By EtonX CEO, Catherine Whitaker
Travelling to the Bett Asia Show in Kuala Lumpur last week for my first visit to Malaysia, I was looking forward to finding out more about local trends in education and edtech. It was EtonX’s first time at the show which gave us an opportunity to launch our online soft skills courses for teenagers.
It didn’t take long for me to see that education is key to Malaysia’s ambitions. In the taxi from the airport, the radio carried a government public information advert extolling the virtues of early childhood education and encouraging listeners to ensure their pre-schoolers were enrolled in kindergarten from age 4. Soon after, as we sped into central KL late in the evening, the lights of the International Medical University burned brightly and students could be seen from the highway hunched over their desks.
So what did EtonX find out about education in Malaysia at the Bett Asia show?
The value of a British education
The EtonX stand at Bett Asia was sponsored by BESA and was part of the UK’s Department of International Trade’s delegation. While the British House of Commons and its Brexit high drama was all over the TV rolling news, we had a chance to promote one of Britain’s greatest exports – its education.
British education is highly valued in Malaysia. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the number of well-known British universities which now have campuses in the country. Malaysia has successfully delivered on its strategy of becoming a leader in transnational education. It has more students studying in UK Higher Education institutions outside the UK than any other country.
Malaysia also has a burgeoning international schools sector. According to the ISC, the country has the largest international schools market in South East Asia and the fifth largest in the world. The majority of these follow the UK curriculum.
Visitors to our stand were mostly well aware of Eton College and its reputation for producing leaders in many sectors. But Eton is taking a different approach to expanding its reach beyond the UK, using technology rather than satellite campuses. EtonX’s virtual classroom and courses developed with Eton allow us to reach students all over the world. School leaders were particularly interested in our Eton origins, cutting-edge technology and native English-speaking tutors for all students.
Soft skills are high up the agenda of educators in Malaysia
The Bett Asia show’s key theme this year was ‘Building a change culture to deliver 21st century learning’. It’s ’21st century skills’ theatre hosted talks focussing on how technology can help ensure that students are ready for life in the workplace
This need to improve employability in a changing world was also the subject of a column in the New Straits Times published coincidentally on the second day of Bett. In ‘Creativity, A Priority In National Agenda, a researcher from the Institute of Strategic and International Studies argued eloquently that refocusing the national curriculum to promote creativity would foster entrepreneurism and enable Malaysia to have a greater competitive foothold in the global economy. But, as she stated ‘The national curriculum seems to stifle creativity instead of cultivating it.’ The concern is not unique to Malaysia and is widely shared by educators globally since most exam systems assess success through performance in exams that only test academic knowledge.
So it’s perhaps not surprising that EtonX’s focus on providing skills development opportunities beyond the academic curriculum received a very warm reception. In my conversations with school leaders from all over Malaysia, I found that schools of all kinds, from the very well established and resourced, to new entrants just moving out of their shop block beginnings are all keen to provide as rounded an education as possible to their students. Even schools which are providing a wealth of after school activities or enrichment programmes could point to an area where they want to do more for their students. EtonX’s approach of having a series of courses in our Future Skills Programme from which schools can choose was popular. In Malaysia, schools were most interested in our Critical Thinking and Writing Skills courses to support academic study but other courses including our newly-launched Entrepreneurship course, Public Speaking and Interview Skills also stuck a chord.
Technology provides new opportunities for effective pedagogy
Bett Asia showcased an exciting range of new teaching and learning opportunities. Virtual reality, mixed reality and augmented reality, AI and robots continue to grab the attention of educators as we try to work out how to integrate these new possibilities into the curriculum.
In EtonX’s case we have created a virtual classroom based on the latest Web RTC protocols. In my presentation on ‘How Technology is Reinventing the Classroom’ I showed how virtual classrooms such as ours are promoting effective communication and learning between students. This is a world away from the early days of elearning and live classes which with their webinar formats and reliance on pre-recorded videos which mostly replicates a traditional classroom or lecture experience.
Several attendees were interested in finding out more about how EtonX’s technology could be used in their programmes and we will in future we able to licence our software for this purpose.
Importance of English language level
For a couple of decades, I’ve watched the changing policy on English in Malaysia with interest. In that time, various policy changes have seen Maths and Science taught in English then revert back to being taught in the Malay language. Malaysia is a classic example of a country trying to find a way to compete internationally by producing students with good English language levels while balancing the desire not to weaken its own identity or language.
At a meeting with the British Council in central KL, I picked my way through students waiting to sign up for language placement tests. As one of the directors at the Council explained to me, Malaysian universities have an English language requirement for entry and these students were working on ensuring they achieved a good IELTS grade for study either locally or overseas.
English language levels are high for the region thanks to its role as a second language and lingua franca for Malaysia’s multi-ethnic population. Although EtonX courses are not an English language training product, because they are delivered entirely in English and can involve students talking in English to peers outside their home country, they do offer excellent opportunities for language improvement. Several visitors to the EtonX stand from language training centres felt that EtonX skills courses could be the perfect offer for higher achieving students. These students do not need more pure language instruction or practice; they want to do something useful with their English that will help them in the next stage of their education. For these students, our Verbal Communication, Interview Skills and Public Speaking courses were of most interest.
EtonX in Malaysia
A week in Malaysia could only give me an introduction to the country and its education priorities. It was clear that Malaysia is a diverse, dynamic and ambitious country which sees education as a key to growing its economy and presence regionally and globally. It values its international links and is keen to ensure that it has access to new technology and curriculum solutions. EtonX looks forward to working with schools and other partners in Malaysia and to the next Bett Asia show.