Tech breathes a new lease of life into learning and teaching, writes Rozana Sani
NOT far from Pasar Payang, a popular tourist spot in Kuala Terengganu, is Sekolah Kebangsaan Paya Bunga. Comprising two school blocks, a single storey administration building, a sparse canteen and very limited car park space, the 101-year-old primary school looks dated and unassuming.
It was one of the key landmarks here before the city expanded and more residential areas began to sprout in the outskirts of Kuala Terengganu. Having seen better days, SK Paya Bunga seems out of place in the bustling downtown area opposite the city’s main bus terminal, tucked between unkempt shophouses and decrepit residential buildings.
But step into the classrooms and you will find nothing dated about these nor their occupants. Despite the much trodden cement flooring and tired walls, a positive vibe abounds.
Students sit focused on electronic books (ebooks) switched on at each desk. All screens are synched via WiFi with what is being projected on the smart interactive board.
The teacher guides through the content of the lesson and students participate actively in the exercise through their ebooks. To make his point, the teacher’s teaching material include interactive content, videos and songs. When homework is given out, students eagerly look forward to doing their research online and answering questions the teacher has prepared and stored in Dropbox.
It is a far cry from just over two years ago, says headmistress Rohaya Ibrahim.
“Many of our 84 students come from families who live in the area where both parents work as helpers in restaurants and shops or are hawkers. Some have fathers who are blue-collar workers and mothers who are housewives. For most, school was just something they had to attend while their parents were at work. Attendance was erratic and morale, low,” she says.
Then, in January 2011, SK Paya Bunga was chosen as one of the pilot sites for Terengganu’s Kelas Maya project. It involved students from years four, five and six.
Through a collaboration with Intel Corp, each student was give an ebook to facilitate teacher-guided, student-centred learning. Each ebook was preloaded with localised content and national school texts that were converted into digital format. Also included were a dictionary and a digital Quran.
Local IT company Top IT outfitted three classrooms with smart interactive boards and individual WiFi networks. There are a number of network access points throughout the school. The school network runs on the Education Ministry’s nationwide network called 1BestariNet.
The teachers received technical training from Top IT as well as ongoing support in curriculum development and technology usage from the Terengganu State Education Department. Each classroom was also equipped with an Intel Core2 Duo notebook for developing lessons, accessing information and managing student activity. The subjects that use the technology are English, Science, Mathematics and Pendidikan Islam.
“Intel also brought all 17 teachers from SK Paya Bunga to Singapore to see how ebooks were used in the teaching-learning process there. Needless to say, after some teething problems, everyone was raring to go,” says Rohaya.
Year six Bahasa Malaysia teacher Md Nasarudin Md Hafsah agrees.
“I save time by using existing content in the ebook or projecting content on the smartboard rather than writing it down on the blackboard. We are also able to present more contents during a subject period due to the use of interactive whiteboards. The technology has helped create self-development opportunities for teachers. The project gives us greater motivation and job satisfaction, especially when we see students reacting positively to our efforts,” he says.
By using animated content and simulation to present lessons, Rohaya says students’ interest in school has improved as they now understand the content better. Apart from lighter school bags, students now have enhanced skills in team-work, problem-solving, public speaking and writing and are more motivated to complete their assignments. Parents appreciate the programme and its benefits for their children. They would like to see the project extended to other classrooms.
“It took a lot of convincing at first and there were nay-sayers from various parties. We got parents to come to school and understand that the ebooks were not toys but tools for learning and that they too were responsible for the care of the ebook as students were allowed to take it home. Parents and other family members are encouraged to use the ebooks to seek knowledge. We also decided to allow students to stay back in school to use the network facilities. The students are, after all, citizens of the digital age and we cannot deny them access to facilities that will be beneficial for their future,” Rohaya says.
Classmates Siti Nur Suhaila Sariful Anuar and Mohd Amirul Izwanuddin Anang, both 12, say school has been a lot more exciting since they got their ebooks and the Kelas Maya concept was introduced.
Suhaila, the eldest of five siblings whose father is a driver and mother a housewife, finds lessons more interesting when using the ebook compared with the old textbooks and teacher talk-and-chalk. She dreams of becoming a science teacher and works hard by trying whatever UPSR questions the school has in its virtual exam question bank which is accessible through her ebook.
“I am lucky my neighbour has an Internet line which she allows me to access at home, so that I can do extra reference outside school hours,” she says.
Amirul, who wants to be a math teacher, spends his afternoon surfing the Net in school as his mother works at an eatery.
“I stay back with a few friends to access the network to search for reference and do my homework. Sometimes during the co-curriculum sessions the headmistress allows us to play PC games on our ebooks which is great fun. It’s better than going to cybercafes,” he says.
Both Suhaila and Amirul try to not miss school these days.
“School is way more enjoyable now,” says Amirul shyly.
“There’s always something to look forward to as teachers have prepared a lot of stuff outside the textbook to help us with our studies,” says Suhaila.
The big plus for Rohaya is that students from other schools are beginning to opt for SK Paya Bunga.
“This is a boost to our morale and encourages us to strive harder,” she says with a smile.