Delivering Education Through Business and Technology

October 18, 2018

by Lini S. Kabada

For Norrizan Razali, GR’92, a modest upbring­ing in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur underscored the im­portance of education, especially English fluency, in opening doors to eco­nomic prosperity. Her path to leadership in business and technology at Microsoft and Apple began with curiosity about English language acquisition in her native city.

Norrizan Razali, GR’92

Razali had learned English at school in Kuala Lumpur and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education in the United States. When she returned home in 1986, she became intrigued by pockets of the city where communities lacked English proficiency despite being surrounded by English speakers.

“That, to me, was an interesting paradox,” she says. Subsequently pursuing a Ph.D. at Penn GSE, Razali sought to understand “how a community picks up learning.” She took the opportunity to work across schools and disciplines at Penn, connecting with pioneering cultural anthropologist Ward Goodenough.

In her study of a poor urban community in Kuala Lumpur, Razali used a model developed by Goodenough, applying anthropologi­cal techniques to observe English language acquisition. “I became one of the first Ph.D. students to take that approach to language in Malaysia,” she says.

Razali’s research confirmed that English skills were frowned upon in these communities due to cultural factors. At the same time, she noticed that the children recited English lyrics to pop songs, though they didn’t know the meaning of the words. She rec­ommended capitalizing on this trend through a learning approach that used songs to teach English.

That project sparked her career in delivering education to communities, often through the use of technology. Throughout, she says, her Penn GSE education has given her credibility. “I’m recognized as an educationist. Because of my Penn degree, I have a passport for that,” she says.

“It’s always about enabling people to deliver education better.”

As a senior analyst for the Institute of Strategic and International Studies in Malaysia, she worked on World Bank projects, including nationwide technical and vocational education in collaboration with the Ministry of Education. She later joined a government project that introduced technologically advanced “smart” schools through eighty-eight pilot schools. “You need to know how to engage teachers to use and optimize technology,” she says of such work.

Since 2013, Razali has focused on educational development through sales, first as education director for Microsoft Malaysia and most recently as business development manager for Apple Malaysia.

At Microsoft, she managed an educational sales team whose big­gest client was the Malaysian Ministry of Education. At Apple, she developed sales strategies to increase adoption of a one student-one device program in public school classrooms, providing guidance to school leaders and helping teachers integrate digital technology into their pedagogy.

Now embarking on a new chapter, she is planning her own business venture that will build upon her expertise in educational leadership and technology integration.

“It’s always about enabling people to deliver education better,” she says.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of The Penn GSE Magazine.