Last year, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the shores of Malaysia, the people’s movements were restricted through various measures implemented to curb the virus. With that, activities in many sectors were put on hold — but this did not only affect Malaysia as the virus hit countries worldwide.
A new realm of education
One industry that had to comply with the Covid-19 restrictions was the education sector.
From kindergarten up to the university level, students and teachers were told to stay home and continue teaching and learning online.
With the sudden need for adaptations, there were hurdles along the way. As Covid-19 was new to the world, its challenges opened a new realm for many.
While there were months when students and teachers were able to attend school physically, there were many more months when they had to rely on the internet to continue their studies.
Despite a breather given to parties involved when school reopened, new problems arose as the surge of daily cases came from schools.
In April, Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg announced the closure of schools as a necessary move to protect the students and local communities.
“We notice that there have been outbreaks in some schools. Students can infect their parents or vice-versa and there are also cases of teachers getting infected.
“So the state government has decided to close all schools in the red zones for 14 days,” he told a press conference on April 19.
A challenge for teachers
For years, teachers were taught how to teach physically —from utilising the board provided by schools to books prepared by the Education Department to teach.
However, when the world was introduced to a deadly virus, teachers had to re-learn their ways to adapt to the situation.
Cikgu Florence, a rural teacher, found herself at wit’s end when the government announced online learning.
“When the movement control order (MCO) started, we teachers were confused. We did not know what to do but to take our own initiatives.
“Thankfully, everything is now systematic and in order as the Education Department provided us with platforms to conduct our teaching.”
Having to teach four classes comprising 16 students each, Florence disclosed that the problem with rural schools was when students went missing.
“We could not contact them at all. We tried our best to contact their parents or the people who knew them. But to no avail.”
Most of the pupils in the rural areas have no access to the internet. Hence, Florence and her colleagues have to do offline teaching by making sure the materials given are easy to comprehend.
“We have no choice but to liaise with the parents. Some will help, some won’t. We can’t do anything when they don’t help.”
“Nevertheless, when there’s a will, there’s a way. Teachers will definitely try their best to do their job well during this dark period but it takes two to tango. So we also need parents’ cooperation and students’ effort,” she added.
Meanwhile, Cikgu Amy has to juggle online classes for six classes with 35 students each.
Initially, everything was chaotic for the teachers and students. “Especially for students who stay with their grandparents. Their grandparents had to learn everything from zero just to help their grandchildren access Google Classroom.”
Conducting daily classes between 7.30am and 1.30pm, Amy said physical learning and online learning could not be compared as they had different challenges.
“One of the greatest challenges I face is when the students do not turn up for classes.
“As we have to file a report every day after class, absentees need to have a valid reason for being absent that day. So I have to text their parents to enquire about it.”
Lamenting further, Amy said that online learning was less effective compared to physical classes.
“Students lack the discipline to learn by themselves without teachers monitoring them.
“Some students join Google Meet for lessons but leave their seats right after I take their attendance with their webcams turned off.”
Nevertheless, she is grateful that only a few students behave like that while the rest of her students have adapted well to the online classes.
“Some even told me they were grateful to continue with their lessons this way without being exposed to the risks of getting Covid-19.
“I hope to see them soon but maybe now is not the best time. Only through online learning, my students and I are able to teach and learn in our comfort zones without risking infections,” she added.
Challenging for teachers and parents
Children are mischievous in their ways, and that’s what makes online classes sometimes challenging for the teachers and parents.
Victoria Joanne, who has six children to monitor daily, shared her personal experiences.
“Initially, the kids had to share devices and laptops as we didn’t have enough for all six of them.
“This year, we got a couple of new devices so that they could all attend their classes as scheduled.”
But new challenges arise for the mother of eight as horrors begin when each child is left alone with their devices.
“They will get distracted and shift their attention to other things on the internet, like Youtube videos and online games.”
Having installed applications to monitor her children’s activities on the internet, Joanne admitted defeat as the only way to truly watch over them was to sit with them throughout the school sessions.
“It is really tiring and it takes up too much time. Furthermore, I have other jobs to do as well. But until it is safe for them to go back to physical school, this is the only thing we can do for now.”
Joanne also recalled the struggles of having to teach her primary one daughter Bahasa Melayu.
But the worse experience she underwent during online classes was when one of her children skipped a test.
“I only found out after the test was over. I was sitting in front of him but wasn’t aware that he was doing something else instead of the test.”
“I was busy helping his younger sister with her classwork. I broke down that day as I felt like an utter failure.
“I believe most parents would agree with me when I say that the first thing we’d do to overcome any of the challenges is to nag.
Even if you were never a nagger before, nagging would be a skill you successfully acquired from your children’s online classes,” said the 40-year-old.
Daryl Kueh has had a tonne on his plate when it comes to monitoring his eight-year-old’s online classes.
“The initial stage was definitely rough. He did not know how to use a computer or tablet. Thankfully, he learned to use them eventually.”
As an IT manager, Daryl understands the essential need to provide his son with a proper tool to help him throughout the day.
“I had to look for the right tools to help him. For example, when he’s using a desktop computer or laptop, I make sure he sits properly and does not slouch.”
His biggest struggle is having to juggle between his work and his son’s online classes.
“This continues to be a challenge. Furthermore, with such long hours spent on online classes, the child gets easily demotivated and cannot focus well.”
To ensure his son concentrate on his studies, Daryl will constantly monitor and oversee his child.
“During classes, he may at times go on Youtube and others. So far, what I have done is to restrict access to websites and applications.”
Hoping for a more interactive class
Sharing his opinion on online classes, 17-year-old Joshua Lim conceded to experiencing struggles with the new norm.
“I struggled with completing tasks and homework outside the classes. Physical classes will be more helpful because I can focus better on studying in school.”
Joshua explained that it was due to distractions from his surroundings and how boring the classes were without interactions.
“Sometimes I get the urge to play a few games or watch videos while the teachers are teaching. In rare cases, I may help my parents with house chores.”
The Form Five student shared that an interactive online class might solve the problem faced by most students.
“This is a good way mainly for primary school students as they lack focus due to their surroundings. A simple pencil is enough to drift their focus away from classes.”
Despite agreeing that physical classes were still the best option for students, Joshua believed they also posed a risk for the virus to spread.
“Nonetheless, I learned that adaptation is important because if you don’t get used to online classes, it will be hard to keep up with your studies,” he said.