#mydigitalmaker aims for students to be ready for future jobs
By Karamjit Singh September 1, 2016
- Sees #mydigitalmaker as informal complement to support formal school system
- End goal is to ensure Malaysia students develop future-ready skill sets
EVER since Malaysia launched the Multimedia Super Corridor project (MSC, later MSC Malaysia) in 1996 to propel the country into the so-called ‘Knowledge Economy,’ various government agencies have been working behind the scenes to plan and execute numerous initiatives in support of this goal.
The now aptly renamed Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation has been one of the primary drivers of Malaysia’s Knowledge Economy push, with its very raison’ de entre being to execute and deliver the goals of MSC Malaysia.
The one thing that MDEC has consistently seen over the years and through its various programmes is how critical talent is to the goals of not just MSC Malaysia, but the more recent Digital Malaysia aspirations as well, which also falls under MDEC’s purview.
And it’s not just any talent, but talent that has a high degree of tech savviness. This sentiment is in line with MDEC’s aggressive strategy for Malaysia to take the lead in advancing computing and the IT industry across the Asean region.
This desire to lead the region took a big step on Aug 11 with the announcement by the government that computational thinking will be embedded into the national primary and secondary curriculum, in stages, beginning in Jan 2017.
The announcement was the culmination of two years of work which included a successful pilot where computer science was taught in 24 schools, picked to represent a cross section of schools, was conducted for six months in 2015.
Already thinking beyond tech skills embedded in education
One would think this was a major achievement for MDEC and yet, Sumitra Nair, director of MDEC’s Youth Division and who has been leading the agency’s engagement in this area, says that MDEC is already looking beyond that.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) is currently preparing educators, both principals and teachers, across the entire nation for next year’s ICT-enhanced school curriculum. But to MDEC, this is just Phase 1, she says.
“We already have policy buy-in but we also realise the value of complementing what will happen in schools, the formal system, with an informal system outside of schools,” says Sumitra.
That is Phase 2 and it is not in the planning stages, it is already being executed.
And so we now see a pilot which mobilises universities and industry with an ambitious target of touching 300 schools this year.
“This is where the universities, and specifically their computer science majors, come into the picture to help out. We are getting each university to adopt 20 schools within their vicinity and for the students to help the schoolkids with their co-curriculum projects and even the teachers with any ICT-related areas that they need help in,” says Sumitra.
Sumitra notes that some universities already have community engagement programmes and some even offer students credit hours for their involvement here.
Even this is not enough though, which is why MDEC has also introduced the Digital Maker Hubs. These are physical labs equipped with tools such as 3D printers and Arduino, robotics and Raspberry Pi kits, and other coding and computing related tools.
Aware that there will be limitations to what the children will have available in school for them to pursue their coding or robotics skills, MDEC’s thinking went along the lines of, “Why not extend their ICT exposure beyond schools through a Digital Maker Movement where private companies, public agencies and even schools can host a Digital Maker Hub as another touch point in the software and hardware exposure of the students and teachers?”
#mydigitalmaker is MDEC’s effort to galvanise industry and academia to deepen their engagement with efforts to optimise the adoption of ICT in the Malaysian education curriculum.
Even teachers who wish for continuous training can come in to get help in these hubs, which Sumitra sees as a meeting point between industry players, academia, teachers and students.
While MDEC has its own Digital Maker Hub in Cyberjaya, it is also working with partners to try and get as many such hubs built around the country.
With the kits for the hubs costing around RM30,000 in total, MDEC is hoping for many partners to come forward to join the likes of PetroSains, University Islam Technology Malaysia (UiTM), Penang Science Cluster, and others to open and provide the manpower to staff these labs.
“We are just trying to put the ecosystem together for these hubs, which I hope will eventually become akin to music centres where one goes to learn coding skills,” says Sumitra, adding that while some partners may run the centres for free, others could choose to charge. “Let the market decide.”
The impact from supportive headmasters
Even schools can potentially operate such Digital Maker centres sponsored by industry or by parents. One such centre school is in Bukit Mertajam, Penang whose headmaster MDEC flags as being an outstanding leader in the drive to embed computer science in the education system.
While some headmasters are cautious of adding too many none exam-related programmes to their schools, Ramlee Abu Bakar has embraced ‘edtech’ – education technology – into his primary school.
Responding to Digital News Asia (DNA) via messaging, he notes that the Internet has changed the way people live and communicate.
“To me, it is very important to impact ICT knowledge to my students and teach them problem-solving via computational thinking,” he says.
Ramlee strongly believes that coding and robotics are key skills for employability and to solve daily problems.
“Employers are always looking for candidates who can solve problems and are innovative. And, as our nation moves to becoming a developed nation, I believe these are key skills to enhance the value of our human capital,” he says.
Sumitra agrees. “Everything we are doing is to enhance and complement what our kids are learning in school. At the end of the day, it is whether these kids will have the type of skills to meet the needs of the jobs of the future and it's our responsibility to future proof them.”