Students: It’s the learning environment, too

Gousalyaa: ‘Physical lessons are conducive to the personal and social development of students.’

PETALING JAYA: While many students prefer a blend of remote and physical lessons, they are also wary of the drawbacks of online learning.

Undergraduate S. Gousalyaa, 22, said remote learning allowed most lectures to be recorded, making it convenient for reference.

“Physical lessons are, however, conducive to the personal and social development of students,” she said.

Political science student Umi Nadirah Ramli, 23, prefers face-to-face interactions with lecturers as this helps her understand lessons better.

“There is a smaller risk of technical mishaps (during lessons) such as Internet disruption, which can cause important points to be missed,” said Umi Nadirah, who underwent fully remote learning from 2020 until 2022.

She, however, acknowledged that remote learning allowed her to better plan her schedule and develop a better grasp of the technical tools involved.

Computer science student Lim Jian Yew, 23, was happy with remote lessons.

“I really enjoyed it. But a good amount of discipline is needed to pay full attention during lectures,” said Lim who studied remotely in 2021.

A postgraduate student, who wanted to be known only as Noora, said remote learning allowed her to concurrently take up a full-time job.

“I can also save on rent while continuing to have an income.

“My only concern is for students who do not have access to a proper Internet connection,” said Noora, 27.

Marketing student Gabrielle Ow, 22, said remote lectures could not replace the experience of physical ones.

“Group assignments are harder to complete as we are unsure if fellow members understand what needs to be done,” she said.

Ow said that some lecturers, who were engaging in class, also found it hard to replicate the same energy during remote lessons, which made the learning experience less captivating.

It was reported last month that the Higher Education Ministry is finding ways to ease the burden of university students by hoping to introduce a flexible study arrangement which would allow them to study at home for two years and then complete the remainder of their course on campus.

Muhammad Rahmuni Shahmi Mohd Suffian, 24, said completing his degree virtually wasn’t the best experience compared with doing so physically.

“The social interactions and networks built during physical classes are priceless and integral to a student’s development. Lectures are also easily absorbed.

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“Remote learning should just be an option. For it to be a main medium, students must first be given proper Internet access and tools,” said the psychology graduate who studied virtually from 2020 to 2022.

Persatuan Mahasiswa Orang Asli (the Orang Asli Undergraduate Association) said the flexible study arrangement would be beneficial for students in urban areas but might not work for those in rural settings.“We encountered many cases during since Covid-19 pandemic where indigenous undergraduates faced difficulties in attending online lessons due to bad Internet coverage at their villages and also having to share digital devices with their other siblings,” it said.

Nonetheless, it added that the hybrid model had its benefits.

“It could work for those who are already working full time and want to pursue their studies part-time, as they are not required to travel to and from, just to pursue their studies,” it said.

Demokrat Universiti Malaya said the proposal was good but students should be allowed to choose.

The student union said remote learning for the first two years of a course would help those from the B40 group save on living costs.

“But will remote learning eventually lessen students’ burden? Only time will tell,” it added.

Malaysian Academic Movement (Gerak) felt that the flexible study arrangement proposal might not be feasible.

“Would this mean that students will be supported by the Higher Education Ministry or universities with the paraphernalia needed for distance education?” the group said.

It also said that universities were already being flexible in reverting to physical lessons whenever possible.

In many cases, institutions have combined physical lessons and online teaching to ensure that students have campus experience, it added.

“Culturally, we need to look at the wider notions of education – personal growth, racial integration and multicultural understanding for future generations.”

“All this would take many steps back if higher education is so narrowly conceived as just studying – in isolation? – for a qualification and not for growth and community building.”

Gerak said it is hard to weigh in on the implications until basic infrastructure is provided for all students so that no one will be left behind.

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