1BestariNet: YTL Comms rolls out Chromebooks in 3,000 schools

  • ‘First contract’ sees 3,000 schools equipped with 41 Chromebooks
  • Government’s election promise is to provide laptops for all students and teachers

1BestariNet: YTL Comms rolls out Chromebooks in 3,000 schools[Updated with pricing info]
IT was while rolling out the five-year Phase 1 of 1BestariNet, valued at RM1.5 billion (US$500 million), that YTL Communications Sdn Bhd (YTL Comms) realised it had a problem on its hands – one that could potentially harm the impact of the project to stimulate student learning and invigorate how teachers delivered their lessons.
 
“We found computers that were outdated and running software that was not updated and realised this was a major missing link in what we wanted to do,” says its chief executive officer Wing K. Lee (pic).
 
“I mean, you have this access and this cloud-based learning platform that allows teachers, parents and students to be involved in the students’ learning process. But you don’t have devices,” he adds.
 
The access Wing refers to is of course a crucial part of the 1BestariNet initiative where each of the nation’s 10,000 schools, from those in the heart of the busiest cities to those in the rural heartlands, will have access to a 4MB wireless broadband network through YTL Comms’ WiMAX-based YES 4G network. As of end-December 2012, 70% of the nation’s schools have been connected, he says.
 
The cloud-based platform is the Frog VLE (Virtual Learning Environment), managed by a sister company under the overall YTL stable.
 
Wing claims that this problem led YTL Comms to a global search for the right solution which it found at the door of Google and its Chromebook, which with its low-cost cloud based services versus the PC-era architecture of the others; instant-on ability; and all-day battery life, was a clear winner to YTL Comms.
 
Each school will have 41 Chromebooks made by Samsung with 3,000 schools to get them initially. “The first contract,” as Wing describes it, declining to put a value to it. [Update] However, on its website, the Samsung Chromebook is listed at RM1,299; or RM988 under the YES 4G Chromebook Plan, for RM69 per month with a monthly 3.5GB data quota. [RM1 = US$0.34].
 
These schools have to be equipped within the next six months with any further rollout dependant on the response from teachers and students and parents.
 
But, with the Barisan Nasional having made an election promise that it will provide every student, plus teachers and parents, with a laptop, the irresistible lure of supplying 10 million laptops will be incentive enough for YTL Comms to pull out all the stops in ensuring it goes well, now that the Barisan has been returned to power.
 
While the Chromebooks are no magic bullet to make teachers more creative in building their lessons, or students more committed and engaged, it does eliminate some tiresome issues with old paradigm technology that gets in the way, the company argues.
 
For instance, the concept of a fixed room labelled the computer lab is passé. Rather, the Chromebooks can be wheeled into any class and, thanks to the wireless connectivity, that class becomes the computer lab for that lesson.
 
With each student in the country given a unique YES ID, the Chromebook becomes that student’s personal computer and with it, the lessons and e-books of that student. No more fumbling for thumb drives or sifting through the computer for where they last saved their work – students just turn on the computer and within seconds can access their lessons.
 
According to Wing, with the present method, teachers have complained that it can take up to five minutes for students to dig up a previous lesson that they saved somewhere on the computer.
 
The Chromebooks also come with battery life that can last a full day. A big deal because the current machines in school or even new laptops in the market cannot last a full school-day, claims Wing. A critical consideration as not every school has enough power outlets in a class for all the computers.
 
1BestariNet: YTL Comms rolls out Chromebooks in 3,000 schoolsAnd of course, the bugbear of many a beleaguered school teacher, ensuring the software (both applications and operating system) is updated and the various patches are installed is taken away, thanks to automatic updates via the cloud.
 
The fact that the Chromebooks seem to have hit a home run in education is testimony to the importance in which Google holds education, says Caesar Sengupta (pic), product management director at the Mountain View, California-based giant.
 
“We started with Google Apps which are provided free to schools globally, and in the United States, seven of eight Ivy League schools use them,” he claims.
 
Chromebooks are the next thrust in this initiative and by combining the two, one gets an environment that allows you to focus on your content, your curriculum and the apps, instead of the technology, Sengupta claims.
 
“We actually want the technology to disappear, for users to not even be aware of it – and that is what we are seeing in the United States, the United Kingdom and other markets with the Chromebooks,” he adds.
 
YTL Comms’ Wing draws attention to the fact that the Chromebook introduction into education is currently a developed nation push, but Malaysia will be the first developing nation to see it used in education.
 
The reason is simple: Google is excited by the vision that the Malaysian Government has in education and it sees Malaysia as an early adopted in technology. For instance, Chrome browsers are No 1 in the Malaysian market.
 
Sengupta says Google is particularly excited about the Government’s vision to achieve a 1-to-1 ratio of laptops to students. “That’s when we see a real transformation happening in education.”
 
He declined to reveal at what cost the laptops were being supplied to YTL Comms, saying that the price varies from country to country depending on various factors including taxes. The Chromebook made by Samsung is available on Amazon.com at US$249 for the WiFi version.
 
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