Way back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, smart school (sekolah bestari in Malay) was arguably the more successful of the seven MSC flagship applications. The smart school concept was exported to Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Brunei, the middle East and a few other countries. Over the years, the heartbeat of the smart schools in getting more and more feeble and in fact to most people it has died a natural death just like many other grand programmes by the Ministry of Education. Meanwhile other MSC applications have gone from strength to strength. Take e-government for instance, now we are so used to using e-spkb, e-perolehan, myKad, mykid etc, we forgot the fact that Smart Schools should be in the same category if not better. So what went wrong with the smart schools flagship application?
Being one of the tiny cog in the wheels of the smart school pilot project implementation I would like to give my two cents worth, especially with the benefit of hindsight. For a start, the piloted smart smart school is not really what was envisioned in the blue print. I wrote about this earlier, the piloted project is a hodge-podge concoction of the blueprint. Another point, to support such a huge undertaking a concerted effort from the whole government machinery is needed. Unfortunately the supporting technological infrastructure was left wanting at the time. Other e-government had the advantage of being a late starter, by the time they came on board, the internet pipe is already big enough to support the various applications. They also had the advantage of a single authority. e-spkb and e-perolehan were given the authority as the sole systems in their respective fields. The users had no choice but to use them or they cannot get their transaction done. Smart school flagship application could not even compel its pilot schools to use its integrated solution. The implementation committee did not have the authority to stop schools from using other systems. The pilot schools were merely strongly advised to use the systems provided. Mind you at the time they were at least 5 other various other application systems in the schools and the schools were more inclined to use the systems provided by a more authoritative organisations. The Ministry of Education should provide more power to the implementaton committee. Just like the Treasury which came out with directives compelling companies to use e-perolehan to bid for tender. By doing so the project would have gathered over time a certain critical mass of users to move the project and overcome the initial inertia.
The Ministry also took a long time to decide on the roll out plan. After the initial pilot ended in 2002, the roll out moved at a snail’s pace. When the initial euphoria had died, there were a lot of uncertainties about the project and it was left to Educational Technology Division (ETD) to carry the torch, albeit a dimming torch. It was no longer the Ministry’s pet project. The Ministry seems to have lost interest in the project under the onslaught of the PPSMI and later cluster schools implementation. A concerete follow through programme seemed to be lacking. Despite various programmes being implemented that seemingly in support of the rollout, such as the PPSMI, access centres, MyGfL, SchoolNet, computer labs etc but they did not quite gel into a comprehensive single plan to roll out the smart school. More of a piece meal patches. Everybody want to the ride on the band wagon but the wagon is led by no one. It really was a creaking wagon indeed. Credit must be given to ETD for persevering with the idea albeit with a severely muted voice. Unfortunately the Ministry’s own fraternity who were suppose to move in unison to move the project ahead were the ones shooting down the project from every angle and at every opportunity. A strange situation indeed. The problems faced by schools with the implementation of the schoolNet did not help to endear the project to their most important client – the school community.
So to me it was a great relief when in late 2008, the Ministry’s power that be decide to streamline things and hand the responsibility of coordinating all the ICT initiatives to the ETD. And I was truly elated when the new boss said as far the smart school is concerned, the bucks stops at ETD and we must ensure all the supporting infrastructure are in excellent supporting conditions before we can start talking about pushing e-content to the schools or even think about building e-content. I am also relieved that she realised that the whole of ETD must move in unison towards the “smartizations” (if there is such a word) of schools. Things have change and will continue to change. We must move forward. Shih Huang Ti once said, “we must used the mirrors to adjust our hats” . Hence we must learn from our past weaknesses to strive ahead. Onwards the Sekolah Bestari (Smart school).