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Is Malaysia ready for online teaching?

Photograph: Mohamed Hassan/Pixabay

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It can only be workable and effective if we have most of the facilities and human resources in place, Khoo Kok Heong writes.

With the coronavirus pandemic affecting the world, many aspects of human endeavour have to be reinvented to suit the present reality.

Malaysia was fortunate to have built up good IT resources in both the public and private sectors. The public can access most government departments online. Many aspects of commerce and businesses, both locally and internationally, are done online. Our banking system is fully online. This has helped many businesses and services to remain on track.

However, the pandemic has hit our education system. Our system, like those in other parts of the world, is built on a human, interactive school-based approach.

Human beings are gregarious by nature. We believe a school-based approach is the best pedagogy for more holistic education. Apart from acquiring academic knowledge, students can pick up soft skills through this approach.

With the onslaught of the pandemic, the government has no choice but to encourage and beef up the electronic approach to education now.

Online teaching is well and good at the tertiary level, especially for courses that do not need practical work or hands-on activity. But for the sciences, engineering, technology and certain other courses which need practical work, students still need a human interactive approach. Tertiary students are older and more mature; thus discipline and supervision are not so much of a problem in practical activities. Also, universities, especially the public ones, tend to have better facilities.

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In contrast, the school environment is different, especially at the primary level. Children are children, and at a young age, most are boisterous and carefree. Enforcing standard safety procedures such as body temperature checks, social distancing, the use of face masks, and handwashing can be a big challenge for teachers and school administrators.

As building designs and school structures are not the same, school authorities should use their discretion to create areas that allow room for social distancing. Some schools have classrooms that are only partitioned by collapsible folding doors. Schools with such a design can convert their classrooms from two rooms to one to provide more space for social distancing. Schools could also clean up other areas in their premises such as unused workshops and cookery rooms and convert them to makeshift classrooms to provide more space.

To promote greater awareness of cleanliness and hygiene, schools authorities must also create more handwashing areas at other convenient spots around the schools to ease overcrowding in the toilets.

Another area that needs attention is the school bus service that shuttles students to and from schools. It is a common sight to see students socialising and playing in the buses while waiting to pick up other pupils from another school. Having a bus attendant on board would help ensure pupils adhere to strict standard safety procedures.

At present, our schools do not have enough facilities and trained human resources to implement online teaching efficiently. Most schools have at best only one computer room to teach pupils about the rudiments of IT. The education system also lacks well-trained IT teachers.

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As moulded by the Ministry of Education, online teaching is here to stay in the new normal. But how are we to achieve this goal if many of our students, especially those from poor families, can’t even afford a tablet, laptop or personal computer? Mobile phones are too small and will strain pupils’ eyes. Low-income families may not be able to afford wi-fi subscriptions. Those in rural areas may find accessibility to wi-fi difficult to come by. These are real issues facing online teaching, which the ministry must look into first.

Alternatively, teaching through TV is a viable and practical approach. After all, RTM implemented TV Pendidikan (educational TV) from 1972 to 2008, and it proved useful to students. The lessons aired through TV Pendidikan were prepared mostly by teachers who were experts in their respective fields, and these were helpful for students. At times like these, TV Pendidikan could help educate pupils as most families can afford a TV. TV stations in the country should contribute by coming up with suitable slots for TV Pendidikan.

Undeniably, online teaching is a good additional aid to schooling. But it can only be workable and effective if we have most of the facilities and human resources in place to implement it successfully.

Khoo Kok Heong is a former teacher based in Penang. Last year, he attended an Aliran writers’ workshop with the theme “Writing for Change in New Malaysia”

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