Expert: Address learning loss now

KUALA LUMPUR: Farah Alina P. Ramli is relieved schools have reopened and her son, Qawiem Fuadi Shahrul Hazli, can return to face-to-face teaching and learning sessions.

The eight-year-old boy, who is a pupil of SK (Felda) Serting in Bandar Seri Jempol, Negri Sembilan, has spent over 200 days since March 2020 trying to master the three Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic) via home-based teaching and learning (PdPR) sessions, but made little progress.

Qawiem Fuadi, who will enter Year Three when the new academic year begins in March this year, cannot read and spell simple two- or three-syllable words.

His predicament is shared by hundreds of other pupils nationwide who experienced learning loss due to the closure of schools following the enforcement of movement controls to stem the transmission of Covid-19.

Learning loss refers to any specific or general loss of knowledge and skills or a reversal in academic progress due to disruptions in formal schooling.

Farah Alina, 36, who works in a private company, told Bernama that PdPR has been very challenging for her and her son as it demanded a high level of commitment.

“It’s not that I didn’t try to help my son (with his PdPR sessions) but I’ve my own career and another two children to take care of, including my youngest who is still nursing,” she said, adding that she is relieved schools reopened this week for the third term of the 2021/2022 school year.

“I’m worried about Qawiem being left behind in his studies as he still can’t read and we can’t afford to hire a tutor for him.”

Education experts, meanwhile, said the issue of children not being able to read or write or master the three Rs due to the disruption in their schooling is a critical matter that needs to be addressed immediately by the Education Ministry.

This is because children who are most impacted by learning loss are those who enrolled in school as Year One pupils in 2020 when the pandemic emerged. They will enter Year Three this March.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) Centre for Research on Educational Leadership and Policy chairman Assoc Prof Dr Azlin Norhaini Mansor said the failure to master the three basic learning tools will affect these pupils’ learning processes at the higher level resulting in them lagging behind if no preventive measures are implemented.

She said studies conducted overseas have shown that even an eight-week school shutdown can cause learning loss that can affect students’ comprehension skills.

In Malaysia, schools remained shut for over 200 days in 2020 and 2021. There are about 198 school days each year.

“So, imagine the effects of this disrupted learning over the last two years – what will the quality of our human capital be in the next 10 to 15 years to come?” asked Prof Azlin Norhaini.

She said by Unesco estimates, 50% of children worldwide did not attend school during the pandemic.

“We don’t have clear data on the situation in Malaysia but I think the same thing must have happened here. As for students who participated in PdPR, the exact percentage of those who actually benefited from the sessions can be worrying as well,” she said.

Prof Azlin Norhaini said what concerns her most is that the effects of learning loss among primary schoolchildren nationwide will only be evident much later when they sit for their SPM examination.

“This is because UPSR (for Year Six pupils and PT3 (Form Three) have been abolished. As such, there is no public examination for them until they turn 17 and sit for the SPM and later join the job market,” she said.

As of now, only Johor has provided data on the impact of the Covid-19-induced school shutdown on children, with a recent media report stating that about 20% of 131,281 Level One (Year One to Three) pupils are facing difficulty in mastering the three Rs.

UKM Centre for Research on Community Education and Well-being lecturer Dr Anuar Ahmad contended that the Education Ministry’s move to extend the current school year to February 2022 can do little to improve their command of the three Rs.

He said this was because most classrooms have over 40 pupils each, which make it difficult for teachers to give their attention to individual children.

Having recognised that the closure of schools during the pandemic has resulted in learning loss and gaps, especially among pupils and students from the B40 group, the Ministry implemented various measures to address these issues, among them being PerkasaKU, a curriculum empowerment programme.

This programme, which started on Sept 1, 2021, and will go on until Feb 28, 2022, involves pupils and students from Year One to Form Five.

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