Make remote learning a norm

New norm: Digital learning will continue to be a crucial part of post-MCO education, experts say. – File photo

COVID-19 has brought the world to a standstill but it has also helped pinpoint weaknesses in the education sector and presented opportunities for new norms and changes to kick in.

But, sufficient government funding is a pre-requisite for any sort of meaningful reform, Universiti Malaya (UM) Faculty of Education dean Prof Dr Rohaida Mohd Saat said, adding that effective management of the Education Ministry’s RM64.1bil budget for Year 2020 is imperative for the education system to move forward.

The government can also consider creative means of financing such as cross-subsidisation, crowdsourcing or CSR models, said Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) acting deputy vice-chancellor (academic and international) Prof Datuk Dr Ahmad Farhan Mohd Sadullah.

A post-MCO budget, said Malaysian Economic Association deputy president and Sunway University Jeffrey Sachs Centre on Sustainable Development senior fellow Prof Dr Yeah Kim Leng, could be better managed if a spending review is conducted.

“Reprioritisation is needed to address the pandemic’s impact on schools. Reviewing the budget offers an opportunity to strengthen the education system’s resilience.

“The first step is to ensure that the necessary funds are available to support the implementation of remote teaching, learning and monitoring in all schools, in case another crisis occurs.

“Rural and ill-equipped schools should be given greater attention to address unequal availability and access to digital resources and remote learning. It is important that both students and teachers are equipped with the necessary tools.”

Noting that a post-MCO budget should prioritise the development and use of digital resources and capabilities to improve educational outcomes, he said it is advisable to increase resources to create sharing platforms for teaching and learning resources among public and private institutions.

Pointing out that the ministry’s total operating and development budget was raised by 6.4% to RM64.1bil in 2020 from RM60.2bil in the previous year, Prof Yeah, who is also an external member of Bank Negara’s monetary policy committee (MPC), said the adverse impact on the education sector could be mitigated by reallocating, reprioritising or postponing spending on the various activities and programme should a budget cut materialise.

“Allocations for services and supplies, assets and grants can be redirected towards activities and programmes that maintain health and safety of students, maximise student learning, support teachers and staff, and sustain operational effectiveness.”

He added that schools, education districts and state education departments should also conduct their own budget reviews to identify changes in needs and spending priorities in the post-MCO environment.

“Pooling and sharing of teaching and learning resources as well as holding joint programmes and activities could be explored to lower cost and maximise utilisation of resources.

“Engaging the community in funding extra-curricular activities that benefit students by exposing them to the larger societal issues and challenges can also be done, ” said Prof Yeah.

Pointing out that the ministry has implemented outcome-based budgeting as evidenced by the summary of achievements of the targeted outcomes accompanying its annual budget, he said further scrutiny of the reported progress and achievements together with the adoption of external yardsticks and third party independent assessment by educational experts would be helpful to identify weaknesses in implementation and improve the budgeting process.

New norms

Besides making improvements on Internet accessibility and ICT facilities, Prof Ahmad Farhan said the current exam-centric, fast-paced education system needs to change. This has become painfully evident during the MCO.

The current system’s definition of success is narrow and based mainly on grades rather than outcome attainment as well as competency and character building.

“The same instructional approaches have remained for years. It was very difficult to change the educators’ mindset and the way they teach, despite learners having already adapted to new ways of learning.

“Educators want to stay in their ‘comfort zone’ as they want learning outcomes to be met. They are often unwilling to experiment with new approaches fearing that the learning process will breakdown, ” he said.

Sharing his sentiment, Prof Rohaida said educators of our ‘traditional system’, especially at school level, do not know how to proceed with classes when a shift to e-learning became necessary.

Teachers’ attitude towards technology – which is linked with their readiness to use new teaching methods – must change.

“Teachers need technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK) to enable them to use the right tools and deliver lessons based on the nature of the subject.

“Training is already in place at varsities and at teacher training institutes (IPG). In-service teachers too have been given training to upgrade their competencies in technology-based instructions. But the question is have teachers been integrating technology in their classrooms?”

Sarawak Teachers’ Union (STU) vice-president Adam Prakash Abdullah hopes that an education system free of the “conventional pen and paper test” will become reality after the pandemic.

“Rescheduling the school academic calendar and public exams as an immediate measure is reasonable but this action plan must be reviewed for the coming school session.

“Public exams will have to be thought through and appropriate alternate assessment has to be the new norm in schools and institutions of higher learning. The conventional written test has to go and assessments must be revamped.”

Parental support

The community must be empowered and parents and teachers must rally together to build a strong support system amid this crisis, said Prof Ahmad Farhan.

“Parents play a role in educating children when they are at home. This includes providing a conducive environment for learning and keeping distractions at bay. Parents must get their priorities right and they must be committed, ” he said, adding that teachers and schools need strategies to ensure that learning outcomes are achieved.

“Educators must give personal attention to each student if effective learning is to happen.”

Prof Rohaida said some parents have the perception that learning will take place by simply making the child sit in front of a computer.

“Children need support when using online platforms. But parents and guardians too need pedagogical competencies in assisting their children with online lessons.”

She, however, is optimistic that things will fall into place eventually.

Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) Malaysia chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said schools must maintain clear and constant communication with parents. A guide for parents who have to multitask between remote work, household responsibilities and helping their children with school work, is needed.

Parents and guardians can also build their own support system via chat and social media groups to exchange ideas and experiences.

“We need a video library with content developed according to the national syllabus and curriculum, and accessible via digital devices.

“Rethink the scheduling of classes in line with remote learning. Physical attendance is only for teachers and students to touch base, ” said Noor Azimah.

This method of learning however largely depends on students’ motivation, she added.

“Motivation must come from students themselves. Unfortunately, it will inadvertently filter those who want to learn and those who are less interested, ” she said.

Melaka Action Group for Parents in Education chairman Mak Chee Kin said everyone must come together to improve the learning process.

Acknowledging that it is easier said than done, he said not many parents and teachers are in regular contact.

“Most parents only meet the teacher on Report Card Day or when the child has an issue in school. Many do not even bother with Parent Teachers Association (PTA) meetings.

“Perhaps it is time to take a cue from private schools and enhance the parent-teacher engagement sessions, ” he said, suggesting that classrooms be made smaller to make it easier for teachers to get to know and engage with the students and parents.

National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) secretary-general Harry Tan said the union is in the midst of conducting research into pedagogy for social distancing.

“We are aware that students from remote areas are losing out due to lack of infrastructure.

“Ensuring connectivity to the whole country is a major reform which needs careful planning and deep pockets.

“At the moment, the ministry has been trying to reach out to students through educational TV programmes that are in line with the syllabus, ” he said, adding that teachers need to be retrained to conduct distance or online teaching.

“Once the teachers have the skills, they will do whatever is necessary to ensure their students learn.

“Teachers are resourceful and do their best despite the many constraints, ” said Tan.

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