Discuss computer usage with rural teachers

Dr Kelvin Yii

KUCHING: Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii has suggested that the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Research (MESTR) hold a dialogue with different stakeholders, especially science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teachers in rural areas regarding the usage of Raspberry Pi computers.

He said some have tried deploying Raspberry Pi in their schools including those in rural areas and many of the feedbacks given said that it is not practical.

“With such computer running on a less familiar Linux operating system (OS), more training has to be given to the teachers for them to know how to utilise such computers to teach their students.

“This is not only an extra technical hurdle, but also a logistical hurdle, especially to provide training, maintenance and follow-up to those in rural areas,” he said in a Facebook post on Tuesday.

He said if teachers do not know how to use it, the students are the ones who get short-changed.

“I would like to thank Education, Science and Technological Research Minister Datuk Seri Michael Manyin Jawong on the transparency shown in answering my queries on the state government’s intention to purchase Raspberry Pi for the usage of all primary schools in Sarawak.

“Such queries are important and should not be simply dismissed as ‘politics’ as it is essential to make sure that there are no wastage or unfair enrichment of cronies for this project,” he said.

He said however, Manyin’s answers have opened up more questions and also revealed how the deal in place for the purchase of about 10,000 Raspberry Pi for RM1,191 each including a 19.5-inch monitor, keyboard, mouse and preloaded software is actually inflated, and this cost much more than what it is sold in the market.

“Since the state government is buying in bulk — more than 10,000 units — the prices should be more competitive. That is why it is important to know if the sourcing and procurement of such computers were done by open tender or not in order to obtain a more competitive price,” he said.

He also said while Raspberry Pi computers can open Microsoft Office documents through the Open Source Office Suite, based on feedback, many of these software do not run smoothly on Raspberry Pi in comparison to the normal Microsoft-based laptops.

“In fact, based on the current market, they can purchase a 64-bit computer that runs on Windows 10 on Celeron N4100 for about RM800. When it is purchased in bulk, we may even get it for a cheaper price. Majority of teachers and students are more familiar with such OS and there isn’t a need for initial training which may be an extra hurdle for its implementation,” he said.

He said these hardware were more future-proof as it can be upgraded with graphic processingunits (GPUs) and solid-state drive (SSD).

“During this Covid-19 period, virtual learning will be much easier on a proper Windows 10 machine. Many software including Zoom is not officially supported on the Raspbian OS and need to be run through browser workaround,” he said.

He said with normal personal computer, cost on extra trainings can be saved to familiarise the teachers with Raspberry Pi.

“At the end of the day, why create hurdles for implementation, entry barriers, unfamiliarity, different training, call centres, and so on when there are other affordable alternatives that create less hurdles such as these. We must be breaking entry barrier, not creating more.

“All these questions are important and while I commend Manyin’s initial transparency, I hope they provide further clarification on this. This does not only involve public money, but more importantly, the education of our children, and thus, a proper decision must be made taking into account the local context, feedbacks from stakeholders and suitability of it in providing a holistic learning environment for our children,” said Dr Yii.