On 16th June 2021, a football match was played out in Hungary between the home nation and Portugal with a maximum capacity crowd and with no mask requirement for the fans in the stadium. It is a sight to behold and for many of us, it seems like a utopia that a simple event of a football match in a full stadium could represent hope, dream and our future. As most countries return to a sense of normalcy with the emergence of vaccines and various containment measures, Malaysia is also looking forward to exiting the pandemic.
The announcement of a four-phased Exit Plan by the Prime Minister on 15th of June 2021 provides an indication that soon we may be able to enjoy all the glorious social escapades that we have taken for granted thus far, mainly hanging out with friends at a local “mamak” for a cup of “teh tarik”, weekends getaway to Cameron Highlands or Port Dickson, festive celebrations, family gatherings and many more. As we look forward to the exit, the experience that we have gone through in the past one and half years has definitely been profound and life-changing. It’s safe to say that even when we come out of this pandemic our life will never be the same again. Some of the changes have proven to be a blessing in disguise and we may end up appreciating and embracing them in the future. One of the most important elements that have been challenged is of course education. The changes that we have to adapt to overcome the challenges could end up being permanent in our system.
Education has been one of the most heavily impacted fields during this pandemic. Students and teachers were forced to get out of their comfort zone and adapt to the demands of dynamic learning. The recent stellar result of Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) is definite proof of the integration of online learning. For the past one and a half years, students have experienced online or PdPR (home-based learning) as well as offline learning or traditional face-to-face learning in school. Blended learning is not necessarily new in Malaysia.
The Ministry of Education started the 1BestariNet project back in 2006 and under its initiative Frog Virtual Learning Environment (Frog VLE) was introduced in 2013. It was supposed to be a web-based system that resembles a real-world education in a virtual environment, basically an online, interactive platform for teaching and learning. However, the comfort of being in school and having teachers in the class deflates the importance of online learning. It’s merely seen as a bonus or an extra and not really an important tool in the education system.
Students and teachers preferred the traditional method of learning as it is the most natural process that they have known since they were in kindergarten. Plus, there was no immediate need to have online learning as the normal teaching and learning could take place without a hitch. All of that changed due to Covid-19, online learning became a necessity rather than a privilege. Education must go on and did go on during the pandemic.
Teachers were able to finish the syllabus for the year and students were able to learn and complete homework and assessments online. Of course, it also meant that the old excuse of saying “I left my homework in the school bus” was not usable anymore but at the end of the day the learning mechanism did take place and we were able to ensure students were not left behind. Moving forward from this experience, an exit plan for the education system must acknowledge the significant progress of online learning and inculcate blended learning or even hybrid learning in our system. The progress that we have made in the past one and half years must not be left to waste. Teachers have created online materials and content which may even be better than the traditional face-to-face content as it is flexible and students can replay the content as much as they need to understand.
It is also interactive and suits the students’ need for engagement. When the SPM result for 2020 was announced and many were shocked to find out that it was the best result in the past 5 years, there were some concerns on the possibility of low grading and marking which the Ministry of Education have vehemently refuted. However, rather than focusing on the negative and questioning the legitimacy of it, we should applaud the effort of the teachers who taught the students under the challenging circumstances, We have heard stories of teachers preparing online materials for every topic from scratch, marking and providing feedback on google meet and zoom calls, integrating quiz and games for certain topics and many more. It should not be a surprise that online learning has been effective as it provides flexibility, interactivity, scalability and accessibility which may not be as prevalent in the traditional face-to-face classroom. Thus, when we do return to normalcy, blended and hybrid learning must still be integrated and given the acknowledgement it deserves.
The role of parents in their children’s learning has always been important but never more so during the Covid-19 pandemic. Parents are always the child’s first teacher but as soon as the child enters school, they willingly renounce that role to the professionals, teachers. It’s a tough role and most parents aren’t entirely prepared. Most teachers studied 5 to 6 years to be one, almost the same time it takes to complete a medical study to be a doctor but no one will not ask parents to perform surgery on their children if they can’t go to the hospital.
Thus, the frustration of parents who struggled to keep up with their children is understandable. There is just something about teaching your children that does not seem to work. Ask any teacher how they feel about teaching their own children and they would tell you it is easier to teach a classroom full of kids. Nevertheless, desperate times call for desperate measures, the prospect of leaving the child hanging without support and guidance compelled parents to take up the role of teachers along with so many other responsibilities.
Some parents have complained that since they are replacing the teachers, they should be the ones getting paid and not the teachers or they should be given some sort of allowance for teaching their children. Sigh…! But let’s not forget that parents’ task of being a teacher has been made easier with the guidance and intervention of the real teachers from school through online teaching. We have seen pictures of parents holding ‘rotan’ to monitor their children while studying, parents setting up timetables for the day and heard stories of parents going through YouTube videos to understand certain topics to explain it to their children.
It shows that even though it’s not an easy task but if they want to, they could be an integral part of their children’s education. The experience they have gained in this period of time may just be as equivalent as teacher training and should not be put to waste. In an exit plan where we return to normalcy and teachers are handed back the full responsibility for the child’s education, parents should not give up the experience that they have gained in the past one and a half years. They could still provide guidance, assistance and support to the child to ensure a holistic learning experience and still play an active role as a part-time teacher.
As the saying goes “we don’t grow when things are easy, we grow when we face challenges”, Covid-19 has definitely been one of the biggest challenges faced by humanity in our lifetime. Most of us are grateful enough that we had never had to face World War 1 or 2 and live the adversity that comes with it. For those who had, the war experience would have prepared them for the worse and everything else would seem normal. Covid-19 should be taken in the same light and be used as a platform to prepare ourselves for the worse.
As we eventually transition our life from ‘during Covid’ to ‘post Covid’ it is fundamental to view challenges that we have faced as an opportunity to grow and develop a better version of ourselves. An exit plan prepares us to embrace the new normal as it would be the way of life moving forward. We have seen many changes being introduced to the education system in the past 20 years but adversity like Covid-19 has brought more definite implementation and execution of those plans than we have ever seen before. As we wave goodbye to Covid-19, we should also be grateful for the opportunity that sparked the change in our education system.
(BERNAMA, 23/06/2021 11:02 AM)
Muhammad Ashraf Omar
Centre for Language Studies (CLS)
Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia (UTHM)