah, could be tackled because they were brought on by closed mindsets and a lack of understanding.

“For example, many still do not understand the differences between remote learning and online learning. The former seeks to recreate the classroom environment at scheduled times for lectures or group sessions while the latter is a flexible Internet-based education that allows students to learn at their own pace, on their own time.

“This opens doors for those with demanding careers, hectic schedules or childcare commitments,” she noted.

Another challenge, said Prof Siti Hamisah, lay with maintaining the human-centric element of learning.

The socialisation process was invaluable as students must develop communication skills, values and integrity with their classmates, she added.

“With this in mind, we must ensure that edutech solutions do not isolate students to work on their own. We must guard against insularity. It is imperative to find the right balance.”

Asia Pacific University of Technology & Innovation chief innovation and enterprise officer Prof Dr Vinesh Thiruchelvam pointed to other challenges that were related to increasingly shorter attention spans.

Students, he said, could easily stray from learning because of the myriad of online distractions such as gaming or web surfing.

Additionally, much of edutech used premade solutions or preprogrammed content, challenging the use of creativity in both teaching and learning, offered Prof Vinesh.

Another major issue with edutech is inconsistent and poorly distributed technological adoption.

Issues such as class and geographical location came into play, with urban and more affluent areas having easier access to higher quality Internet coverage, said Prof Siti Hamisah.

The story of Veveonah Moshibin, a student who had to climb a tree in Sabah to access better 3G reception so she could sit for her online exam at the height of the pandemic, made a good case in point, she said.

“With edutech thrown in, the gap is exacerbated. The high cost of edutech and technology is the most challenging hurdle to clear. It’s not cheap or easy to facilitate widespread adoption across the nation. And in rural areas, the necessary infrastructure and connectivity enablers are not in place. “To lower the cost of edutech adoption, the nation needs a better technology developer to technology user ratio. This will take time but it is the only way to provide greater edutech accessibility and lower price barriers to both education providers and students,” Prof Siti Hamisah said.

Despite the challenges involved in realising the edutech dream, all academics agreed that its development was crucial to ensure the nation’s growth into a high-income, digital economy.

A specific digital education blueprint or framework, said Prof Vinesh, was needed so that the country was moving on a single guided pathway towards embracing technology for education delivery.

“This should be mapped against the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 and the Malaysia Digital Economy Blueprint.

“Once the framework is in place, creativity in delivery can vary based on ideation towards blended approaches,” he said.

Speaking at the “Digital Educational Learning Initiative Malaysia (DELIMa): Our Digital Agenda” launch in August last year, former education minister Datuk Dr Radzi Jidin said the DELIMa portal, which was launched to support online teaching and learning, had been integrated with artificial intelligence and machine learning to ensure that our students were digitally competitive.

Indeed, edutech today goes beyond online teaching and learning. If we are to produce skilled digital workers for a borderless economy, there is an urgent need for us to maximise the potential of technology in education. But to succeed, we must look beyond buzzwords and ensure that prerequisites such access to digital devices and a strong and fast Internet connection is available to all.

Aye for edutech

"I take online career learning classes two or three times a week. These edutech programmes have served as a valuable resource for me to improve my career and performance. My skills have improved and so has my knowledge. My perspectives in many areas of learning have changed. I enjoy using edutech platforms as they allow me to learn in real time, with good explanations, demonstrations, and knowledge development. The online aspect allows greater exploration of knowledge and insights, which saves time and cost, and allows me to learn whatever I want on demand."

Learning and development executive trainer Navinderpal Singh, 30

"I took a while to get used to online learning during the pandemic. I still prefer face-to-face learning as I enjoy meeting and interacting with my friends and teachers, and I don’t like staring at the computer screen for too long. But that’s not to say I am against digital learning in moderate amounts. I have to say it is a lot more convenient. You don’t have to worry about travelling to lectures, which saves time and cost. But what about practical lessons that involve hands-on experiments and the need to be physically present with your equipment? Maybe in future we can accomplish this through virtual reality or some other advanced technology."

University student Benjamin Tong Hing Jun, 24

"Online learning should be promoted widely. It has definitely brought me a myriad of benefits. By using digital education platforms, I was able to easily record and analyse my learning progress. Last year, I clocked 2,039 minutes of learning over 63 interactive online classes. Online learning has increased and enhanced my understanding of many things, especially my soft skills. This has boosted my confidence and self-esteem. I like online classes as they are an easy way for me to interact with my teachers and to practise good communication."

Manager Nur Suzana Noor, 50


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06.02.2023
Nurul 'Aziizah Binit Haji zulkifli
, The Star