Online learning has simply become important today. The Covid-19 pandemic which spread to countries all over the world has transformed the way we learn today. As all institutions of learning were closed to curb the spread of this deadly virus, we had no choice but to switch to online learning. Online learning allows students to do their daily work and activities from anywhere, with just a computer, a tablet, or even a handphone.
Online learning is not anything new. Universities and colleges have introduced online degrees, masters, and also short courses for many years. For busy working adults, online courses and degrees are very suitable as they have the freedom to learn from just anywhere in the world. They can learn from the comfort of their homes and adapt their working hours to the schedule of the classes. With the advancement of technology, online learning has become very effective. Among the many features of online learning is voice recognition, learning through videos which enables the educator and the learners to see each other, screen sharing, live exams as well as being able to chat with all the students or specific students. In online learning, students need not copy notes as the whole process of learning can be recorded either on video or in the written form. A student will find it difficult to learn without a teacher, thus in online learning, a teacher is always present to help the students. With so many plus points, has online learning been effective for school children in Malaysian schools during the pandemic? In my opinion, it’s a “NO”, especially for primary school children. I believe online learning is more suitable for college and university education as the students are more matured and have better understanding abilities. They are also able to concentrate fully on the lessons.
First and foremost, many school children from the lower-income group don’t have computers or tablets. The most they have is a mobile phone. Parents in these groups were already struggling to look after the family due to the pandemic. Many had lost their jobs and were without pay. They had to hang on to alternative jobs just to put food on the table. Pay cuts were affecting those who were on a job. So, how on earth do you expect parents to get learning devices for their children? On top of this, if there is more than one child in the house, it will be impossible to provide devices for all the children. The Ministry of Education (MOE) should have conducted a thorough survey to find out if all students possess a learning device. If they didn’t have one, the MOE should have contributed learning devices to needy students. Unfortunately, nothing was done to find out if all students were ready for online classes. They simply instructed the teachers to proceed. Many teachers did not have the knowledge to handle online classes but learned through friends and the YouTube platform. It was a trial and error technique, and teachers kept on improving on their lessons. But, the poor students were helpless. Without a proper device, they were not able to follow. It was a sad day for them. Fortunately, many NGOs came to the rescue. They checked on schools that had poor students and helped the students to own a learning device. Until today, there may be still students who don’t own a learning device. They are forced to use their mobile phones which puts them at a disadvantage. The screen is small and they are not able to interact with the teacher. The MOE has failed in this aspect. They were smart to introduce online classes but failed to ensure every student in Malaysia was able to follow the lessons.
There was also another problem the students faced. This was also not addressed by the MOE as well. Many students, unfortunately, did not have access to Wifi or internet data. Many students had to go to places that had free internet coverage. Once again, the poor students were the victims. This is similar to the classic case of Sabahan, Veveonah Mosibin, who climbed up a tree and made a bamboo hut for herself to use for her studies. She slept in the tree to get better internet coverage. Does the MOE expect poor primary school children to do the same? Unfortunately, we don’t have suitable trees in towns or else they could have used the same strategy. This is not a new problem but was much talked about by the MOE and the government. There has been a lot of talks that all students would have access to the internet but it has all been empty talk, all in Vain. Till today, many areas in Malaysia don’t have proper coverage. Thus, students with learning devices have to buy data plans or install wifi coverage in their houses. This can be expensive too.
Online learning has proved to be unsuitable for younger students. Young kids do not engage actively during classes. Many of them, especially the hyperactive students cant simply sit still and follow the lessons presented by teachers. They don’t concentrate and move around as they wish. Parents sometimes sit along with the students to ensure they follow the lessons. This is a difficult situation for the parents as they too might have work to do. As attendance is a requirement by schools, many of them simply log in but end up doing other tasks like coursework. Some students even play games or answer Whatsapp messages during the time. In between lessons, students also take naps when they get bored. So, how do we handle these challenges? For an online class to go well, we must have students who are responsible and understand that they must participate 100%. Another serious problem is device connectivity. Very often students get disconnected several times. The problems become more serious if students use their mobile phones.
Teachers too must be prepared to handle online classes. They must be sensitive to the problems and the needs of the students. Most students tend to be quiet during classes so teachers must check on them by calling their names to ensure they follow. Teachers should also regularly ask questions and get students to answer. It may be good if the teachers can randomly get as many students to answer. Involving students in activities will also be a good step to get students to study. Malaysian school classes are big, sometimes with about 35 students. I believe it would be impossible to frequently check on students for input. Some hardworking intelligent teachers can handle such a situation. But, what percentage can achieve such a feat? Primary school teachers normally have problems controlling students in classrooms even during face-to-face sessions and now with online learning, it would be simply difficult to handle them. Many teachers hope that even if a child can grasp at least 50 percent of the tasks for the day, it would be good.
Online classes have become an important feature in the teaching and learning process in Malaysia. As we are still under lockdown, teachers, as well as students, must still be at home. No one can safely predict when students will be able to attend school as usual again. It may be months, a year, or years. If the pandemic is going to be around for some time, the Ministry of Education must seriously conduct a thorough study with the help of schools to rectify the problem of students having a problem buying a suitable learning device. At the same time, the MOE must ensure students have access to an internet connection. Once the students have the basics, then teachers may be able to conduct lessons more engagingly. The MOE must also remember that there may be a need to conduct some exams online, so the basic software and hardware are a must for students.
Palaniappan Karuppan is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
Register at headliner.newswav.com to become one of our content writers now!
*The views expressed are those of the author. If you have any questions about the content, copyright or other issues of the work, please contact Newswav.