YSEALI Academy Fellow Feature: Lai Cheng Wong
December 19, 2021

YSEALI Academy Fellow Feature: Lai Cheng Wong

December 19, 2021

Lai Cheng Wong was a Fellow of the Technology and Innovation seminar, held virtually by the YSEALI Academy at Fulbright in September 2021. As a manager at SEAMEO RECSAM (Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization – Regional Centre for Education in Science and Mathematics) with over 12-year pursuit in education, she brought to the seminar a passion to transform the future workforce from digital users to producers for a safe, beneficial and respectful digital environment.

Lai Cheng Wong was born in Penang, Malaysia, and was influenced by her parents’ hard work and faith in education. “My parents once said education is a gift of a lifetime for every child. My effort to pursue higher education is the gift that I give back to my parents,” Wong shares. She obtained her master’s degree in Corporate Social Responsibility from Universiti Sains Malaysia. However, she has to delay her Ph.D. because currently, she is wearing too many hats –  a wife, a mother, a guest lecturer, a manager at SEAMEO RECSAM, and a co-founder of Media Information Literacy for ASEAN Network (MIL for ASEAN Network).  

Her career in education started in 2007 at a renowned private university college in Malaysia where she served as a Communications executive and later, a guest lecturer. Yet it was not until she joined the YSEALI Professional Fellowship in 2015 in the United States that she felt empowered to be a part of a solution to solve her community’s issues related to education. Thanks to the experiences and connections from that fellowship, she established the MIL for ASEAN Network with the funding support from the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur and Penang Institute aiming to raise media and information literacy skills and counter media misinformation & disinformation and cyber safety issues in classrooms.  Various initiatives have been run to boost teachers’ confidence in dealing with the fast-evolving media so that our future generation can participate meaningfully in the growing digital society and economy. 

Wong joined the YSEALI Professional Fellowship Program in the U.S, Fall 2015

“Scams are becoming more sophisticated and many people fall victim to them. A friend of mine was a victim of an online scam receiving fake messages via a social media platform from a person who claimed to be an official agent from a famous airline loyalty programme. He lost an amount of money. But the critical point here is why a young tech-savvy person can easily fall for a wrong call. Our resources are focusing on changing technology but not investing enough in the online safety of our next generation. To keep ourselves safe from cybercrime and knowing how criminals are using information obtained, we need to teach our future generations about what they’re sharing online and what good cyber hygiene looks like – that is why digital citizenship and media & information literacy in schools is vital, so they can keep themselves, and their identities safe,” Wong sharesThis story motivated her to participate in the Technology and Information seminar, to discuss not only the advantages but also the challenges we may confront in the era of digital transformation. 

Promoting teachers as the agents of change

The pandemic has deeply changed the world’s ecosystem and interactions, and education is not an exception to this trend. Being an educator, Wong realized how crucial it is to create well-informed and safe virtual classrooms for students. She believes that teachers are the agents of change who have transformed classrooms through technology, nurture students’ capabilities to adopt new technology, expose them to differentiate falsehoods from facts, and give them a safe space in the fast-moving digital ecosystem.

Everything was overwhelming at the beginning,” Wong reflects about her first time participating in a technology-focused seminar with the latest in-depth knowledge about Big Data, the Internet of Things, Machine Learning, and Data Science. As the seminar progressed, she found the topics getting closer to her current works and personal advocacy, especially the lecture: Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence of Things for Smarter Communities shared by Johan Barthelemy, University of Wollongong Australia. It helped her realize the importance of promoting citizen acceptability and their involvement in the projects designed for their communities. 

The Media and Information Literacy workshop for teachers across the Malaysia and Philippines, a funded alumni project from Techcamp Malaysia, March 2021

Having worked with a diverse network of teachers in the ASEAN region, she has faced the challenge of how to design her training contents relevant to their local context and suitable to their capabilities. “Most of them are not ready for the digital transformation and lack of knowledge and experience regarding cyberspace and the importance of digital citizenship in order to promote responsible online behavior,” Wong says. Her ultimate goal is to raise teachers’ awareness and understanding of media literacy and digital citizenship, thus the teachers can become the agents of change in their communities to better protect their students against cyber-risks and be ready for the future of digitalization. 

A memorable interdisciplinary collaboration – “YSEALI Academy and Fulbright are right!”

I had known interdisciplinary approaches before but when I was put in the team with [people from] different backgrounds, I was surprised since I expected to be paired with a team that shares common interest in education,”  Wong shares. However, in the midst of doubts, she remembered a powerful quote in the leadership workshop within this seminar: “When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower” and decided to approach the problem differently – fixing the way they collaborated to optimize one another’s potentials. 

Since each of her teammates has an individual interest varied from finance, business, data science to healthcare and hers being education, they had made a surprising decision on their topic: E-Wallet – an everyday life application, a contemporary cross-national innovation, and most importantly, the one and only area that they have shared-knowledge. 

From my side, instead of focusing on cyber safety in education, I shifted it to the safety concern of E-Wallet. It is also aligned with my principle to view ‘cyber safety’ as a life lesson which transcends the limitations of the schooling system,” Wong recalls. 

Her team won the Best Project Award at Technology and Innovation seminar, September 2021

According to the findings from her team’s research, 40% of respondents have been the victims of classical scam methods via SMS or email. Therefore, one of the recommendations given in their presentation was: Government and E-Wallet providers should offer digital security literacy workshops and campaigns to educate users and merchants about fraud attempts and scams and encourage trust and adoption of technology.

I’m thankful that YSEALI Academy at Fulbright University Vietnam put me in a team with a group of  people with different backgrounds and interests. They were right. A team with diverse interests and different cultural values offers a wide range of thought processes and perspectives. So don’t fear conflict, welcome it for its innovative power. There is a very powerful source for learning and innovation that comes into play when different people come together,”  Wong stresses.

Her team eventually won the Best Project Award and was encouraged by Dr. Le Vu Quan to further develop it on a bigger scale since only a limited amount of research about E-Wallet has been conducted in the regional context. The experience also changed her way of approaching her current and future projects: “Diverse mindsets being involved to solve challenges in education is what I aim for. I would love to understand new perspectives from the stakeholders in other fields.” 

A passion fired by trust and support

It has made me unstoppable since the day I joined the YSEALI Professional Fellowship. My commitment to my community grew even stronger during and after the Technology and Innovation Seminar. Not only did the seminar offer knowledge, but also the following opportunities,” Wong affirms. After the Seminar,  Wong will be running a webinar on Digital Citizenship  and Internet Safety for teachers across the SEAMEO region. The project requires her to work with Google APAC and DQ Institute in Singapore to define the challenges of online learning experiences in schools, cultivate digital citizens and construct safe and responsible learning environments.

Wong participated in President Obama’s Town Hall, YSEALI Summit 2015

Although the Technology and Innovation seminar lasted only two weeks and was held virtually, it established a strong bond among Fellows, which became a foundation for ongoing networking until today. “Being part of the YSEALI Academy’s Fellows community is so great because I became more confident to face and surpass all challenges I may encounter in the future. It was life-changing to meet all my mentors and lecturers who trained me to acquire knowledge in digital transformation. YSEALI Academy gave us so much courage and strength to pursue our dreams through the power of collaborations. By sharing information, resources and capabilities, we can achieve great things together that we could never achieve alone,” Wong shares.  

Wong and other Malaysian fellows at YSEALI-ICMA Professional Fellowship, Fall 2015

She hopes that YSEALI Academy and Fulbright University Vietnam will continue to provide more and better opportunities for Southeast Asian young leaders to be part of its programs and activities. Sharing of ideas and experiences among Fellows from different backgrounds, contexts, and countries, enhance the learning experiences and serve as great motivators to encourage visions of change in Southeast Asia. 

An Binh

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