FEWER students per classroom, cancellation of major exams, and learning whenever and from wherever you are via the Internet.
These are the aspirations of many educators and parents who believe that the local education system has become too rigid over the years.
Now, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the teaching and learning process has been forced to change for the sake of everyone’s safety.
Across the board, from schools to universities, online learning became the norm over the past 80-odd days.
Moving lessons online has been beneficial for students who could now learn to become independent learners, said Education Ministry Curriculum Development Division deputy director (technology) Sofian Azmi Tajul Arus.
This new mode of learning, he pointed out, will see students becoming more proactive as teachers take on a facilitative role.
“This is the time for students to be given the opportunity to explore knowledge, ” he said during the Covid-19 Devastating Impact: Digital Divide & Uncertainty of What’s Next for Schools and STEM Challenges & CSR Opportunities webinar.
Organised by MITStem International School, the webinar was held on May 15.
Sofian Azmi said digital learning with remote access allows students to learn anytime, anywhere.
“This has been talked about for many years but it’s time this materialises and becomes a reality.
“It’s not just about putting technology in place but utilising it for learning, ” he said adding that students nowadays adapt to using technology in the learning process effortlessly as many are digital natives.
Personalised learning can take place easily with classes having fewer students to maintain social distancing, he said.
Among the new standard operating procedures (SOPs) for schools is having no more than 20 students in a classroom, making it easier for teachers to cater to each student’s different learning styles.
“Teachers are already aware of differentiated learning but the high number of students in classrooms is more than a teacher can accommodate, ” he said.
During his session, Sofian Azmi also spoke about the Education Ministry’s aspirations for the teaching and learning process post-Covid-19.
Among them are for students to undertake more project-based learning.
He explained that this would involve students integrating all the subjects they normally learn individually into a meaningful project.
Project-based learning can benefit students when they take on more hands-on learning, he added.
“Hands-on learning will involve field experience such as internships, mentoring projects and collaborative projects.
“Learning should not just take place in schools. We don’t learn everything in schools. We learn when we face the world.
“Even during this pandemic, students are learning from home, ” he said, adding that a mindset shift is needed for society to accept that learning does not only take place within the classroom walls.
Post conditional movement control order (CMCO), the new schooling system will see students being given the choice to determine what they want to learn, he said.
“Each student is a different individual with their own likes, inclinations and traits.
“We need to give them the choice to explore their learning potential, ” he added.
The future will see students being assessed differently, leaving behind conventional platforms that have become irrelevant or inadequate to cater to current needs.
With the advent of more intelligent and efficient technology, exams do not have to be the sole means for student assessment, he said.
“Part of their assessments can be done with technological tools.
“We should not look at assessment from just the academic viewpoint. Instead, assessments should be considered holistically to include aspects such as cognitive abilities and psychomotor skills.”
These same skills are assessed in the Primary School Assessment Reports (PPSR) comprising the Ujian Pencapaian Sekokah Rendah (UPSR) and documents holistically assessing pupils on Classroom, Psychometric, Physical Activities, Sports and Co-curricular activities.
Sofian Azmi said projects like the 1Malaysia Netbook Initiative should be revived.
This, he said, is so that students can have access to technology because devices purchased under the project a decade ago has been phased out.
Underprivileged students should be given the opportunity to access education especially during times like these.
“A survey conducted by the Education Ministry found that 36.93% (329,918) of students do not have any devices.
“This number is alarming because we want to deliver education in an alternative way during the pandemic, yet we know that nearly 40% of our students will not have access to online learning.”
Fortunately, the corporate sector has stepped up to assist.
Throughout the MCO and CMCO, the YTL Foundation has been providing free mobile phones to B40 families with children in public schools who do not have smartphones or other smart devices under their Learn from Home Initiative (https://ytlfoundation.org/learnfromhome/).
This is in addition to the free YES 4G SIM cards with 40GB of data and free learning resources for public school students that were offered from March 18.
The initiative is also available for Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman, Universiti Pahang Malaysia, New Era University College and Malaysian Institute of Art students who qualify.
The pandemic has been the catalyst to speed up change in the education system but Sofian Azmi is confident that Malaysia can embrace digital learning effectively as the technology is already available here.
“We can’t look back. We have to focus on the silver lining in these hard times and look into what can be done to improve the delivery of education in Malaysia.”
Education Ministry National STEM Centre head Dr Ihsan Ismail also believes this pandemic is the perfect time for us to change the widespread mindset of studying for examination purposes only.
“We need to prepare our students to excel in life and not just in exams, ” he said during his session on Malaysia’s current education situation and challenges and importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects.
He said now that the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) and Form Three assessment (PT3) examinations have been cancelled for 2020, the time is right for teachers and students to focus on building 21st century skills. Creativity and critical thinking, collaborative, and communicative skills are important for producing an agile and adaptable future workforce, he added.
To teach these skills, the ministry has a learning framework that includes experiential, innovative, inquiry-based and hands-on learning and the teaching of concepts rather than procedures.
Under the current CMCO conditions, experiential learning can still take place inside the house, he said.
Traditionally done outdoors or in the field, this form of learning can actually take place anywhere.
“The main purpose is that the student experiences something and learns from it.”
He said the National STEM Centre has conducted 17 online workshops called “It’s Fun Exploring Knowledge At Home” (Syoknya Teroka Ilmu Di Rumah) during this period.
These interesting workshops include teaching students how to make steamed buns (bao) and even a solar oven!
By immersing themselves in the experience, Ihsan said students also learn about the subject.
Inquiry-based learning and the teaching of concepts instead of procedures, enable students to truly understand what they are learning, he added.
“It is not about simply memorising content and information.
“We should engage our students and encourage them to want to learn and explore the concepts they have been taught, ” he said.
Despite all the ministry’s efforts to change the examination mindset, Ihsan admits that it has been tough.
“We have the opportunity to change. If we, the Education Ministry, and all stakeholders work together, change can happen, ” said Sofian Azmi.
What stakeholders say
“Classes may be smaller but teachers will still face challenges like indiscipline, slow and hyperactive learners, and limited time. But our immediate challenge is implementing the no-mingling and no-sharing rule.” – National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) secretary-general Harry Tan
“Programmes to provide underprivileged students with a mobile device and Internet access are good but these need to be implemented properly. Parent-Teacher Associations can play a part in ensuring this. Others can use devices provided to students when the former leave school. In the past, everyone was focused on learning just to ace exams. Cancelling UPSR and PT3 can result in students becoming more knowledgeable because they are not just looking to score in the exams but to learn. This is a huge plus point for the new normal which may be a blessing in disguise.” – Educationist and former NUTP secretary-general Datuk N. Siva Subramaniam
“There must be a more transparent and stronger assessment system to gauge if students actually achieve their targets now that two major examinations have been temporarily removed. Can we trust the schools now? How can we, as parents, monitor them? Individualised learning can result from the smaller classes but I’m doubtful it will happen unless there is adequate manpower and classrooms.” – Melaka Action Group for Parents in Education chairman Mak Chee Kin
“Teachers must undergo professional development before getting on to producing well-rounded students in the new normal. Teachers are expected to meet the demands of IR4.0 but they are still in the IR2.0 mode. We have to enhance the capacity and capabilities of our teaching resources in terms of mentorship and guidance. Whether the new normal will lead to teachers focusing on individualised learning will depend on how much initiative they have. The challenge is how to ensure teaching is conducted equitably to all students remotely or otherwise.” – Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim
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