Edutech: Accessible, dynamic learning for all

This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on January 8, 2024 - January 14, 2024


Hazel Vincent De Paul_ The Edge Malaysia

1/8/20247 min read

This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on January 8, 2024 - January 14, 2024

Education technology, or edutech, in Malaysia is experiencing a dynamic phase, characterised by both rapid growth and the need for continuous adaptation. The burgeoning landscape of edutech has propelled advancements, yet new trends are steering this sector towards innovative transformations. As the traditional education system collides with the digital era, edutech faces the imperative to evolve.

“What we see in classrooms still feels reliably similar as my time of learning, which does not bode well for how we expect the initial 2020 vision to be like. In our line of work, where we put ourselves at the frontier of technology on a daily basis, it is still rather refreshing to see corporations and enterprises holding the belief that if we do not adapt to more modern times, we are then doomed to be left out from a future of knowledge that will soon be overtaken by the likes of more prominent countries around us,” says Virtualtech Frontier CEO Jason Low.

OpenAcademy co-founder and managing director Celine Ting concurs, adding that the most significant challenge Malaysia’s edutech sector faces is digital literacy. “There is a need for improved digital literacy among both students and educators to effectively utilise edutech tools. It is also crucial that educators are adequately trained to integrate technology into their teaching methods and be able to use the digital platforms effectively.”

What is encouraging, however, are the steps being taken to adopt next-gen learning in local educational institutions. For starters, says Low, there are various government-level initiatives on the horizon such as the Dasar Pendidikan Digital (Digital Education Policy) announced a few months ago.

“The policy focuses on the segmentation of various divisions within the education system that requires more support and emphasis towards enhancements for digital-based education. We are seeing many collaborations and pilot projects by various ministries and government agencies like Malaysia Digital Economy Corp (MDEC), the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Higher Education and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation that are trying to push the boundaries on how well educators can use new technological tools. These range from virtual classrooms within the metaverse and gamification of the curriculum via a plethora of creative and social tools found online, to using AI (artificial intelligence) to assist in teaching,” he says.

Reshaping education

One key trend here, says Ting, is the higher adoption of digital platforms to enable further accessibility to learning. She believes there will also be more adoption of mobile learning, “as mobile phones are becoming the main channel for the younger generation to communicate and consume content”.

There is also the likelihood of accelerated growth in AI with a strong emphasis on AI talent development and ethical AI use, says Pythaverse Pte Ltd founder Trung T Nguyen.

“This is partly driven by the Malaysia National AI Roadmap, which aims to nurture AI talent. The use of virtual learning environments and AI tools like chatbots, personalisation and gamification in education will evolve to enhance learning and engagement,” says Nguyen.

And while these trends have a fairly global reach, Nguyen also believes that they should align with “overarching frameworks such as Madani” in that they leverage technology to build up students’ capability towards sustainability as well as kesejahteraan (well-being), daya cipta (creativity), hormat (respect), keyakinan (confidence) and ihsan (compassion).

AI: Aid or impediment?

While AI is not a new topic of discussion, its integration in schools and universities is largely viewed as a pivotal step towards equipping students with future-ready skills. However, it still comes with some scepticism.

“We observe an increasing adoption of generative AI tools like ChatGPT by teachers and students. However, the levels of competency in using these tools vary. Many students use AI for basic tasks like assignments, while teachers often seek direct advice from AI instead of traditional internet searches. Yet, it’s important to note that reliance on AI can sometimes diminish the quality of work, as highlighted in research showing consultants using AI for complex tasks were less likely to find correct solutions than those not using AI,” says Nguyen.

Low agrees, adding that, “Finding out the answer is always one thing, but whether the learner actually internalised what was prompted should be the key question here. Our view is that while AI technology boosts teaching and learning efficiency, its integration with current Malaysian educational practices needs refinement. There’s a vital need for clear guidelines on AI use in areas like personalised learning, student engagement, teacher support, accessibility, data-driven insights and curriculum evolution, along with addressing data privacy and security concerns.”

Personalised learning and cloud confusion

Another buzzword that is frequently brought up when discussing edutech’s role in shaping next-gen learners is personalised learning. This vital element, says Ting, allows “learners the opportunity to choose their path and method of learning. This encourages stronger engagement and affinity while also ensuring that the learning is perfectly suited to each individual’s learning needs”.

However, Nguyen believes the lack of interconnection between the various edutech platforms means it can be a challenge to measure a student’s learning progress.

“The adoption of cloud computing in the educational landscape here has laid the important foundation because students’ learning progress data is now available in the cloud. Unfortunately, there are different cloud platforms such as Digital Education Learning Initiative Malaysia (DELIMa) and others — including Pythaverse — that are not inter-connected. Therefore, it’s not yet possible to have a 360° view of students’ learning progress.”

These challenges aren’t just faced in school, as Ting feels that more can be done for businesses in training and upskilling their employees. This means “including newer edutech solutions into their learning and development plans for the company. With how content is being consumed, tapping into virtual, bite-sized and video learning will be more effective than ever”.

Virtual classrooms are an educator’s ally

Often, the perception remains that virtual learning adds another layer of work for the humble educator, but this isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, virtual learning may even prove a boon rather than a bane to the already staggering workload of Malaysian teachers.

“The integration of virtual classrooms with traditional settings is a game changer for educators. It arms them with cutting-edge tools like interactive, immersive learning content and robust data analytics, enhancing lesson delivery and fostering personalised instruction. Our technology is designed to make the educational experience more dynamic and engaging, reflecting our dedication to innovative learning practices,” explains Nguyen.

In the beginning, he adds, this may increase workloads due to the necessary digital literacy development, adaptation and lesson redesign, but it “ultimately streamlines many administrative aspects of teaching”.

Integrating virtual classrooms also helps grading become more systematic and potentially automated through a grading tool, shares Ting.

“With the integration of technology, it makes storing content or materials, sorting out schedules and managing individual students’ work much easier, as everything can already be accessed through one tool.”

Other benefits, suggests Nguyen, include AI-driven grading, flow-based assessments and real-time feedback.

“However, challenges like the digital divide, data privacy, potential AI biases and adapting to new tech are significant. Equitable tech access and comprehensive training for educators are key.

“One such company with amazing success is MC+. This company has leveraged and pushed the limits of Zoom-based virtual classrooms, serving thousands of students across Malaysia in a single session. Such classrooms, we found out, are mostly targeted at those in locations that have weak or rundown school infrastructure, and also enrichment centre businesses that are still not matured. With the integration of virtual classrooms into real-life classrooms, it allows the teachers to create content and an environment that is more engaging and relevant,” shares Low.

Edutech not only benefits teachers in the long run, it could also pave the way for students and learners in rural communities to benefit as well.

“We have seen rural areas thrive in e-commerce or gig-based economy opportunities from the various apps out there in the market. This is the same with education too. The experience that we can develop with virtual worlds or the metaverse has always been an interesting factor, and the ability to allow a child from a rural village to experience this right on his personal device and learn without limits will be the true impact that we are gunning for down the road,” Low adds.

Start-ups are enhancing digital learning too, chimes in Nguyen, as they are “supported by programmes from MDEC, indicating a significant push towards regional growth in edutech. Additionally, many universities are adopting cloud computing to facilitate remote learning; some online tutoring systems are specifically targeting rural areas, connecting students with teachers for STEM/STREAM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics/science, technology, reading and writing, engineering, arts and mathematics).”

Technology certainly enhances accessibility but requires digital connectivity in remote areas. That’s why Ting firmly feels that the government and private sectors must provide infrastructure and tech tools for online access. She finds that integrating technology reduces manpower, enabling remote learning and assessments through videos and diverse tools. Teachers from cities can indirectly reach students across Malaysia, transcending physical barriers in education.

Unfolding the virtual learning narrative

There may be a long road ahead for virtual learning to truly take its place in Malaysia’s educational landscape, but the ongoing efforts are promising.

Nguyen believes that for edutech to thrive in Malaysia, it needs culturally relevant content that’s aligned with the local curriculum. Offering international standards tailored to Malaysia’s growth vision is key, and collaboration with schools, educators and government entities ensures credibility and adoption. Adapting to educational changes and technological advancements while emphasising data security ensures sustained success in Malaysia’s edutech industry.

Ting says, “Perhaps, more support for innovative solutions and more grants for edutech start-ups would better facilitate the expansion of the sector in Malaysia. There have definitely been improvements in the adoption of technology in Malaysia, but there are still plenty of improvements needed when comparing the state of Malaysia with other countries within the region.”

Part of the responsibility lies with both schools and tech providers too, stresses Low. Schools should keep an open mind to learn new technology, as working with policymakers and voicing concerns are the first steps towards progress for all.

“For private corporations or technology providers, the stigma that working with the government or educational institutions does not give fast and positive ROI (return on investment) should be removed. We must always have the spirit to pursue what is right, and put in the work and effort to rally for certain initiatives to be taken upon with the focus on improving the well-being of Malaysian children.”