Since 2016, 100,000+ teachers trained in Computational Thinking, impacting 1.3mil students
MDEC says since Covid-19 there has been even greater interest by students, parents & teachers
Aiman Afiq Suradi was being interviewed standing on a pavement on a chilly night in Kazan, Russia. He had just come in third in the WorldSkills Junior Competition 2019 for the “drone operating skills” challenge, just behind competitors from Russia and Belarus.
Against video footage of him assembling and programming a drone during the competition, the secondary school student from SM Sains Tunku Jaafar took the time to thank all those who helped him on his journey so far, including his parents, his school teacher/advisor and – perhaps most curiously of all – Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC).
Put this down to the impact of MDEC’s #mydigitalmaker programme, of which SM Sains Tuanku Jaafar is a Champion School, and its teacher Kamarulzamri Abu Bakar is one of the Digital Champion Teachers.
The #mydigitalmaker programme was launched in 2016 to introduce and nurture digital competencies, and was a collaboration between MDEC and the Ministry of Education, universities, technical institutes and the private sector. Importantly, computational thinking and coding would now be integrated into all national primary schools, and Computer Science offered as an elective subject at PT3 and SPM levels (secondary school levels in Malaysia).
This was a deliberate attempt to integrate digital skills into the curriculum, in an effort to prepare Malaysian students to be part of the technology-savvy workforce of the future.
Since then, more than 100,000 teachers have been trained in computational thinking and computer science, who have in turn impacted more than 1.3 million students through various programmes. Schools are encouraged to form clubs for subjects like robotics, computers, videography, and are supplied week-by-week teaching modules for teachers to use. For rural and underprivileged schools, MDEC partnered with PINTAR Foundation to roll out a mobile learning unit that has reached more than 150,000 students and teachers from 2017-2019.
Meanwhile, there have been partnerships with 12 universities and 12 teacher training colleges (known as Institut Pendidikan Guru) to establish Continuous Professional Development (CPD) centres to train Computer Science teachers, while 600,000 students from participating schools have taken a Digital Competency Score assessment, which measures the digital competency level of students. The results of these assessments are analysed to help schools to continuously improve students’ digital competencies. On top of that, students that want to improve themselves can get onto the digital badging platform which provides micro-credentials for digital tech.
The upshot is that in 2019, more than 25,000 students enrolled in digital tech tertiary courses, an increase of more than 40% compared to 2016, when the mydigitalmaker movement was originally launched.
This increase in awareness will be on show at this year’s #MyDigitalMaker Virtual Fair, which starts today with over 30 speakers and workshops on show, and 40+ virtual exhibitors. Perhaps more importantly for jobseekers, an estimated 2,000 digital tech jobs will be on offer in the career matching section.
Digital Maker Hubs
It cannot be denied that there is growing interest in the tech hobby field, which hopefully will translate to more Malaysians acquiring tech skills.
“#mydigitalmaker’s website visitors number and social media followers are increasing on daily basis, (which) shows the reach and engagement to the right target audiences,” said Dr Sumitra Nair, vice president of Digital Talent Development, MDEC.
Meanwhile, the number of students involved in various activities, both school and co-curricular, have increased by more than four times since the start of the programme. “More students are participating in digital maker activities.”
Since late last year, the Ministry of Education has adopted a Digital Maker Hub (DMH) model, in an effort to bring together children, educators, parents and industry experts to encourage digital making. In part, it was a recognition that acquiring tech skills doesn’t have to be the remit of just the school, but of the community as a whole.
Defined in the DMH Playbook as a “multipurpose resource room”, it is intended to be a community workshop with a scheduled program of activities with an attitude that “all ideas are equal, and anything can be created”. To date there are 79 Digital Maker Hubs across Malaysia with over 30,000 participants.
One such DMH is at SJKT FES Serdang, where one of the students, Kavin Lugarajan had built a digital bottle using an Arduino system, which later led to him becoming a 2-time gold medalist in the International, Invention, Innovation and Technology Exhibition (ITEX) 2019 and International Young Scientist Innovation Exhibition 2019 (YSEALI).
Kavin had clearly heeded the words of the government official who officiated the launch of the DMH at the school the year before: “Be a dreamer, be a MAKER – Transform students from digital users to digital MAKERS.”
Hope for greater private sector support
Despite the successes, there is still much work to be done to streamline the efforts. “Although the curriculum has been embedded with ICT / CT integration, it’s difficult to ensure consistency & quality of delivery across all 10,000+ schools,” said Sumitra. “This is due to reasons that are sometimes beyond our control such as availability of working order ICT facilities in schools, passionate and qualified teachers, and packed learning schedules.”
Certainly, DMHs can be seen as an effort to narrow the digital divide between urban and rural. “We have seen some efforts especially by NGOs and social enterprises in underserved locations, but we need more organisations to come on board to support this cause if we want to continue to scale.”
Unsurprisingly, the MoE is seeking private sector partners to support the establishment of DMHs in schools, to give more schoolchildren the opportunity to pick up digital skills.
Another effort that MDEC hopes will continue to attract people is the Digital Ninja scheme, where Malaysian students with potential will attend specially tailored programmes. One incentive is that at the end of the programme, Digital Ninjas will receive MDEC’s endorsement and guidance in applying for scholarship and university placements in leading universities.
Some have even started becoming potential influencers on social media platforms, giving advice to viewers on how to develop games and build apps.
Encouragingly interest this year has been higher than ever. “With Covid-19, we have seen even greater interest not just by students but also by parents and teachers,” says Sumitra There has been a ten-fold increase in the number of visitors to the #mydigitalmaker website since the start of MCO, there were more than 8,000 students who participated in the two online Hour of Code campaigns, and MDEC, in partnership with MoE and other industry partners and UNICEF, have trained more than 3,000 Master Teachers nationwide.
The hope is to continue seeing an increase in the intake of Premier Digital Tech Institutions as well as more than 90% graduate employment. “Moving forward we are also tracking the salary levels and type of jobs secured to ensure grads are employed at the level of their qualifications.”
Perhaps the greater value in all this though, is the normalisation of using technology as a life skill. When Aiman was asked what he next plans to do now that he won third place at the WorldSkills Juniors, he said he had already been making friends with the winner.
“I can now discuss with him about autonomous (drone) flights. Maybe after this I can create a drone that can do even more (for Malaysia)!”
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