Over 10,000 schools in limbo over Internet connection in 2020

1BestariNet

The 2019 school calendar ends later this month for a long break before the 2020 session. But till now, there has been no word on Internet connectivity for over 10,000 schools nationwide.

On June 27, Education Minister Maszlee Malik tweeted his ministry’s statement stating three Internet service providers – Telekom Malaysia, Celcom Axiata and Maxis Broadband – will provide Internet connection for the 10,211 schools for the next six months and that the “ministry will select a new Internet service provider starting January 1, 2020, after carrying out an evaluation.”

It marked the end of YTL Communications Bhd’s 1BestariNet and Frog virtual learning environment (VLE). The company won the contract in 2011 for being “the most technically compliant of the lot” and for its “cost-effective bid”.

Frog VLE, a learning platform where teachers create and post content that students can access, was replaced by Google Classroom. Some school teachers and students, however, continue to use Frog VLE.

The statement made no mention of any tender process and did not highlight what was wrong with 1BestariNet, powered by Yes4G.

If there is any tender process, it has not been heard of – leaving industry players and more importantly, teachers and students, wondering if the present arrangement will continue into 2020 or if there will be changes.

And change is something teachers and students are tired of as for the past 15 years, the country has been trying to digitalise schools but just can’t seem to get it right.

Some teachers have readily admitted they are not tech-savvy while many are bogged down with clerical work, and view the digitisation efforts as an added burden.

Telekom Malaysia’s wholly owned subsidiary GITN Sdn Bhd, entered into an agreement with the government to implement SchoolNet for the 10,000 schools on Feb 25, 2004. The RM374.2 million contract ended in 2010 and was replaced by 1BestariNet after YTL Communications Bhd won an open tender exercise involving 18 other companies.

The 15-year programme, valued at RM4.1 billion and divided into several phases, was launched by then Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. It remains unclear if present minister Maszlee had reached out to Muhyiddin, now Home Minister and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia colleague, over the deal.

But the project came under the scrutiny of the Public Accounts Committee as then chairman Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed, had in 2015, suggested the project be scrapped. He added it did not yield the expected results although RM633 million was spent on the first phase.

He, however, said it was up to the Education Ministry to decide on the fate of the project.

Some teachers spoke highly about 1BestariNet but there were those who admitted they had only used it “once or twice” in seven years.

Fight for Change 2019

Education Ministry secretary-general Datuk Mohd Ghazali Abas, had in July, said the decision to introduce new Internet service providers (ISPs) in schools was made “in the best interest of school children”.

During a press conference at the ministry’s building on July 5, he was asked if fresh tenders would be called. Ghazali replied then: “We are in the midst of getting it done. The interim period will allow us to see which of the ISPs will be able to deliver and we may even consider having two service providers or may even base it on regions. This period will also allow us to find out the best practices to ensure our children get the best.”

A tender should have rightfully been called much earlier but better late than never.

Hopefully, the Education Ministry will also reveal the findings on Internet usage and feedback from teachers and students before and after the switch of ISPs and lessons learnt so that the nation will not have to undergo another 15 years of digitalisation efforts to get it right.