WHEN I was in school, there was no such thing as the World Wide Web. If you wanted to know more about something, you went to the library, hopefully, the one that carried the right books for you to refer to.
If you wanted to watch something, you had to wait until it appeared on television. Sometimes, you would just flip channels and find something interesting.
Way back before the Internet, the model of learning in schools was where a teacher possessed the knowledge on a topic and disseminated it to pupils. A teacher would read from a book or write on the blackboard so pupils could copy it down. It was the only way of sharing information that has worked wonderfully for eons.
But, with the Internet as a great source of information, what students learn and the way they learn have to change dramatically. The environment in which they learn cannot remain the same, as in classrooms with tables and chairs, arranged in rows, so that pupils face a teacher and a blackboard.
Teachers can do more than old-school information consumption and regurgitation. Classroom time must focus on facilitating pupils to process that information. They must go beyond creating an environment for pupils to participate in class. This means there should not only be one setting for learning.
Changing the environment, where they cannot function the same way as they used to, helps teachers and pupils break free from old habits. As Deputy Education Minister Datuk P. Kamalanathan, during Celebrating Classrooms — Inspiring 21st Century Learning Conference attended by teachers last week, said: “You need to be ready to be the change, and change begins with you.”
The conference, in association with YTL Foundation, founded in 1997 on the belief that “education is the basis on which society progresses”, brought together head teachers and senior school administrators from 150 schools that have embraced 21st-century teaching and learning through the Frog Classroom programme.
The Frog Classroom is designed to boost and facilitate the use of technology, using online platforms, such as Frog VLE (virtual learning environment) provided under the Education Ministry’s 1BestariNet project.
“This is a long-term strategic collaboration and co-investment involving the Foundation, FrogAsia and our other partners for the development of 21st-century teaching and learning in Malaysian schools,” said YTL Foundation programme director Datin Kathleen Chew at the conference.
Each classroom has 4G Internet and Chromebooks. Cooled by air-conditioning, the walls of the room are painted in sections of blue, green and pink. In the room, the curved desks are arranged in a semi-circle to encourage collaborative learning among pupils, who now face each other.
The Frog Classroom also encourages the importance of community in learning — with a general consensus that we are all engaged in learning, and that responsibility for learning lies not just with teachers, but with parents and society. After the makeover of the first classroom in 2014, there are now 150 classrooms nationwide, transformed with the help of parent-teacher associations (PTA) and corporate partners.
But, how does using a different physical space have an impact on learning? A team of researchers, headed by Professor Dr Radha M.K. Nambiar from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, conducted a study to examine the impact of the Frog Classroom on schools.
The team, commissioned by YTL Foundation, looked into perceptions of the redesigned classroom and its impact on teacher pedagogy and student learning behaviour through the integration of technology.
Released at the same conference, results of the research concluded that when using the Frog Classroom, teachers became more creative and innovative through the materials, activities and methods during their lessons. Teachers also evolved into facilitators, guiding pupils in the learning process rather than serving as the source of knowledge and information.
Students, on the other hand, were found to display better peer interaction and learning from each other, at the same time developing 21st-century skills — self-directed, independent, less inhibited, more communicative and better at problem solving and collaboration.
However, while the physical changes implemented in the Frog Classroom makeovers make a big difference, as Chew said, the programme is much more than just the introduction of physical infrastructure and technology.
Training and support for teachers from school administrators are essential for these changes to take place in the classroom. Inspirational leaders who had introduced new learning environments in their schools could share the benefits of their approach with other schools.
Leadership is key, and it is about being bold and taking calculated or educated risks.
In April last year, the headmaster of SK Tok Dir in Kuala Terengganu, Rosman Abadi, with the financial support of the school’s PTA, applied for a Frog Classroom for the school.
The classroom was launched in February this year, and since then, he said, it had not only benefited his pupils, but also opened doors for schools nearby.
Strong leadership is required to help schools innovate. Rosman said changing teachers’ mindset to embrace the new teaching approach was most challenging, but once they realised how much more engaged the pupils were, they became much more accepting to the changes.
Good design of a classroom and good teaching complement each other. It is not just children who need to be inspired and motivated, but teacher engagement is important, too. Adults, just like children, have huge amounts of creativity, and there is a need to open those floodgates.
The challenge for teachers today, even with the desire to take risks and explore different ways of learning, is also the need to conform to the requirements — for instance, from the state Education Department — to teach using conventional methods to reach a set of outcomes that can be quantified through exam results.
Hazlina Aziz left her teaching career more than 20 years ago to take on different challenges beyond the conventional classroom. As NST’s education editor, the world is now her classroom. She can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org