Online learning: Leave no student behind

MALAYSIA is once again facing a strict movement control order. Although this lockdown has been set for two weeks, it could easily last up to six weeks. If that happens, it means the lockdown will ease at the earliest in July. It is a bitter pill Malaysians need to swallow, given the number of new Covid-19 cases and deaths due.

We must be aware that this pandemic not only affects economic activities but also the future of Malaysia’s human capital. The crisis will ease when we reach herd immunity with vaccinations, which would be, at best, by the end of 2021, or if not, by the middle of 2022. By then, most Malaysian students will have failed to physically attend school for at least two years. Most first-year students in primary school or even first-year tertiary level students have not been to schools or colleges and universities since day one.

In response, from the beginning of this pandemic in March 2020, educators have had to switch to online teaching platforms. Many educators believe that online teaching is the way forward in this pandemic. Students should not waste their lives doing nothing at home. Worst still, if students do not learn from home, they may altogether lose interest in learning when the pandemic is over. Therefore, educators at all levels – from kindergarten up to postgraduate – are teaching through online distance learning platforms now.

Many wrongly assume that students who are young and IT-savvy will have no problems learning online. On the contrary, many students do struggle with it. Many believe that students’ struggles with online learning stem from the availability of hardware and an Internet connection. Hence the solution is to provide them with electronic devices and an Internet connection to ensure effective online learning and teaching. However, even when they have devices and a connection, not all students – even usually good students – may cope well with online learning.

Some students need face-to-face learning, or the human touch, to learn effectively. Researchers estimate that 78% of tertiary students prefer online learning. If we take this figure to reflect the whole education system in Malaysia, we have about 422,400 students out of 1.92 million enrolled in 2019 who prefer in-person learning. The 22% is a minority, but the number that comprises that percentage is enormous: More than 400,000 students are struggling to learn during this pandemic.

And this huge number of students will be lost if we do not do something to help them now. This group will be the lost generation even though education never fully stopped in this pandemic. They are the future human capital of Malaysia. We cannot leave them behind.

I would like to suggest three things for education institutions to consider:

> Allow struggling students to repeat their studies. Educational institutions must allow students to repeat their studies without punishing them unnecessarily. Schools and colleges must make special arrangements for this to happen.

Furthermore, private educational institutions must consider waiving or charging minimum school fees to help students who need to repeat their studies.

> Allow students more time to learn. All subjects can be taught online but not in the same time frame when teaching a physical class. Give students more time to learn and not just to finish the syllabus.

This pandemic is an unusual time that requires an unusual approach. A subject normally taught in one semester can be easily be taught over two semesters.

> Allow teachers to work with students who struggle in a smaller group – fewer than 10 if possible – to allow as much interaction as possible. Use a simple online application like WhatsApp to teach students who need more human interaction and the human touch.

These students currently struggling are part of Malaysia’s future human capital. If we fail them today, we will lose them forever. We cannot afford to leave anyone behind.

We must not just ride out the storm using online learning platforms but rise above the storm to ensure no part of the country’s future human capital is left behind in this storm. Both public and private educational institutions must rethink what they can do to shine brightly in this dark and challenging time. We must not fail our children, our next generation.






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