Malaysiakini Letter

Consider R for schools' computer classes

YS Wong  |  Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | Dear Minister of Communications and Multimedia Gobind Singh Deo,

On a few occasions, you have mentioned the teaching of computer programming and coding in Malaysian public schools. This is a good and positive development for our public education system, hence my open letter to you.

In implementing any form of an educational programme, the cost is always the first barrier we must break down and cross. Many computer programmes which claim to be free are not really free. Some are nothing more than trial packages with a trial period. Others have hidden costs added to them as you build on a programme by adding more components to it.

Secondly, we must ensure that any programming languages taught must be relevant and applicable in the real world when these students graduate and obtain employment to become working professionals.

There are many programming languages out there in the IT world and we must determine which is suitable for our requirements. Likewise, it would also be a waste of precious time and money to learn a programme that will be obsolete in the near future.

Thirdly, we must consider the availability of teachers and trainers for any particular programming language. This could very well mean the re-training of the current existing pool of teachers across the country.

Most computer languages are written for the English speaking IT world. Therefore, we must factor this into our “train the teachers” training programme.

Thus, these are some of the factors that we must understand and overcome before we can kick off any computer programming curriculum for our public schools.

However, all is not lost. the IT world has given us a number of open source computer programming languages which could address our public education requirements.

And one of them is the R programming language, which is offered pro bono to the public worldwide under a free software license. This is the programming language I would like to introduce to you and your ministry, and recommend for our public school education system.

To begin with, the R programming language was initiated by two academicians, Ross Ihaka and Robert Gentleman, at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, as a statistical and graphical software to enhance data analysis for medical research at the university. It is available freely for Windows, MacOS and Linux.

Today, the R programming language is one of the most popular programming languages in the world. It is now taught in many institutions of higher learning. It is also offered on many massive open online course (MOOC) platforms, including Coursera and edX.

In addition, the R programming language is increasingly deployed worldwide, as a tool in total quality management programs, in financial engineering and risk management, and in data science, sometimes in tandem with Microsoft Excel and Power BI.

And back here in Malaysia, there are already professionals at MDEC, working to promote the usage of the R programming language, along with MMU at Cyberjaya. So the R programming language is not entirely new or foreign in Malaysia.

As an independent IT professional myself, I think it just needs your leadership and the ministry to provide it with the impetus to gain momentum and traction in this country.


The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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