Everybody has been urging for changes to be made to education in Malaysia for the longest time. Reimagining and revitalising education are among the catch phrases when it comes to mooting 21st century education. But in reality, it is not easy to imagine, let alone change, unless circumstances force us to.
The new normal for education requires us to unlearn what we have always known: rows of desks, heavy bags, mass lectures, public exams, and (broken) parent-teacher communication. Unlearn those, and we can establish the new normal of education.
While everyone seems to directly correlate online learning with the new normal, it is not the whole story. Online learning is essential as an enabler of learning so that the whole business of education will not stall, but there are more facets to pay attention to in defining the new normal.
I look at four aspects to ease the transition to the new normal.
1) Shift of learning space – from public space to personal space
Along with that comes a shift in our social interactions, from physical to virtual. We still interact with the learning community we are in. We still exchange conversations with classmates, teachers and lecturers. We are not cut off from the learning community, we have merely shifted our communication channels.
2) Shift of delivery (ie, teaching) methods – from one size fits all to individualised and differentiated learning
In a typical class, all students will be taught the same – they listen to the same lecture, do the same activities in class, and complete the same homework assignments. At the end of the semester, all students will sit for the same exam and will be evaluated based on the same rubric.
Individualised and differentiated means teaching each student uniquely to meet unique needs and paces. The academic goals may remain the same for a group of students but individual students can progress through the curriculum at different speeds and use different resources based on their own particular learning needs.
Some students might learn better through watching videos while some need to read a textbook. Each student is unique in his or her way of learning, especially now when learning takes place in personal spaces.
Accessibility varies from household to household, and distributing learning resources can be challenging for educators. Therefore, educators now can design lessons according to the individual needs of students and give them the flexibility to master the materials accordingly.
3) Shift of responsibility in the teaching and learning process – active participation of household members
Now that learning takes place in personal spaces, most likely in students’ homes, family members become active agents in the teaching and learning process. The entire household can act as learning facilitators, providing guidance and assistance to make the learning process pleasant for students.
Although teachers can always deliver lessons and learning materials online, learning needs interaction with the physical world. When it comes to the need for references to the outside world and physical interactions, household members need to play a role – showing real life examples, giving demonstrations, or even having simple conversations. Household members need not be professors or a “Guru Cemerlang” (star teacher), they simply need to be present to facilitate the process.
Support from household members gives students conviction that learning is an activity that is absolutely imperative.
4) Shift in learning evaluations – from final exams to formative assessments
Malaysians often contradict ourselves when it comes to exams. We remonstrated when classroom-based assessments were introduced yet we constantly criticise the country’s exam-centric education system. The new normal does not lend itself to methods of evaluation like final exams, as exams are laborious to manage in personal spaces.
Therefore, alternative means of evaluating learning have to used to monitor student achievement. Formative assessments like science project demonstrations, math challenge games, and traditional book reports are now more desirable means of gauging a student’s learning progress.
The purpose of evaluation activities now shifts focus from assessment of learning, ie grading, to assessment for learning, ie we use the results to know whether the intended learning outcomes have been achieved by the students or whether they need extra work to help them master a certain topic.
These four aspects, alongside technology enhancements, must be considered when the new normal for education emerges in the coming months. Technology is a crucial enabler and it is the best choice that we have under the circumstances.
The criticism about online learning not addressing equal access and also quality education is unfounded. Online learning is here to stay, as it enables learning and is already benefiting approximately six million students in schools and higher learning institutions during the movement control order period.
While Malaysians continue to guess how the Education and Higher Education ministries will take on education’s new normal, we must always fall back on the fundamental purpose of education. When a person is educated, he or she becomes a better person. Based on our National Education Philosophy, or “Falsafah Pendidikan Kebangsaan”, our aim is to produce intellectually, physically, emotionally and spiritually balanced and harmonious individuals who will then contribute to the harmony and betterment of the family, society and the nation at large. Fall back on this philosophy and everything will fall into place.
ROSEMALIZA MOHD KAMALLUDEEN
Assistant Professor, Instructional Technology
International Islamic University Malaysia