Features : Right Time To Reopen Schools, Say Educationists
By Sakini Mohd Said
KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) – Is it wise to reopen schools when four-digit new COVID-19 cases are still being reported daily nationwide?
Unhappy over the government’s decision to reopen schools for face-to-face teaching and learning sessions beginning today, many netizens have been flooding social media, as well as the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) Facebook account, with their comments objecting to the move.
They feel it is not the right time yet to reopen schools what with the pandemic still raging and many parents already having bought laptops, tablets or smartphones for their children to enable them to participate in home-based teaching and learning (PdPR) and would now have to fork out more money to buy them school uniforms and shoes.
However, is the “voice” of the netizens representative of the entire society and socio-economic groups? Not necessarily. In fact, many families in the B40 group living in urban, rural and interior areas are relieved schools are finally reopening as their children have not been reaping the benefits of PdPR due to poor Internet connection and lack of electronic devices.
The MOE has announced that schools will reopen today for pre-schoolers and Year One and Year Two pupils, while Year Three to Year Six pupils will return to school on March 8.
As for secondary schools, those located in Johor, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu will reopen on April 5 and schools in Melaka, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Perak, Perlis, Penang, Sabah, Sarawak, Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya on April 6.
Amirah Haikal, 15, a Form Three student at a school in the Klang Valley, and her friends, who are all from the B40 group, are eager to return to school. She said most of them were not able to participate in PdPR last year as they did not have smartphones, tablets or laptops.
“We’re relieved school is reopening soon. My mother is a kuih seller who earns about RM60 a day while my father is sick and they can’t afford to buy a computer.
“We have a smartphone which is an old model and gives problems when we use it for too long. Not only that, my mother can only afford to buy Internet data plan worth RM20 which I have to share with my three siblings. It’s barely sufficient to support our online classes and I am only able to download some schoolwork. I feel I have missed out a lot,” she said.
It has been widely reported that since schools were shut down following the enforcement of movement restrictions last year to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, access to education has been hampered for students in the B40 group and those living in rural and interior parts of the country mainly due to the lack of Internet infrastructure, mobile devices such as smartphones and computers, and a conducive learning environment.
According to a study carried out by MOE between March 28 and April 2 last year on the preparedness of students for virtual learning, it was found that 36.9 percent of students did not possess any device to enable them to follow online learning.
The MOE study involved 670,118 respondents comprising the parents of 893,331 students, six percent of whom had personal computers, 9.3 percent (laptops), 5.8 percent (tablets) and 46.5 percent (smartphones).
PARENTS WANT SCHOOLS TO REOPEN
Meanwhile, Anuar Ahmad, a senior lecturer at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Centre of Community Education and Well-Being, welcomed the reopening of schools for face-to-face PdP, saying that it is “long overdue”.
“To tell the truth, many parents have been requesting for schools to reopen. Many teachers want schools to reopen too. Our children have not been in school for nearly a year and have not been taught properly. Many of them are trailing behind in their studies while some have lost their focus and motivation to continue with their studies.
“Hence, the decision to reopen schools is a good one and anyway, children are the low-risk group where COVID-19 is concerned,” he said, adding that countries such as France, Germany and Spain that are badly hit by the infectious coronavirus have reopened their schools with strict standard operating procedures (SOPs) in place.
Elaborating on why he felt schools should reopen as soon as possible, Anuar said besides the issues surrounding Internet access and ownership of mobile devices, many of the parties involved are themselves not ready for the PdPR ecosystem in terms of skills or preparation of suitable teaching materials.
A study carried out by UKM’s Education Faculty on the readiness of teachers to implement PdPR found that the online teaching methods utilised by the teachers were not that effective because they were not in line with the abilities and learning levels of the students.
According to the UKM study’s findings, 70 to 80 percent of the teachers reported that garnering the attention of their students was the main challenge they faced whilst conducting PdPR.
Added Anuar: “It’s clear that PdPR 1.0 (last year) had failed after 10 months of its implementation. Many issues arose, including the teachers’ lack of skills in online pedagogy as they were not trained for this. Apart from that, many parents were either not ready or didn’t have the knowledge to help their children with their online learning.”
While Anuar is confident that the MOE has taken the necessary measures to ensure the effectiveness of the SOPs implemented in schools to prevent COVID-19 transmission, he said the ministry should also consider implementing hybrid learning, that is, a mix of face-to-face and online learning sessions to avoid over-crowding at schools.
“This is the best approach to take in view of the current COVID-19 situation. In fact, it’s not new because in July last year, the ministry had introduced the rotational or hybrid learning method,” he added.
National Parent-Teacher Associations Consultative Council president Associate Prof Datuk Dr Mohamad Ali Hasan, meanwhile, said the issue of the newly purchased mobile devices (to facilitate e-learning) going to waste will not arise because they can be used for weekend and holiday learning sessions.
He said schools, in collaboration with Parent-Teacher Associations and alumni, should consider organising online tuition classes over the weekends or during school holidays to help students to catch up with their studies.
Former Education Department director-general Tan Sri Alimuddin Mohd Dom had also supported hybrid learning. He was recently quoted as saying that the reopening of schools did not mean that PdPR should be forgotten because a combination of face-to-face and online teaching and learning methods would be beneficial for students.
Translated by Rema Nambiar
Published at Sun, 03 Jan 2021 08:50:00 +0000