This piece belongs to a 5-part series, written in celebration of FrogAsia’s 10th anniversary. We reflect on all that the company has achieved and all that we are still learning, through the lens of our five values. This one is centred around our second value: Enjoy what you do and who you do it with, and what that might look like in the context of education.
‘How the world’s tallest skyscraper was built’. ‘All the engineering secrets of the megastructure’ … read popular headlines around the Burj Khalifa – the tallest manmade structure in the world.
Underneath these titles is an assumption: the key to achieving significant feats is having the right ideas and technology. However, what is often overlooked is that huge projects like these require people. The Burj Khalifa had a 12,000 person workforce behind it. The build was possible because all these people came together in the right way to bring great ideas and innovations to life.
At FrogAsia, we have always championed the exploration of new technology and bringing that innovation into schools. We are also surrounded with a global network of educators who are overflowing with ideas to make education better.
However, ideas and tools will continue to stay dormant unless there are people mobilised to use them.
We need educators to work together as a community and operate as one, in order to make the dream of transforming national education a reality. Building and empowering communities in education has always been close to our hearts. In our ten years of commitment to this as a company, we have gained a few insights into how we can make this journey meaningful as an educational community.
On the surface, this principle sounds obvious. We all know that tasks become infinitely more doable when the experience is enjoyable. Even so, the word ‘education’ tends to exist in a similar realm to words like ‘work’, ‘duty’ and ‘necessity’. There is often a hidden assumption that since education is vital to our future, we should be motivated enough to excel in learning. How many of us have heard the words “This will be useful for you in the future” as a response to dreary and difficult learning experiences?
As of the recent years, research done on workplaces has shed a light on how work and fun are not mutually exclusive. In fact, making an experience more enjoyable raises productivity and achievement levels. The same principle applies in education. Our own initiatives over the years have prioritised the ‘fun factor’.
One highlight was in 2014 when we introduced the language Game Challenge, Word Mania onto our Frog platforms. It was played by 70,000 students across 2000 schools in the country. Many teachers reported that students enjoyed learning vocabulary and spelling through games. What was once the dullest aspects of language learning now became a thoroughly engaging experience! This culminated in a nationwide competition involving students from all over the country, which brought the fun and joy to a whole new level. As of today, we still make an effort to incorporate gamification into our products. Take our learning app, Launchpad, for example. The quizzes contain little games to help break up the monotony of answering revision questions.
Students are not the only ones who need to have fun while learning. Teachers do too!
And before they can bring that fun into the classroom, they need to know how to have fun themselves. This is a principle we hold onto when organising our Leaps of Knowledge conferences.
For instance, at the Leaps of Knowledge: Level Up! conference in 2018, we communicated key ideas about teaching, professional development, leadership and technology, through puzzles that participants had to complete at various stations. The hope was to capture the joy of learning for our educators so that they would be able to recreate that experience for their students.
Contrary to what people may think, necessary tasks can also be fun tasks. It is precisely because we take joy in something, that we can bring our best selves forward when doing what is needed. When students and teachers are happy at what they do, the quality of education goes up as well.
Over the years, there have been calls to replace competitive models of education with collaborative ones. Some have even argued that all elements of competition are harmful to learning. Collaboration is very powerful; there is no doubt about this. Working together makes the result greater than the sum of its parts. This is why the theme of our 2016 Leaps of Knowledge conference was ‘Creating Connections’. We explored how teachers, parents and the wider community could work together in education.
We took this principle further when we partnered with the state education offices and our teacher advocate communities to organise kLeaps - smaller versions of Leaps of Knowledge conferences which were held in Kedah, Johor, Penang, and Kampar across the year in 2018. These events centred around encouraging collaboration at the local level. Yet, collaboration alone does not paint a full picture of dynamic social interaction.
If you are a fan of sports reality shows like American Ninja Warrior, you would know that an ‘impossible’ challenge only seems impossible until one person succeeds. This is a small look into the psychology behind how competition affects our motivation and achievement. The first person to achieve something great becomes something of a benchmark for others to try and surpass. Competition turns abstract goals into concrete benchmarks: 'If they can do it, so can I - and better!'
We all know that a little competition adds a lot more excitement to something. Everyone gets fired up to put in more effort than they might have otherwise done.
In both situations, what we have is an individual in a wider community that is working towards a similar goal. When done well, both interactions allow people to inspire each other with their progress and ideas.
This is what we saw with our FrogPlay Championships: they were very effective in encouraging schools to increase the use of gamified learning and the Frog VLE. In 2017 alone, there were 1,989 schools across Malaysia that participated. Students clocked over 1 million hours of revision through gamified learning experiences. By 2019, it had become an international event with 7,175 schools from 14 countries competing. Students showed improvement scores of up to 46% points. Our proudest moment was to see SJK(C) Choong Cheng - a Malaysian school from a rural fishing village in Kedah - win the World Championships. Being able to compete (and win) against schools from the UK, US, and Australia, showed students that they were equal to others. They had the ability to succeed regardless of their location.
What we need then, is not to pick either collaboration or competition. We need as many avenues as possible in order to leverage the diversity of talents and abilities available in our community.
With all these avenues, we will be able to encourage each other towards our main goal: achieving continual progress in education.
The comedian Steven He was once asked about how his ‘Emotional Damage’ sketch became a widespread Internet meme. He refused to take any credit for it, saying, “I don’t believe any (one) entity can produce a meme, because it is (due to) the collective creativity of the Internet.”
For an initiative to truly take flight, the effort must go beyond any one central entity. It must be owned and perpetuated by the wider community itself.
This is what we sought to do in 2016 when we set up professional learning communities in schools known as ‘Hubs’. However, we did so as partners rather than experts, since we knew that every teacher we were ‘training’ had a wealth of experience waiting to be shared. So, the ‘Teacher Advocate’ programme was set up, with the end goal that these workshops would eventually be run ‘by the teachers, for the teachers’. This laid the foundation for many teachers to also start their own learning communities as well. Cikgu Yu Kok Hui was one of such teachers. He began his journey as one of our Advocates, and went on to form the digital learning community, pendidikMY.
Today, we still seek to empower educators to be capable of self-perpetuating growth and progress in education. This is the vision behind The HEART course - our newly launched online course designed to help educators create their own spaces of conversation and discussion. The hope is that through this course, and indeed any initiative we run in the future, we can continue to spark a movement of transformation and innovation from the grassroots.
Back to the Burj Khalifa. Even in its awe-inspiring glory, it is but a single structure. Its 12,000-person workforce is but a mere fraction of the 400,000 or more educators in our country. We all have a role to play in making education joyful and meaningful for those who are involved.
In the last 10 years, our team at FrogAsia have enjoyed every part of this journey with each other and everyone we’ve worked with. The dream of a better future for the next generation is something that can only be achieved when the best of our ideas and energies come together. We spur each other onwards to greater heights. Having spent 10 years alongside an amazing community, we look forward to another 10 years and more of this partnership with all of you.