KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 27 — As the year 2020 comes to an end, the country has seen an unprecedented change to the dynamic and culture of education and learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, causing schools and varsities to halt operation at a certain period.
The situation has ‘forced’ millions of students across the country to fully utilize their laptops or devices and start learning from home via online. The question for us now is: “Is Malaysia’s education ready for the new era of learning?”
Nonetheless, the result of the pandemic has implied the importance of technology in transforming how we teach and learn, at the same time highlighting that there is room for improvement, especially for internet connectivity.
The first wave of COVID-19 infection started on Jan 24, with the identification of 22 cases, of which 12 had a travel history to affected countries and regions, eight cases were close contacts and two were from a humanitarian mission.
On Jan 30, the Education Ministry (MoE) had postponed the registration of students from Wuhan, China, and its surrounding areas at all educational institutions in the country.
As the second wave hit the country on Feb 27, MoE had directed the postponement of all large gatherings such as sports programmes and co-curricular activities in all schools across the country, with effect from March 13.
The government later imposed the Movement Control Order (MCO) nationwide on March 18 leading to the closure of all pre-schools, government and private schools including daily schools, residential schools, international schools, tahfiz centres and other primary, secondary and pre-university institutions as well as colleges and institutions of higher learning.
With all schools shut down, teachers were advised to make online teaching the way forward, besides determining the best teaching and learning methods based on the constraints and situations faced by students at home during the MCO.
However, there were limitations pertaining to online teaching and home-based learning as the findings of an MoE survey, involving 670,000 parents and about 900,000 pupils showed that only six per cent of students had personal computers, tablets (5.76 per cent), laptops (nine per cent) and smartphones (46 per cent), while 36.9 per cent of students do not have as many devices.
Senator Dr Radzi Jidin, who headed the ministry starting March 10, said it was important for teachers to take into account the constraints faced by students at home in determining the methods to be used to implement the teaching and learning process at home.
As lockdowns ease and daily COVID-19 cases were going down, after months of ‘school holidays’, secondary schools across the country finally reopened their doors on June 24 for students sitting for public examinations this year, namely Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM), Sijil Vokasional Malaysia (SVM), Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM), Sijil Tinggi Agama Malaysia (STAM) and equivalent examinations.
Form One to Form Four and Remove Class students as well as Standard Five and Six pupils, returned to school starting July 15, while Standard One to Four pupils on July 22.
The government has also decided to move the dates for SPM, SVM and STAM to Feb 22, 2021; while STPM would be held on March 8, 2021. The Form Three Assessment (PT3) and Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR), as well as Kafa Class Assessment Test (UPKK) examinations, have been cancelled this year.
Unfortunately, concerned parents felt the decision was made in a rush and they feared COVID-19 cases would spike once schools reopened.
Parents’ nightmare turned reality. As the third wave of COVID-19 hit the country in late September after Sabah election, the government abruptly announced on Nov 8 (Sunday) that schools and vocational colleges would close starting the next day (Nov 9) until the end of the 2020 academic calendar year.
As for the tertiary education students both in private and public institutions, the Higher Education Ministry (MOHE) announced that all lectures must be conducted purely online, with no face-to-face lessons allowed, starting May 27 until Dec 31.
The announcement has led university students to grasp on online learning as the new normal, hence, many of them requested for the fees to be reduced, as they no longer fully utilising the university facilities.
Taking into consideration the feedbacks and complaints from students and parents whose household income was badly affected by the pandemic, Higher Education Minister Datuk Dr Noraini Ahmad announced the hostel and service fees at all public universities for the second semester of the 2019/2020 academic session had been reduced by up to 15 per cent.
The move involved a total allocation of RM72 million, of which RM20 million was approved by the Ministry of Finance and the other RM52 million will be from the internal allocation of the universities.
For 2020, the education sector in Malaysia has seen a paradigm shift in teaching and learning process and shaping the community for the new normal, with the technology dependence has massively increased, not just for students, but also for lecturers, teachers and all of the people involved in the institution.
The question is, are we totally ready for it?