By Dr Lidyana Rosla
For the first time, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) hosted a fully online Global Problem-Based Learning (gPBL) — the Old Kuching Smart Heritage (OKSHE)-Unimas-Shibaura Institute of Technology (SIT) gPBL 2021 themed ‘Solutions that Cross Frontiers: The Sustainable Story of the Perahu Tambang’.
Originally, gPBL is an annual international student mobility programme between the Faculty of Engineering, Unimas and their close international partner, SIT, in Japan since 2015.
What makes gPBL 2021 a breakthrough is that it incorporated global classrooms that reached out to the local Sarawak Perahu Tambang (fare boat) community. gPBL 2021, therefore. became a pilot project marshalled through effective strategic coordination and collaboration with OKSHE.
Setting a new direction for an established academic sharing exercise demanded a steep learning curve for the young lecturers of the Faculty of Engineering who took a leap of faith to carry a global-scale project that included the community.
Taking advantage of the borderless internet, the team successfully broke the shackles of the constraining pandemic chain by utilising their online teaching knowledge.
The success story of The Sustainable Story of the Perahu Tambang resides in the morale and confidence boost from the steadfast support of Unimas’ board of director members, also the Deputy State Secretary Office (Performance and Service Delivery Transformation), Datuk Dr Sabariah Putit, the chairperson of OKSHE.
Sabariah strongly believes in the potential of innovative educational programmes and that these strongly align with the strategic actions established in the Sarawak Digital Economy Strategy 2018-2022.
Her visions implied that the success of borderless, virtual mobility is amongst the valuable play cards for OKSHE to drive economic community and improve the quality of life closer to fulfilling The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco)’s smart heritage city requirements through the Smart Heritage Initiatives.
Therefore, encouraging the empowerment of economic competitiveness can lay the foundation for Sarawak to become an attractive investment destination for digital-related economic campaigns against unprecedented restrictions caused by challenges such as the current pandemic.
Like a cherry on an ice cream sundae (or to localise the expression, like gula apong topping on an ice cream sundae), Sabariah has announced that the 2021 OKSHE-Unimas-SIT enterprise is honoured as the first platform that promotes and encourages participants to become the OKSHE Heritage Ambassador, a membership programme that supports the promotion of OKSHE initiatives.
Unimas Vice-Chancellor Professor Datuk Dr Mohamad Kadim Suaidi stressed that the virtual gPBL programme could cultivate a Global Citizen culture where international members and local members proactively move towards similar goals together with the community through business unusual as the students’ progress in their academic endeavours — leaving no one behind.
He firmly believes that it is important for universities to remain relevant as higher education providers despite the challenges due to the pandemic. SIT applauds Unimas’ and OKSHE’s effort in bringing students to provide community solutions that go beyond physical borders.
This year, the programme was designed to introduce the Old Kuching heritage to international students using a contrived academic approach. The new direction reflects Unimas’ ‘Sustainable, Inclusive and Global’ motto.
The programme received immense support from the deputy chief scientist Sarawak Multimedia Authority and the deputy chairperson for OKSHE, Professor Dr Ts. Al-Khalid Othman, as well as the Unimas Global director, Associate Professor Dr Shanti Faridah Salleh.
Their unwavering support enabled OKSHE-Unimas-SIT gPBL 2021 to reach beyond its academic pursuits, simultaneously increasing awareness and readiness of the community in Old Kuching to embrace smart technology.
Another point that marks the significance of this programme is that the outcomes echoed the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), specifically SDG 1 (No Poverty), SDG 4 (Quality Education), SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure), SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) and SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals).
At the end of the programme, our penambangs discovered how digital communication can be a convenient and sustainable platform for meeting prospective partners, both local and international, thereby transforming them into Global Citizens.
Their lingering concern about accessibility to smart technology wafted away as the Sarawak Multimedia Authority’s (SMA) splendid assistance during gPBL assured the community that they possess, at their disposal, sufficient technological knowledge and assistance.
Through the OKSHE’s gateway, the gPBL 2021 exposure links Sarawak’s community with international stakeholders from the platform set by Unimas. This is a positive outcome from the community’s perspective.
Similarly, from the academic point of view, this international mobility programme has successfully achieved its academic objectives. Unimas and international students from SIT not only broke the ice between two different languages and cultures, but through this golden opportunity, the students had the experience of being immersed into Sarawak’s colourful culture, specifically the heritage of Old Kuching.
Compelled to break away from the constraints of space and time boundaries with one mission, i.e., to solve real-life engineering problems across frontiers whilst preserving the traditional aesthetic values, the participants also learned an important lesson from the community engagement: The importance of the practicality of their engineering proposal to meet the readiness of their clients.
In the global classroom, the penambangs were exclusive teachers for the participating students. The interactive knowledge transfer and engineering design contest managed to spike excitement in the respected representatives of the Old Kuching and penambang community to further their engagement with Unimas and other international students.
They, too, were intrigued by the designs proposed by the participants and were hopeful to further the design in the future with Unimas and OKSHE.
“We would like to welcome Unimas and OKSHE to bring international students to our community to look into the potential of this collaboration,” penambang Nor Ali said.
To conclude, the OKSHE-Unimas-SIT gPBL 2021 is a revolutionary virtual mobility programme that piloted the blueprint for virtual student mobility and global classrooms, incorporating both Industrial Revolution 4.0 and Society 5.0 effectively.
The writer is the director of the Okshe-Unimas-SIT Global Problem-Solving Learning 2021 Programme from the Faculty of Engineering Unimas.
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