Like a Fish to Water: Education and Training to Engage "Digital-Native" Students
Malaysia's Higher Education for Polytechnics, led by Director General Md Nor Bin Yusof, has an ambitious goal for the next 10 years: preparing a projected total of 1.65 million workers for technical and vocational fields. To train this impressive number of workers, the polytechnics must attract and engage Digital Native students. According to the director general, Cisco Networking Academy is an important component of this massive training effort in Malaysia.
Director General's Lifelong Ambition: Teaching
From a very young age, Director General Md Nor Bin Yusof dreamed of being a teacher. After receiving degrees in engineering and mechanical engineering, Mr. Nor earned a certificate in education and a master's degree of science in computer integrated manufacturing. He went on to realize his childhood ambition and has been an educator for almost 30 years.
His unwavering goal in all those years has been to improve Malaysia's education and training system. He says, "Now, in the age of digital technologies, there are many ways to improve our education delivery system. Networking Academy is part of our program to enhance education."
Growing Technical and Vocational Workforce from 40,000 to 165,000 Each Year
To reach their hefty goal of preparing 1.65 million workers in the technical and vocational fields in the next 10 years, the country's vocational training system must graduate 165,000 students each year. Mr. Nor says, "We are currently preparing 40,000 workers per year. We have to increase our capabilities by teaching in a new way to increase the number of our graduates from the polytechnic sector." To this end, the Department of Polytechnic has initiated the Polytechnic Transformation Plan to help ensure that the human capital needed to fuel the economy of the 21st century and that the Economic Transformation Program (ETP) goals are attained by 2020.
Hitting the Workforce Number Target by Attracting Digital Natives
Today's students are growing up in technological environments; thus teaching and learning approaches that engage "digital-native" students require technology. The director general believes that "Technology can make miracles happen in the classroom." With technology, teachers can access thousands of experts around the globe and utilize their expertise and knowledge when teaching specific topics. Students can ask questions via video conferencing and even witness live experiments and studies happening around the world.
Polytechnics Enlist Networking Academy
Malaysia's transformation into an innovation-driven economy requires certain skills, competencies, and capabilities to meet the needs of knowledge-intensive, skills-based industries. Polytechnics must provide value-added courses for graduates in order to remain competitive and relevant with workforce requirements in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industries.
In 2002 Networking Academy began preparing Malaysian students for Cisco networking certifications and a range of technical and business skills. The skills acquired can support students into the future by preparing them for work in the ICT field, starting their own businesses, or furthering their education and achieving additional qualifications.
Mr. Nor notes, "In Networking Academy courses, students not only learn about configuring, troubleshooting, designing, building, and operating networks; they also learn about problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and teamwork—skills that they can apply in their future education and on the job." Hands-on exercises and exams using actual equipment and realistic simulations help ensure that students can successfully apply what they learn. Hands-on experience further develops the students' problem-solving skills.
"It's the difference between just knowing and being able to perform tasks and solving problems. Students learn best by doing," the director general explains. Networking Academy makes it possible for digital-native students to learn in an environment that they are familiar with, as Mr. Nor says, "like a fish to water—for example, learning through gaming in the Networking Academy Passport 21 Aspire game. Digital natives crave interactivity—they like immediate response to each and every one of their actions."
Developing Critical Thinking Through Simulations
Students can use the Networking Academy Packet Tracer network simulation tool to build virtual networks of any size, enabling them to design and troubleshoot their own networks and deal with realistic networking challenges. This encourages students to engage in exploration and experimentation in a rich learning environment.
To cope with the demands of the 21st century, the director general says students need to know more than core subjects. They need to know how to use their knowledge and skills— by thinking critically, applying knowledge to new situations, analyzing and synthesizing information, comprehending new ideas, communicating, collaborating, solving problems, and making decisions.
Networking Academy Graduates Are Sought by Industry
Professional certification through the Cisco Networking Academy enhances the quality of graduates and increases their marketability and employability, says the director general. This, in turn, helps to fulfil the human capital development needs of the nation.
Out of a recent group of 31 Malaysian Networking Academy students, 9 students found jobs within a few days of completing their programs; 10 students immediately chose to further their studies; and 12 other students, who were invited to job interviews and were offered jobs, also opted to further their studies.