The school lockdowns and closures that followed the devastating impact of COVID-19 disrupted the education of some 5 million children and young people in Malaysia. As with most countries in the world impacted by the pandemic, the Government had to put in place alternative means of providing learning continuity for students, and building the capacity of education institutions and teaching staff to adjust to delivering education online. The Government responded quickly and, on 15 June 2020, launched the Digital Educational Learning Initiative Malaysia (DELIMa), a digital learning platform of the Ministry of Education of Malaysia, initially with Google Classroom, to enable teaching and learning online. It has expanded to include technological partners such as Microsoft and Apple as well, and has helped to maintain continuity of learning for 5.3 million users, i.e. teachers and schoolchildren in Malaysia. As of 4 August 2022, 99 per cent of teachers and 85 per cent of students have used DELIMa in their online teaching and learning.
Towards a Solution
With COVID-19 lockdowns and school closures disrupting learning for 5 million students, the Ministry of Education (MOE) of Malaysia launched and strengthened its strategic partnerships with the three main players in the technological world (Google, Microsoft and Apple) and a development partner, UNICEF, via the Digital Educational Learning Initiative Malaysia platform (DELIMa). DELIMa has kept over 4.3 million children learning during school closures and plays an important role as part of the country’s approach of blending face-to-face and online learning. DELIMa highlights three key criteria for transforming education for the future: first, the platform offers multiple applications and services; second, there are multiple technological and other strategic partners involved in the platform; and third, it offers a single experience in online teaching and learning. In sum, the focus for DELIMa is to further enhance digital learning through the democratization of learning by providing options for teachers and students towards digital and lifelong learning.
A key part of DELIMa is the MOE-UNICEF-supported Teacher Digital Learning Community, which aims to build teacher capacity as effective remote online educators. To date, 3,999 teachers from 2,168 schools - of which 49 per cent are from rural schools - have participated in the online teacher training with a reach of over 100,000. It also includes accessibility features for teachers and children with disabilities and a resource bank of over 1,570 resources curated from teachers who have completed the online training. The resources have been accessed 153,478 times - thereby acting as a catalyst to accelerate digital transformation as teachers are now engaged in the delivery of digital learning and leveraging different technologies which they have opted to use with children. For scale-up and sustainability, content is being mainstreamed via the Ministry’s Teacher Professionalism Division and Institute of Teacher Education which together oversee teacher development for both for inand pre-service teacher education in the country.
Existing programmes and innovations for alternative and remote learning as part of Reimagine Education and Generation Unlimited involving mainstream and marginalized groups have also been pivoted via DELIMa. Future Skills for All (FS4A), in partnership with UNICEF, DiGi Telecommunications and Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), aimed at strengthening provision and reducing inequalities in digital and skills development, has ensured continuity of learning during COVID-19 with over 36,000 unique users, over 1 million page-views and a 41.3 per cent completion rate. Learning materials, including sign language interpretation (in partnership with Malaysia Federation of the Deaf) were produced, and co-creation workshops for offline learning kits were also organized with children with disabilities, indigenous children and undocumented children to ensure that the materials were accessible and inclusive. Introduction of future skills on TikTok, i.e. Guru Future Skills, where video content is co-created with children, has attracted 14,500 followers and a total of more than 3 million views. This has also led to future skills content being translated and expanded to the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia with the aim of bringing micro:bit coding experience to marginalized students in those countries.
The MOE-UNICEF multidisciplinary Global Citizenship Education (GCED) project-based lessons aimed at strengthening twenty-first century skills and growth mindset have been accessed over 19,000 times with COVID-themed projects resulting in a reach of over 80,000. Amplification of young people’s voices via the Voices of COVID Generation (VOCG), in partnership with UNICEF and Arus Academy, received the UNESCO Wenhui Award Honourable Commendation for Innovative Educational Responses to COVID.
Some of the key lessons learned are as follows:
- Leveraging partnerships and programmatic innovations: Strengthened partnership with UNICEF and other partners has resulted in innovations for learning befitting an upper middle-income country such as Malaysia. This is evident through innovative programming: i) FS4A via Google Classroom and TikTok; ii) GCED via Google Earth; and iii) Teacher Digital Learning Community via Google Classroom and Telegram groups, and with Google Earth for creation of learning resources, Discord for alternative platforms, and Telegram bot for mobile learning.
- Narrowing the digital divide: Online learning can exacerbate previous learning inequalities if it is not accessible to all teachers and learners. From the start, UNICEF adopted an equity approach striving to extend access to Future Skills for All for various groups of marginalized children, and access to Teacher Digital Learning Community for all teachers. As a result of these efforts, 50 per cent of the teachers participating in the learning community are now serving children in rural communities.
- Investing in people as well as technology to keep learning at the centre: Technology can be a game changer, but only if designed and used skilfully. Establishing digital learning communities alongside platforms will maximize their successful and sustained use.
- Seizing the opportunity to be inclusive: Online teaching and learning platforms that incorporate accessibility features and offline learning materials can be important ways to make education systems more inclusive, overcoming barriers for teachers and students with disabilities and other marginalized groups of children.