Change often happens slowly, and then all at once.

The undercurrents of education are shifting. Schools in Malaysia have been dipping their toes in tech. But with Covid-19, the nation has taken a collective deep dive into new perspectives and methods for teaching.

We look at four trends for the future of education in Malaysia.

1. Broader skills

Universities in Malaysia have been “very much focused on narrowness,” Prof. Ir. Dr. Abdul Aziz Abdul Raman, Chief Information Officer and Deputy Vice Chancellor (Student Affairs) at Universiti Malaya, tells GovInsider.

Currently, degree programmes and career choices are pretty much fixed. “If you graduate as a chemical engineer, you work as a chemical engineer,” he says. “That narrowness is not sufficient anymore.”

The university wants to nurture more well-rounded graduates, and help students develop broader perspectives. “We want someone with engineering knowledge, but we want that person to know about the arts and humanities,” he explains.

For instance, Islamic studies graduates typically had one job prospect: to teach religion. But the university is shifting the focus to prepare them for a career in the Halal food industry. “They can even go and work in Japan, because Japan has a large Halal food market,” Aziz points out.

2. Virtual learning

The government put physical lessons on pause as the country went into lockdown. The Ministry of Education quickly revamped its national remote learning platform so students could continue learning at home.

DELIMa (Digital Education Learning Initiative Malaysia) combines tech from Apple, Google and Microsoft on a single platform for schools. Teachers can choose to use the services they find most helpful for conducting classes, reported The Malay Mail. For instance, teachers might use Microsoft Office for easy access to Word and PowerPoint, or they could use Apple’s Teacher Learning Centre if they’re more comfortable with Pages and Keynote.

The platform also provides additional teaching resources from the National Library and the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation. These include digital books and media on topics such as cybersecurity.

3. Reaching rural communities

Not every child has access to online classes, however. The Ministry of Education reported that 37 per cent of students didn’t have a device, and rural areas may not even have a stable internet connection.

Not-for-profit organisations Teach For Malaysia and Yayasan Hartalega have partnered to distribute ‘self-learning boxes’ to students living in rural parts of the country. These boxes contain materials that aim to help eight to eleven year-olds learn even without the internet.

Students can conduct simple science experiments, guided by bilingual instructions, or learn practical tips for staying safe in the pandemic. Teach for Malaysia is working closely with local teachers to improve the boxes’ contents.

The first batch of 195 boxes reached students in Lawas, Sarawak and Semporna, Sabah on 28th October, according to Malaysiakini. The project aims to deliver 3000 boxes to 500 students.

4. Lifelong learning

Remote learning has opened up new opportunities for Universiti Malaya. Holding classes online used to be “taboo”, says Aziz, but mindsets have changed. “Microsoft 365 usage has jumped 300 times since the coronavirus,” he adds.

University Malaya recognises that remote learning tech can be helpful for providing microcredentials and encouraging lifelong learning. Now that education delivery has become more flexible, the university is exploring varied and possibly more affordable learning options. It is working with partners to develop ways to implement this, Aziz shares.

The university intends to build off available resources. “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he says. For instance, it could integrate existing data analytics self-learning modules into the syllabus for current students, or offer them to the public as independent lifelong learning courses. The university could also issue certificates to recognise the achievements.

Schools in Malaysia are wading into a new time. Students will need to adapt to changing job demands and educators will need more ways to reach the unreached. New tech and new perspectives will take the nation into the next age of learning.