1BRIS towers and Frog VLE will remain in schools, says YTL Comms

Frog VLE in a class

YTL Communications Sdn Bhd said its 1BestariNet Receiver Integrated System (1BRIS) towers will remain in schools nationwide despite the Education Ministry securing the services of three new Internet service providers for the next six months.

The company also gave its assurance that it will not pull the plug on its 1BestariNet and Frog virtual learning environment (VLE) as teachers and students migrate to Google Classroom starting today.

Yesterday marked the end of 1BestariNet and Frog VLE as over 10,000 schools will now be powered by Telekom Malaysia, Celcom Axiata and Maxis Broadband. Last night, the ministry, had on its Facebook page, urged teachers to join a Telegram group (Google Classroom Training) to share information or ideas hours ahead of the implementation of the new system.

On Sunday, Twentytwo13 highlighted the government has tried to digitalise public schools over the past 15 years – first through SchoolNet, a programme by Telekom Malaysia’s wholly-owned GITN Sdn Bhd (2004-2010), and later 1BestariNet (2011-yesterday) – but can’t seem to get it right.

Following our article and allegations raised by ‘Friends of Maszlee Malik’ as to why 1BestariNet should be terminated, YTL Communications Sdn Bhd managing director Datuk Yeoh Seok Hong and FrogAsia Sdn Bhd executive director Lou Yeoh share their thoughts with Twentytwo13 editor Haresh Deol.

Twentytwo13: Did the Education Ministry give an official notice of termination and if so, was there any conversation about the transition from Frog VLE to Google Classroom?

Yeoh Seok Hong (YSH): Our contract was not terminated. It expired on June 30, 2019. In July last year, (Deputy Education Minister) Teo Nie Ching announced there will be a fresh tender for 1BestariNet and that YTL Communications will be included in the bid.

On April 23, we were called to a meeting by the ministry with Maxis, Celcom Axiata and Telekom Malaysia. At the meeting, we were informed they (ministry) require a six-month interim period post-June 30 as they were not ready to call for a tender and they did not have the budget for Internet services during this period (July 1, 2019 -Dec 31, 2019).

The ministry requested for free Internet services during this period.

On May 31, we wrote to the (Education) Minister (Maszlee Malik) to inform him we agreed to the request and would continue to provide our services until the end of the year.

To avoid disruption in the middle of the school year, we offered to make Frog VLE available to schools.

To our surprise, on June 21 we were informed by several schools that they received a letter from the ministry informing them of the interim provision of Internet services by Telekom Malaysia, Celcom Axiata and Maxis for the next six months despite our offer to provide it for free.

No official tender was called for this.

Was there any engagement regarding the quality of service?

YSH: No. There has been no engagement from the ministry apart from the reports submitted by us as per our contract. As our contract is a service contract, we have service level agreements (SLAs) in respect of which we submit quarterly reports. We have met all our SLAs.

A graphic by ‘Friends of Maszlee Malik’, had among others, alleged 1BestariNet provided Internet speeds of 4Mbps in schools with 20 schools having speeds of only 2Mbps.

YSH: The 1BestariNet project was developed and scoped on the back of the Boston Consulting Group’s 2010 report on the role of ICT (information and communications technology) in education, under which more than RM6 billion had been spent by the government from 1999-2010 on various projects like SchoolNet.

The report identified major constraints, including speed and internet capacity that schools require for e-learning.

In 2011, an open tender was called for the provision of an integrated solution of a teaching and learning platform and Internet connectivity to enable it to serve the entire education community.

Unlike SchoolNet, the tender called for a service contract with tenderers asked to invest and build new infrastructure be it fibre technology or mobile base stations to meet the Internet service specifications.

The contract would be for the provision of services over 15 years during which the investment in the infrastructure would be recovered.

The six shortlisted tenderers were Celcom Axiata Bhd, Jaring Communications, Maxis Bhd, YTL Communications, Multimedia Synergy Corp and Telekom Malaysia/TimedotCom Bhd.

YTL Communications won the tender by offering the best price and solution. The contract was implemented in phases and we completed phase 2 on June 30.

The buildup of our 4G mobile technology nationwide was in line with the government’s National Broadband Initiative to increase broadband penetration in the country, especially in rural areas.

In Phase 2, the contract called for the following bandwidth to be provided; 10 schools with 100Mbps, 987 schools with 30Mbps, 1,566 schools with 15Mbps, 2,563 schools with 10Mbps, 3,144 schools with 6Mbps and 1,933 schools with 2Mbps.

Schools with 2Mbps are VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) and ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) technology provided by Maxis and Telekom Malaysia respectively.

Friends of Mazlee Malik poster
The ‘Friends of Mazlee Malik’ graphic posted on website SekolahKita.my on June 28, a day after it was announced three new Internet service providers will serve schools nationwide.

The other allegation was that the usage of 1BestariNet was poor in Phase 1 (2011-2014: 19.5 per cent-33.5 per cent) and the numbers dwindled in Phase 2 (2016-2019: 0.17 per cent-0.63 per cent) as teachers and students were not motivated to use the system.

YSH: For an e-learning system to work successfully, the following components are required; a secured private network, teaching and learning platform, Internet connectivity, teaching and learning content, and devices for teachers and students.

YTL Communications was only responsible for providing the secure private network, Frog VLE and Internet connectivity while the Education Ministry was responsible for the content and devices.

The number of users is the responsibility of the ministry. The Education Performance and Delivery Unit (PADU) 2016 Annual Report on the Malaysian Education Blueprint showed 1.5 million students had accessed VLE until November 2016.

Lou Yeoh (LY): Considering there are only 400,000 computers in schools shared by five million students, the number of Frog VLE users is high.

While not part of our contractual scope, we have provided schools with a quiz engine and a repository of quizzes and curated baseline teaching content for every subject including for Chinese and Tamil schools from Standard 1 to From 5 which are mapped to the syllabus. These additional content have significantly increased the use of Frog VLE by teachers and students.

Last year we started an international championship open to all schools using Frog VLE. Seventy per cent of our Malaysian schools took part as they competed with schools from 14 nations.

Surprisingly, SJK(C) Choong Cheng, a small school from a fishing village in Kedah, won the Frog World Championship.

Over the course of the competition, scores of participants improved significantly, demonstrating the impact of the competition on the students.

So what will happen to all the content in Frog VLE since schools will be migrating to Google Classroom?

LY: Frog VLE has seven years’ worth of content. We have, over the past week, been inundated with messages from teachers asking what would happen after June 30.

It will be available post-June 30 as it would be inconceivable that we would allow schools to be disrupted in the middle of the school year.

We cannot let them down in the middle of the school year when schools are starting to prepare for examinations.

In fact, next week we will release revision packs for all subjects to schools covering the materials taught in the first six months of the year.

This is part of our content that we have curated for the schools. This is not part of our contractual obligation.

We will also allow teachers to retain their smartphones and their Teacher Data Plans. Teachers can, therefore, use their phones in classrooms for lessons and at home to connect to Frog VLE without interruption.

Apart from Malaysia, where else is Frog VLE used?

LY: Frog VLE is an award-winning learning platform used in 23 countries including the UK, US, Hong Kong, Middle East and Australia. Last year, Frog won a tender by the South Australian government to implement the learning platform in all 900 schools there, modelled after Malaysia.

There are claims that the government spent RM652 million to buy the software.

YSH: The tender called for an integrated solution for education including Frog VLE which is included in the price of the contract.

Does your company owe the government RM32.27 million in rental for the 2,445 sites that house the 1BRIS towers?

YSH: There is no such amount of money owing to the government. It was agreed the sites for 1BRIS in schools would be made available to us at a nominal rental. It was also agreed that electricity would be supplied to the towers by the Education Ministry through the schools.

What will happen to the 1BRIS towers?

YSH: Under the contract with the Education Ministry, we are allowed to continue to use the existing school sites for our base stations as this is in line with the National Broadband Initiative.

There have been complaints about the broadband range and network coverage despite the project entering into its second phase.

YSH: Our 4G mobile network provides coverage to the entire school and obviates the need for the government to incur the cost to install a local area network for Wifi coverage as well as the cost of maintenance of such a network.

We provided teachers with smartphones that acted as mobile hotspots to enable teachers to access Frog VLE on their computers when teaching in classrooms.

We have consistently met with the Internet speed and quality stipulated in the contract.

For your information, YTL Communications was rated by Open Signal in 2017 as the Internet service provider with the overall fastest download speed and 4G availability. In the 2018 Open Signal Report, we continued to lead in 4G availability.

Other Internet service providers seem to offer cheaper packages for speeds of up to 100Mbps. 

YSH: The tender for the 1BestariNet project had defined a scope of work and service level agreements and guaranteed bandwidths. Telekom Malaysia, Celcom Axiata and Maxis tendered for the project but were unsuccessful. As no tender was called for the interim Internet services from July 1, 2019, to Dec 31, 2019, there is no basis for comparison of prices.

If given a chance to tender for the system again, will you do so?

YSH: Of course.