Minister explains preference for Raspberry Pi computers

Photo: raspberrypi.org

KUCHING: The adoption of ICT tools for teaching and learning including the provision of Raspberry Pi computers for primary schools in Sarawak has taken into consideration the students’ capacity and limitations in the use of technology platforms.

Education, Science and Technological Research (MESTR) Minister Datuk Amar Michael Manyin Jawong said a Raspberry Pi computer could serve this purpose well as it would provide more than 40 percent cost reduction compared to a standard PC or laptop.

“This savings means that more students can benefit from our limited budget,” he said in a statement in response to Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii’s earlier statement requesting the state government to justify its decision to supply all primary schools with Raspberry Pi computers.

“Each Raspberry Pi together with a 19.5-inch monitor, keyboard, mouse, and preloaded software will cost RM1,191 compared to Intel NUC Mini PC which costs about RM1,700, plus another RM300 to RM500 for each Microsoft Office licence,” he said.

He said that although Raspberry Pi does not use Microsoft Office software, it comes with preinstalled Open Source Office Suite, which is highly compatible with Microsoft Office Software.

Hence, he said, students could learn to use office software such as Word, PowerPoint, and Excel as much with a Raspberry Pi as they would with a standard PC.

In addition, he said the Raspberry Pi had a unique function called ‘internet-in-a-box’ which enabled wireless access point with preloaded learning content, working as an intranet network and ensuring that learning can still happen even where there is no internet connectivity.

“The Raspberry Pi will serve as a platform to promote and strengthen innovation culture in schools. Students can learn coding and programming as well as explore innovative ideas through project-based learning beyond the classroom.

“There are already several schools that are using Raspberry Pi to do their projects for national and international competitions. This is crucial to nurture a culture of creativity and innovation among our students,” said Manyin.

He said both the Raspberry Pi and standard PC had different complexity for multiple applications. However, for the usage of primary school students where the emphasis is on basic ICT skills, he said Raspberry Pi would do the job well.

He said the state government had appointed Sarawak Information System (SAINS) to supply a total of about 10,100 Pi packages to 1,265 primary schools, with each package consisting of a Raspberry Pi 4 4G preloaded with an open-source office suite, a 19.5-inch monitor, one set of keyboard and mouse, and 64 GB Micro SD Card.

“The package will include supply, delivery, and installation of the computers in the schools, training of teachers, plus three-year warranty for labour and parts. The warranty will relieve teachers and students of worry as there will be a one-to-one replacement should the equipment break down,” he said.

He said the number of Raspberry Pi allocated to each school ranged from four to 30 units depending on the number of students.

“Besides, the training provided to the teachers will include setting up and minor maintenance of the Raspberry Pi computers using an open-source office suite, coding and programming, and internet browsing,” he said.

He added that SAINS will also provide a 24-7 Help Desk to provide first-level assistance when needed.

Manyin pointed out that Raspberry Pi is extensively used in primary schools throughout Great Britain, the United States, and in some countries in Africa and South America, adding that its usage has been gaining popularity internationally.

“The introduction of an alternative platform to our young children will prepare them to be not just users of technology but also as creators of new technologies,” he said, assuring that MESTR will complement the provision of ICT tools with training for both students and teachers.

“We want to ensure that all young Sarawakians are given the opportunity to learn and develop ICT skills as early as possible and empower them to use ICT to learn more effectively. The ministry has no ulterior motive of wanting to profit from this programme,” he said.

He hoped that enquiries and comments on MESTR’s programmes and activities would be directed at his ministry first instead of being highlighted in the press or social media.

“Programmes that can contribute to enhance our students’ performance and reduce the urban-rural divide should not be used as political capital to earn cheap publicity,” said Manyin.