- Computational Thinking, Computer Science becoming embedded in Malaysian education curriculum
- Introduction of Digital Ninjas to accelerate progress of technically gifted students
SLIGHTLY over a year after its introduction, #mydigitalmaker, a tripartite public-private-academia initiative has made steady progress in its mission to propel Malaysian youth to move from being users to producers, in the digital economy.
The main focus in trying to create this shift has been to focus on the national education system and injecting strong elements of digital literacy into the curriculum in the formative education years of Malaysian youth with its 98.4% literacy rate according to a 2013 Unesco report.
With Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) as the lead agency driving #mydigitalmaker and partnering with the Ministry of Education, universities, technical institutes and the private sector, January 2017 saw the introduction of computational thinking in all subjects taught in Standard 1 (Year 1) while Computer Science (CS) was offered as an elective in Form 1 and Form 4.
2018 will see a deepening of the roll-out with computational thinking embedded into the teaching curriculum of Standard 2 (Year 2), Form 2 and Form 5 (Year 7 and 11) with 2019 seeing roll-out to Standard 3 (Year 3) and Form 3 (Year 9) by which time the entire primary and secondary school national curriculum will have been infused with a strong element of digital teaching and learning. It should be noted that the secondary school system already offers Design Technology as an elective subject.
In an exciting development, the Ministry of Education (MoE), having seen the value of the new approach has taken steps to further deepen the link between digital skills and the curriculum. Explaining this, Sumitra Nair, vice president, talent & digital entrepreneurship, MDEC points out, “While students in Malaysian secondary schools have an option to take CS or Design Technology, going forward the MoE has decided that coding and CS will be embedded into Design Technology as well, which means that whether a student chooses CS or Design Technology, they will be exposed to coding and CS.”
For example, starting in 2018 students in both Design Technology and CS students will have to work on micro controller kits such as Arduino or Raspberry Pi which means no student will be left out of learning how to use two of the most popular versions of micro controllers in the market.
As promising as the school rollout is, with 70,000 teachers and counting, trained in imparting their lessons using computational thinking, Sumitra points out that #mydigitalmaker is adopting a dual prong approach with the second prong all about working with universities and industry partners which includes hardware makers and various educators/trainers.
“For instance, we are working with universities and industry partners to identify talent and groom them for future careers in exciting technology areas. At the same time we are also working with universities to act as local training hubs for teachers who need to get trained in various digital tools. Logistically, it will be tough for all the teachers to go to KL for the training sessions so the universities, located throughout the country, play an important role here,” explains Sumitra.
MDEC provides a computational thinking specialist to train the universities and accredit them to be training centres for the teachers.
The university partners for #mydigitalmaker are the 13 Premier Digital Tech Universities and Preferred Digital Tech Polytechnics. Some of them are also acting as Digital Maker Hubs which gives students another option outside of their schools to go and explore and learn about various digital tools. There are currently 40 Digital Maker Hubs around the country, some hosted by private companies as well. “Parents can go to the digital maker site and pick a hub that is convenient to take their kids to,” says Sumitra.
To help teachers expand their access to learning tools and further training, an Educator network has also been established. Short courses and certification programmes on programming/coding, embedded systems, digital making and more offered by #mydigitalmaker partners and Continuous Professional Development (CPD) Centres are available during weekends and school holidays to support educator readiness.
Impressively, 10,000 educators have become part of the network which to Sumitra is almost like a marketplace, especially with some educators and partners offering tuition to help train other teachers who may need more intensive help than is offered via formal channels. “There are also self-organised classes and all this activity gets communicated through this Educator network,” she says.
Enter the Digital Ninjas
A new component to the #mydigitalmaker that has Sumitra excited is the Digital Ninjas programme that is used to identify talented kids with an interest and strength in digital skills, be it from a technical or creative aspect and then putting them through special programmes to sharpen their skills.
Once MDEC and its partners – the universities, trainers and private companies – find someone talented, perhaps from winning any competition, they will get drafted into the Digital Ninjas programme, “Where we groom them with advanced digital skills and even internships during school holidays with our partners like Vitrox Bhd, Digi Telecommunications and Streamline Studios to give them exposure to new kinds of jobs that are emerging,” says Sumitra.
The internship was for a 2-week period this year with 30 students participating. The overall Digital Ninja programme this year has seen 210 students (Form1-5) from ages as young as 13 to 16 participate and out of these, 80 SPM leavers will be participating in the expanded month long internship next year. The exposure in the work place will then give the students and indeed their parents with a better idea of what they want to pursue as a career.
All things being equal, academic wise, Sumitra is hoping that the exposure of the students in the Digital Ninjas Programme will give them the edge in the fierce competition for scholarships.
Towards further building their capabilities, Digital Ninjas has partnered with Axiata to be exposed to its Digital Leadership programme.
Sumitra also sees the Digital Ninjas programme as the passport for special gifted students who may not be academically strong but have excellent coding and programming skills. She already has one case study where Digital Ninjas alerted its partner universities to a technically gifted student with average grades. As a result of its direct intervention, the student got two scholarship offers for a electrical and electronics engineering degree.
Further increasing awareness of the #mydigitalmaker programme, MDEC held a Digital Maker Fair in Sept that received overwhelming response, especially from parents. “We were targeting 5,000 visitors but received 20,000, most of them walk-ins. It was quite crazy with bus loads of kids coming from schools in Perak even and parents coming with kids in strollers,” recalls Sumitra.
The feedback from parents was that they were worried about the future careers for their children and saw the Digital Maker fair as a timely event that allowed them to get familiar with careers in virtual reality, drones and others.
The fair was also the culmination of various competitions held by its partners with Sumitra pointing to their support and respective communities as being the key to the success of the event.
“It was really an example of the ecosystem coming together and this involved the universities, companies as future employers, training providers, device vendors and the students themselves,” says Sumitra who is looking forward to bigger Digital Maker Fair in 2018.
One area of concern that Sumitra has seen through the #mydigitalmaker programme is the urgency for Malaysia universities to grow into becoming world class quality centres of education, “so that our best and brightest have options to pursue their education here instead of going overseas,” she says. When that happens, there is naturally a higher chance that the students will be snapped up by local companies where they are. The end result being Malaysian and companies based in Malaysia missing out on this talent.
But at the same time, as the various efforts around #mydigitalmaker continue, it is hoped that the deeper talent pool that will eventually form will mitigate the loss of Malaysian talent overseas.
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