Challenges facing schools in the new norm
Published on: Sunday, January 10, 2021
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AS parents know, Malaysian students’ learning in 2020 was disrupted twice, in March and October, when physical classes were cancelled to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 cases. In the months-long absence of face-to-face learning, online “teaching and learning from home” (pengajaran dan pembelajaran dari rumah, PDPR) was conducted to continue the education of primary and secondary level students nationwide.

Schools reopen on Jan 20 but stakeholders have differing views about this. For instance, National Parent Teacher Association president Assoc Prof Datuk Dr Mohd Ali Hassan suggested that only students sitting for the SPM and STPM attend school to prepare for the public examinations that fall in February and March.

While most parents will abide by the Education Ministry’s rule, there will undoubtedly be some who will not send their children to school because of health concerns. Teachers are worried too but place their duty to educate ahead of their own safety.

When physical classes resume, educating students holistically in a safe, SOP-ruled environment could become challenging. Students’ earlier lackadaisical learning through virtual classes and messaging platforms will add to the problem, as those online learning stints might not have furnished them with enough content subject knowledge, making them ill-prepared to receive new information.

Consequently, their receptiveness to new learning will vary and they will have to be assessed to determine the need for remedial work. Students who were without devices and connectivity will need more guidance or they will lag behind their counterparts who were able to participate in online learning.

With Covid-19 cases hovering at the four-digit mark daily, school closures in some districts may be deemed necessary by the National Security Council to stem the surging infections. And if Covid-19 becomes worse before it becomes better, another lockdown could be imminent. While the vaccines offer hope, it will take months before all teachers and students are vaccinated.

With all this in mind, we must ensure that PDPR always stands ready to substitute for face-to-face learning. And effective PDPR should become the norm – for instance, pedagogy that is interactive, coupled with animation, slides, videos and other features that can attract the attention of pupils is important. Also, it should be mandatory for cameras to be switched on so teachers can detect when students are distracted and keep them on their toes throughout the daily five-hour sessions.

Also, learning would be incomplete without online formative and summative assessments to gauge students’ needs for reinforcement, either virtually or when face-to-face learning restarts later.

The Education Ministry on its part could identify 150,000 pupils from 500 schools nationwide to receive free devices that come with free access to the Internet to enable underprivileged students to attend online classes. More eligible students from B40 (lower income group) families and rural and interior schools can benefit from PDPR if they are given such support. The success of PDPR also depends on discounted Internet access rates from telcos.

Another vital component are parents/guardians who ensure their children complete online lessons rather than misuse Internet access for non-academic activities.

PDPR must be optimised to impart the knowledge necessary to prepare our children for the next phase of education.


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