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Alistair Kelman's detailed paper on the above proposal
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Putting the "smart" into Smart Schools

Meanwhile, the non-arrival of the official CD-ROM-based courseware has also weighed down the Smart School project. Release dates for the courseware, contracted out to the private sector, have been pushed back repeatedly by the Ministry citing "faulty software". A September deadline, nine months into the school year, is the latest target date foisted onto the public.

Industry sources say development of the courseware has been bogged down by disagreements between the Government and the courseware developers on a number of issues including technical specifications, royalties and scope of work. Although the contract award has not been announced, a consortium comprising several companies including Indian technology education giant NIIT is believed to have gotten the nod.

Another serious concern is how quickly the Government would extend the Smart Schools program to schools using languages other than the national language as its main medium of instruction.

Although the majority of schools currently use Bahasa Melayu, other schools still use Mandarin and Tamil extensively to teach in multilingual Malaysia. Some members of the Chinese community, which accounts for about a third of the country's 22 million population, voiced their concerns of being left behind in the Smart School race.

To counter the potential gap, the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), the largest Chinese-based component party of the ruling National Front coalition, initiated its own Smart School program last August to supply all 1,289 Mandarin-based primary schools with PCs.

But the challenges ahead for the Smart Schools project remain daunting. One favorite point raised by the opposition party, the Democratic Action Party, is the fact that 1,273 schools in the country still do not have power supply.

Putting the "Smart" in Smart Schools may also mean going beyond merely placing a PC on every student's table.

A survey carried out last year by the Education Ministry's Curriculum Development Center of school principals in 75 institutions selected for the Smart Schools project revealed that 97 percent did not even know how to use a computer.

The survey's results may be symptomatic of a larger malady in the education system, yet unaddressed, and suggests the uphill task ahead.

The tragedy would be if the parties involved--both Government and private sector--failed to get their act together and risk that most treasured of resources: the young who hold the future of the nation in their hands.

At best, the "quantum leap" that the Education Minister speaks of may be more akin to a leap of faith than anything else.


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