SOLS 24/7: We can train teachers nationwide in digital skills & English in 6 to 12 months
By Kiran Kaur Sidhu July 29, 2020
- Malaysian teachers must be digitally-ready should second wave occur
- Raj Ridvan challenges Malaysia to rethink the way we study in Covid era
“We need to start preparing our teachers immediately,” urges Raj Ridvan Singh, the dynamic founder and chief executive officer of SOLS 24/7 Education. After 20 years of on-ground work teaching over 450,000 underserved students through face-to-face classes in various communities throughout Southeast Asia, SOLS 24/7 made a grand leap during the movement control order (MCO) to its new online learning platform – SOLS 24/7 Education.
With the Covid-19 pandemic disrupting classroom learning throughout the movement control order (MCO), Raj emphasised the importance for the 540,000 public school teachers to be digital-ready. Schools have reopened but teachers should still have digital know-how in their “bag of tricks”, he believes, should there be a second wave in the country or a similar occurrence in the future.
“Covid-19 has made us completely rethink the digital world and how we work. For me, why can’t it make us rethink the way we study?” he asks.
SOLS 24/7 is a certified Google for Education partner and Cambridge English Language Assessment Centre. Over the past decade, the organisation has trained between 2,000 to 4,000 students on average yearly. “But the platform caught fire, we were shocked. We got to reach five times more in one-fourth the time with a quickly put-together platform,” he says.
Learning at scale for all communities and ages
The platform was built within a span of two weeks of the MCO announcement and has attracted 20,000 learners to date. The less than ideal situation, however, was that many underserved households had an average of five children with limited or no access to digital devices. “It was not ideal but we thought we can’t leave them behind. Let’s just do something.”
As a workaround to the issue, SOLS 24/7 looked into scheduling classes at separate time slots for students of different age groups. For the orang asal communities in Sabah and Sarawak where low bandwidth does not support live video, the organisation took the initiative to offer an offline-online-hybrid learning model comprising of quizzes and interaction via Whatsapp.
Meanwhile, the video learning platform gained popularity especially among students between 18 to 21 years of age. “Our data shows that almost 80% of learners are from this age group,” said Raj. With technical and vocational education and training (TVET) schools and universities also disrupted by Covid-19, these students are hard-pressed for time to learn and improve English proficiency before hitting the job market in the next six to 24 months.
There is a gap here that Raj is keen to address. “Yes, the train and place programme is important but I feel that is more for those unemployed. What about those still in the [vocational training] system? We need to do something for them.”
This desire to help others through education was instilled in Raj from his teens by his father, a social worker. As a precocious 13+ year old teenager living in Cambodia with his family in 1997, Raj didn’t need much help himself, spending 4 hours daily teaching English at US$6 an hour. This would be followed by 5 hours of learning computing on his own.
At 15+ he returned to Malaysia to enrol for the Microsoft Certified System Engineer certification. To this day, he believes he holds the record as the youngest person in ASEAN to be a MCSE.
He credits his natural inclination for computing to the long hours he spent on his dad's computer from age 10.
Keen to work with the government
The SOLS 24/7 Education platform offers learning across three domains that Raj believes are critical to one's employability: digital skills, English and personal development. “There is an opportunity. Not only can we introduce digital skills to them and make them ahead of the curve, we are also giving them access to all the resources and the tools to reach limitless resources online [by learning English],” he explains.
“We are now able to provide English at scale. Before we could only offer up to 2,000 students per year when we have 7 million kids in school. No one took us seriously before because our solution was not scaleable."
The platform aims to reach 100,000 learners by end of 2020. But there is an even bigger goal Raj hopes to achieve – he wants to work with the government. He boldly claims SOLS 24/7 can train teachers nationwide in 6 to 12 months. “We are here to work with you. We have all the certifications and skillsets and the experience and passion.”
Secondly, he commends the government for bandwidth provision but highlights the need for devices. “What used to be a book in the 20th century, today is a device. With a device, you can have a million books in your hand. You can leverage on the intelligence of the world,” said Raj adding that SOLS 24/7 can help identify deserving communities and work to limit the devices for educational purposes.
“We need to rally the people online with a war cry. The same way we have #KitaJagaKita for the SMEs, perhaps we should have #KitaAjarKita for education,” he suggests.
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