In March, PADU bagged an award for spearheading a student-centred learning process. What lies behind the 21st-century learning initiative?


A MALAYSIAN initiative to bring about the latest learning process into the classroom is gaining traction. At the same time, it is also getting the attention of folks from the wider circle of the education industry.

In March, an Education Ministry’s unit bagged an award for spearheading a student-centred learning process steered by the five elements of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and values and ethics, or 4C1V.

The 21st-century learning initiative, popularly known in the local education circle as Pembelajaran Abad ke-21 (PAK21), saw the Education Performance and Delivery Unit (PADU) winning Bett Asia’s “Game Changer” award.

The initiative was one of the four winners at the Bett Asia Awards 2019, an event organised by a unit of London-listed ITE Group plc.

The awards celebrate and reward creativity, innovation and leadership found throughout Asia Pacific’s education sector. The awards showcase inspiration and solutions to everyday challenges, which help students achieve educational excellence.

The judging panel for the award included Laos-based Panyathip International School MD John Gwyn Jones, Heriot-Watt University Malaysia provost/CEO Prof Mushtak AlAtabi, Hong Kong-based Nord Anglia International School principal Brian Cooklin and Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris vice chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Mohammad Shatar Sabran.

Problem and Solution

In essence, PAK21 defines the pertinent knowledge, competency and characteristics that students should embody to be competitively relevant and empowered to take on the challenges of 21st-century volatilities.

The initiative is a solution to a problem. It is a common perception that teachers nationally emphasise on academic results. This is at a time when the world has changed drastically, with 65% of primary school students anticipated to work in jobs that do not exist yet.

These are some of the questions that PADU and other units have been grappling with.

The Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 has addressed the issues facing the nation’s education woes. It has determined 11 shifts to achieve the vision of raising the level of the education system into the 21st century.

The first shift demands that the ministry provides access to quality education that is comparable to international standards; and subsequently made available to all students.

The shift focuses on the aspect of quality which is directed towards the need to improve the learning standards of mathematics and science, the proficiency of languages in line with international standards and the quality of education in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

To achieve this, the ministry needs to provide teachers with the ability to create a conducive learning environment and focus on the 21st-century learning or PAK21, according to the 2017 Annual Report for the blueprint.

It noted that the conventional teaching methods need to be changed to allow for a more creative and dynamic teaching and learning approach that is based on the content of the subject to accommodate the developing minds of the students.

It said the shift from teacher-centred teaching method to student-centred learning method in the 21st-century education presents new challenges to teachers and school leaders. Some of these challenges include learning that leads to higher order thinking skills, managing more dynamic learning space and utilising various teaching aids and technology-based resources to implement effective teaching and learning processes, relevant to the current needs of the students.

As such, it noted that teachers have to continuously improve their level of professionalism, in terms of knowledge and pedagogy, in order to remain relevant to the current and future needs. Continuous training is also provided to school leaderships to ensure that the management and administration of the school are strengthened to support the needs of teachers and students. The ministry also continues to encourage parents and communities to be directly involved in supporting schools to provide quality education to their children.

At the same time, it noted that the ministry needs to implement major changes to ensure the country’s education system is ranked among the best in the world.

Teachers’ Campaign

The most recent effort in pushing forward PAK21 is the national teachers’ campaign, seen as the first step in culture transformation and priority realignment. In a nutshell, it uses principles of behavioural science to turn PAK21 teaching into a “norm”.

The primary objective of the 21st-Century Learning Teachers Campaign is to celebrate and share best practices of how teachers bring PAK21 into their classrooms. Teachers who are teaching in Malaysian national schools will be able to upload their creative strategies of bringing PAK21 into their classrooms through a 300-word write-up or a three-minute video on the campaign’s official website.

At the end of the campaign, 10 teachers with the most effective and creative strategies will be selected to receive professional mentorship, win attractive prizes and receive a private audience with the Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik.

At the launch in December 2018, PADU student learning sector director Datin Rosliza Rosli underlined the importance of teachers in schools in cultivating the much-needed 21stcentury skills among students.

Citing World Bank statistics, she said Malaysian children received 12 years of education, but three of those years did not contribute to meaningful education. Another set of World Bank statistics outlined how Malaysian children only achieve 62% of their full potential. With this in mind, she underscored the case for more effective teaching methods through PAK21.

In essence, the campaign is one of the many efforts powered by PADU to deliver differently and to “unbox” how the education and transformation agenda is executed.

A Different Way

“One of the main differences is our people-centric planning,” said PADU CEO Khadijah Abdullah.

An example of this new way of conceptualising initiatives to transform the education system is found in the way PADU developed the strategy to increase literacy and numeracy outcomes nationally.

Instead of relying on the traditional top-down strategies, PADU leveraged on a design thinking process to empathise and understand, not just the challenges faced by stakeholder groups, but also their emotions and hopes throughout their journeys. This is aimed towards prototype and pilot solutions that are truly meaningful and easy to use by the stakeholders, as opposed to having nice plans on paper.

PADU went down to the ground, conducting deep ethnographic and stakeholder studies and interviews to determine the challenges of the current processes of 17 outlier schools across the country that were meant to be representative of the entire population.

Armed with that insight, they led a series of workshops to personify the existing challenges faced by students, teachers and parents, and mapped them out in personas and stakeholder journeys. With that, they developed prototyped solutions aimed to be deployed rapidly to see if they could work.

The result of these efforts are nine interventions — encompassing themes of improving teaching and learning; empowering school leadership; intensifying parent engagement; and increasing early intervention — which obtained quick buy-in from implementers from the Ministry of Education.

With the Bett Asia award under its belt, PADU surely will want to delivery other equally innovative and meaningful initiatives.