Begins to 'Wire' Its Classrooms
KUALA LUMPUR - Just paces away from Kuala Lumpur's shopping
malls and high-rise hotels is the city's most elegant anachronism,
a colonial-style schoolhouse.
Kuala Lumpur has swallowed up Bukit Bintang Girls' School,
a primary and secondary school, that has been here since
1930. The twin Petronas Towers, the world's tallest building,
loom over its hockey field and a four-lane, traffic-clogged
street loops around its periphery.
sit in spartan classrooms with doors and windows open to
the world - the classes have no air-conditioning - as the
sounds of the city bounce off the concrete floors and wooden
thought all along that it was not suitable for the kids
to be studying in that environment,'' said Najib Tun Razak,
the Malaysian education minister. ''It's chock-a-block,
the noise level and all that.'' Last year, Mr. Najib and
three private-sector companies did something about it. The
Education Ministry decided to swap the valuable land on
which the school stands for a fully furnished, $25 million
campus on the outskirts of the city.
will replace chalk boards. Each classroom will have eight
terminals, and students will rely on the World Wide Web
and educational software as much as textbooks.
swept away with the old school, officials say, will be traditional
teaching methods. The new school will serve as the prototype
for the next generation of Malaysian education facilities,
known as smart schools, a plan to bring the Internet and
multimedia teaching aids into all of Malaysia's 8,000 primary
and secondary schools by 2010.
an ambitious plan in a country where a large share of schools
are located in rural areas. Hundreds of them don't even
program will start modestly, with 90 schools opening next
year, involving about 80,000 students. The ministry has
budgeted 120 million ringgit ($27 million) for the first
stage of the program in addition to private-sector contributions.
plan could be not only a jolt to the educational system
as a whole but also bring a redefinition of the role of
the teacher, especially at the rural schools.
the teacher is all supreme in class. He or she is expected
to be the purveyor of knowledge,'' said Muhamad Khairuddin,
coordinator of the smart school program at the Ministry
of Education. ''In the outlying areas of the country, the
teacher is usually the most educated person in the community,
a very authoritative figure.''
the Internet and computer software brought into the classroom,
the teacher will become what the ministry calls ''a guide
on the side.'' The role of the student, too, will change.
are moving eventually toward a model in which students take
examinations as and when they are ready,'' said Mr. Najib.
As a first step, the ministry is giving students an exam
that gauges their performance and allows them to skip a
grade if they do well.
Malaysia, revamping its educational system and immersing
its students in the culture of the Internet carries high
stakes. Its political leadership has been encouraging a
fundamental shift in the country's economy toward information
technology: software development and multimedia applications.
a vision that will require the country to improve its computer
literacy rates. Today, just 14 percent of households in
the country have computers.
in terms of its overall educational system, Malaysia has
a head start. Unlike many of its neighbors, the country's
educational resources are liberally distributed in the countryside,
a legacy of the British colonial days. Literacy is nearly
90 percent and major newspapers carry weekly education sections.
smart school program is successful, rural schools could
benefit most. Ministry officials point out that it is much
easier to provide a small, remote school with an Internet
connection and a few computer terminals than it is to buy
hundreds of books for a library.
looming over the entire program is East Asia's economic
crisis. Plans to send teachers for training overseas have
been canceled and the ministry has been forced to cut back
the number of computers in each classroom.
had some very ambitious plans initially to have a very high
computer to student ratio, but unfortunately we've been
hard hit by this currency turmoil,'' said Mr. Najib. ''We've
had to revise our plans.''
FULLER is a special correspondent for the International
Herald Tribune in Malaysia.