Information and Communications Technology (ICT) or digital technology has long been part of education systems across the globe. Its efficacy in igniting a student’s interest and ability to learn and explore new knowledge cannot be denied. However, consistent with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) recent call for a more effective integration of ICT into education, the time has come to evolve and expand the role of technology in schools.
Digital technologies are affecting all sectors, be it education, agriculture, health care or entertainment. These changes are impacting all aspects of people’s lives, including jobs. Employment of the future will require strong digital competencies not only to use technology, but more importantly to create new digital technologies. It’s no longer enough to equip schools with just ICT infrastructure or to use ICT for learning and teaching. Students must be taught to harness the power of computing to create their own digital solutions that address real-world challenges.
Recognizing this, Malaysia’s Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC) and the Ministry of Education is jointly working to integrate digital competency and computational thinking into the country’s primary and secondary schools starting in 2017.
The key objectives of this initiative are to equip students with digital competencies and to enhance students’ higher-order thinking skills via computational thinking, consistent with the Malaysian Education Blueprint 2013-2025. In the longer term, the initiative is expected to create a steady talent pool for digital-economy jobs.
Computational thinking is increasingly being recognized globally to be as important as reading, writing and arithmetic. Essentially, it involves a set of problem-solving skills and techniques based on computer science concepts that provide a structured approach for teaching students how to think in the digital age and lead to higher-order thinking skills. Computational thinking is useful for solving problems in both ICT and non-ICT domains and to understand and solve environmental problems, geographical issues and socio-economic challenges, therefore making it applicable to any discipline.
In preparation for its new curriculum, MDeC launched a pilot project in August 2015 as a test run of this national initiative. The pilot comprises 24 schools in nine states in Malaysia as well as one teachers’ training institute. The key components of the pilot project, which concluded in February, were:
Digital Competency Standards – a set of standards jointly developed by MDeC and the Ministry of Education to assess the digital competency level of K-12 students. The standards are based on the ISTE Standards and local requirements.
Professional development for preservice and inservice teachers using a blended approach comprising face-to-face training and massive open online courses (MOOCs).
In-class support to ICT teachers by computer science undergraduate volunteers from local universities.
Expert community support via industry and academia advisers.
As part of its efforts to strengthen the capabilities of Malaysian educators in technology integration, MDeC signed a memorandum of understanding with ISTE in December 2015. The memorandum facilitates the collaboration of both organizations in advancing excellence in learning and teaching through innovative and effective uses of technology, focusing initially on driving effective leadership and pedagogical approaches amongst educators. The memorandum will also provide a platform for Malaysian educators to be part of the 100,000-strong global network of educators who are already benefiting from the ISTE Standards.
Sumitra Nair is director of youth development at the Multimedia Development Corporation. Her job is to ensure that Malaysian youth are equipped with relevant digital competencies for the future workforce. Nair is also a doctoral candidate at Monash University (Malaysia campus) and the mother of two digital natives.