Online and Distance Learning. ODL. What a terrifying three letters. Not just for students, but the lecturers as well. Since the pandemic started, it has changed the face of education quite drastically. Teaching and learning in educational institutions has been experiencing quite a stormy ride of adjustments and ad-hoc planning, similar to how a typhoon sweeps through everything in its course, demanding urgent recovery and restructuring. With little to no time to prepare, students and lecturers are forced to abandon the old way of conventional teaching and learning of attending face-to-face lectures in a physical room with four walls.
Now, all lessons are to be done remotely, with no physical contact, all in our own confined space. Perhaps, in certain ways, it is much easier to access knowledge and information at the tips of our fingers. However, for some students, living and studying at home is more of a torture than pleasure.
The issue of students with non-existing or lack internet connection has been discussed a lot as the reason that hinders effective learning. However, there is another terrifying issue that is more deserving of attention from the educators. The issue of domestic problems faced by students are really heart-breaking.
I have had first-hand experience in dealing with students informing me of all sorts of domestic issues that make it impossible for them to attend online classes. Parent(s) who are mentally ill, domestic abuse, parents fighting and dragging the children into their never-ending fights, crowded space in a tiny house, too many siblings waiting to use one laptop for their online class, and the list goes on and on.
Some asked to not be called to answer questions during the session, they asked for permission to text me the answers because they don’t want their friends to see and hear the reality of their miserable lives. Some asked for permission to contact me to ask questions during odd hours as they don’t have the privilege to think about the lesson during daytime. All these are really affecting our students’ progress in studying as they are burdened with domestic issues.
As educators, there’s not much that we can do in helping them with their home issues, as it is not our place to meddle. What we can offer is comfort and assurance, of letting them know that we hear and understand their difficulties. Believe me when I say, more often than not, that is all these students are asking for. We can try not being too hard on them in terms of due date and submission, maybe giving them more time and space to complete the tasks and assignments. After all, our purpose here is to educate them, however different and challenging they might be from the rest. I believe the keyword here is to be kind and compassionate to them. As our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said (Sahih Muslim);
“Be kind, for whenever kindness becomes a part of something, it beautifies it. Whenever it is taken from something, it leaves it tarnished.
Nor Fadhilah Ahmad Powzi
Centre for Language Studies (CLS)
Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia (UTHM)