KUALA LUMPUR: The closure of schools and institutions of higher learning during the movement control order (MCO) period has presented new challenges to educators in ensuring continuity of the teaching and learning process.

While online teaching and learning is not new in this country, not all students, however, can benefit from it as it requires the availability of widespread access to broadband Internet infrastructure.

According to Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Centre for Education and Community Well-Being lecturer Anuar Ahmad, looking at the current situation, Malaysia is not fully ready to embrace online teaching and learning as Internet services in rural areas are slow and unstable.  

“Many students who live in kampungs and remote areas returned home after the MCO was enforced and they don’t have proper Internet access in their areas,” he said, adding that this is the reason the government is unable to fully optimise online teaching applications in the nation’s education system.

Clearly, the Covid-19 pandemic is a wake-up call for the government to focus more intently on online teaching and learning which has yet to reach a satisfactory level in this country.

Anuar Ahmad

Not an option

Prior to the virus outbreak, said Anuar, online teaching and learning was merely viewed as an option but now with the MCO extended from two weeks to one month (March 18 to April 14), it has become a necessity.

Moreover, with most of the students homebound now, online learning is their only choice.

“However, lecturers and teachers will need a little time to prepare their materials. They also have to improve their information technology skills, as well as online pedagogy and evaluation skills,” he told Bernama.

He said all universities have online teaching and learning platforms and that, in view of the poor Internet services in rural areas, the best teaching tools were non real-time applications such as Google Classroom, Telegram and WhatsApp.

Live teaching through video-conferencing applications like Zoom has to be a secondary option as such tools require strong Internet connections, he added.

Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Mohammad Shatar Sabran also admitted that universities have yet to optimise online teaching platforms.

The Covid-19 crisis has created “a good opportunity” for the authorities to review the existing online teaching and learning system and improve its effectiveness, he said.

“The time has come for our nation to step up online teaching. Several advanced countries have been doing it for a long time as they have realised its importance,” he said.

Need better internet service

Mohammad Shatar said universities can conduct teaching sessions via video recordings that can be sent to students via WhatsApp or Telegram.

“This (video learning) can be done if real-time online teaching cannot be implemented due to problematic Internet networks (in certain areas),” he said.

He said online teaching is not something new for universities as it is applied in the case of off-campus and offshore students.

“UPSI itself has several offshore students in Sibu, Tawau, Kota Kinabalu and in Indonesia. Our university is now planning to extend its offshore campus to China and Middle Eastern nations.

“If not for online learning applications, teaching our offshore students would have posed logistic and other problems for our lecturers,” he said.

Meanwhile, Haslindar Nor Ismail, who teaches Bahasa Melayu at Sekolah Menengah  Kebangsaan Seri Mulia, Cheras, said the extension of the MCO period would have an impact on the teaching syllabus fixed by the Ministry of Education.

Since the implementation of MCO, she has been teaching her students via the Google Classroom application to ensure that they are not left behind.

“However, not all the students are able to participate in the virtual classroom lessons as many of them are not familiar with this mode of teaching,” said Haslindar, who has 20 years of teaching experience.

She said lack of devices and Internet access also prevented them from participating in the online classes as many of her students hail from urban poor families who cannot afford to buy a smartphone, laptop or personal computer.

She said even teachers living in rural areas have trouble conducting virtual classes due to weak Internet access. Besides that, some teachers do not have the know-how to conduct online classes.

“The Education Ministry has (over the years) introduced various online teaching platforms but they merely served as teaching aids. Now with the enforcement of MCO, online teaching is being viewed as the primary teaching mode,” she said.

The time has come to fortify the online teaching and learning process to enable education institutions to be prepared for all eventualities in the future, she added. – Bernama