Solidarity in learning

EDUCATION and continued learning were a critical focus during the height of the movement control order (MCO). While attention has been given to unemployment, business continuity and the role of technology throughout the pandemic, the function and features of education, both presently and for the future, has called on more than just academics to review education’s long-term goals.

Amid health and safety concerns, April this year saw more than 1.53 billion learners out of school with 184 countries forced to close their institutions of learning at every level. This, according to Unesco, impacted 87.6% of the world’s total enrolled learners.

As governments, including Malaysia’s, are making the defining and difficult decision of re-opening schools and learning institutions and enabling children and youth to resume life as they have once known, it’s important that this renewed attention to learning and development does not fizzle out.

Covid-19 also showed us that learning was a key to solidarity for individuals from all walks of life amid the crisis. A recent report by ON24, a global provider for data-rich webinars and content experiences, indicated a 330% jump in webinars hosted in the first half of 2020, with double the number of participants, year over year. The same report found that 55% of respondents had plans to increase the number of webinars produced in 2020.

The accessibility and ease of creating and attending webinars and virtual forums offered a buffer for learning and collaborative activities. Location-flexible, cost-effective and the safest means of keeping people connected in the new world of social distancing, webinars served an important role in continued adult learning and self-development throughout the crisis – and are undoubtedly here to stay.

In similar vein, the formal education of young individuals should not be compromised, even if there is a heightened wait-and-see approach in light of economic uncertainty. While long-term progression and securing future opportunities is an important reason for students to resume their studies, the real significance of education lies in the mental, social and emotional development of learners.

In almost every learning context, students gain more than just knowledge. There are elements of collaboration, leadership, critical thought process, emotional development and increased self and societal awareness.

Institutions of learning have and continue to serve as spaces for discovery, creativity and innovation and within the present global crisis, offer a safety net for students to continue building their capabilities and perspectives with hopes for a better future.

Most importantly, students are able to do so as a collective – a necessity from both industry and socio-economic standpoints, if we are to rebuild from this crisis.

Having students return to classrooms and campuses is the next catalyst for education reform, as institutions must now honestly and holistically review learning outcomes and experiences, while ensuring that safeguards and standard operating procedure (SOP) are properly adhered to. In this aftermath of global lockdowns – and the lingering risk of what may happen next – it is timely to review education as an entire ecosystem.

Leveraging better devices and technology to answer the need for remote learning is already a part of ongoing conversations; universal Internet access and stability to ensure no student is left behind, is another.

Beyond that, it is time to re-look the training of our educators and how well they are supported to face, if necessary, another period of crisis. Aligning with the expectations of other professionals in the new normal, how prepared are educators to work with agility, resourcefulness and for the good of wider communities? How do we create specialists who are also capable of viewing education with a multidisciplinary lens – one that responds to the multi-focal needs of a crisis impacted IR4.0 workplace?

Additionally, it is also a time to revisit the regulations required by policymakers, especially in the administration of education institutions. One of the realities brought to light during the global crisis is how institutions are being governed on outdated processes and compliance structures that make up a significant part for accreditation and approvals, according to Times Higher Education. These structures, while created in good faith for fair and standardised governance, may – moving forward – hinder the development of education, especially the future of learning, employment and jobs.

Despite the challenging months ahead, Malaysia has done well to reduce disruption to education. Efforts such as “Delima” and “Komuniti Guru Digital Learning bersama KPM” are steps in the right direction on how education should evolve. As classroom doors begin to reopen both locally and globally, the partnerships between education providers, policymakers and industry must be strengthened. Additional steps must be taken to review the effectiveness of how we deliver education to present and future generations of learners.

Now is the time to ask how we will reinvent education so that as we rebuild in the wake of Covid-19, we are able to expand the role and importance of education in the growth of humanity, collective solidarity, and united response to global crises.

Tan Lin Nah is the chief executive officer of INTI International University & Colleges. A Fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants with over 20 years of experience, Tan is passionate about reinventing education for IR4.0. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.

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