*Opinions reflected in this article are of the author’s unless specified.
In the COVID-19 education climate, teachers are the second most affected stakeholders when it comes to teaching and learning. Expectations shouldered by teachers, whether for physical classes or online classes, are substantial but not without their demands. Online classes necessitated teachers to adapt to new methods for providing education to their students. With the abrupt changes following the implementation of online distance teaching and learning (ODTL), teachers were faced with challenges that were not foreign to them but considerably unconventional. As online classes have lasted longer than expected, there were also other factors that deprived teachers of the will to continuously provide quality education. Thus, with overwhelming expectations, rising uncertainties in a new, unpredictable environment, teachers started to see their responsibility as a burden rather than a passion.
A continuation in the Education Reform Article Series, this article will explore the perspectives and draw aspirations of Malaysian teachers towards the national education system and changes that are necessary to be implemented. MSGA’s Advocacy Department of 20/21 gauged the lived experiences of COVID-19 online education from three teachers of various backgrounds: Encik Rizal, Teacher R and Ms J. Encik Rizal is a teacher from SMK Alor Pongsu, Bagan Serai Perak with 7 years of experience in teaching. He is active in educational innovation competitions and has won 3 gold medals at national and international levels. He also received several recognitions: Guru Inspirasi McDonald’s 2018, Guru Adiwira Kebangsaan, Tokoh Guru Inovasi & Duta Guru Nadi Negara. Teacher R is an English teacher for form 3 and form 5 students, and has been a teacher for approximately 20 years. Ms J is a secondary school teacher in Petaling Jaya with almost 30 years of experience.
Overarching and Universal Educators’ Predicaments
There are two causal indicators that primarily affect the overall outcome of an online teaching and learning session: 1) the proper implementation and usage of digital technology; and 2) the competence and literacy of said usage of digital technology for teaching and learning. It is important to consider the generational differences between senior teachers and younger teachers when it comes to using digital technology as educational tools. However, it is the interconnected issues that come with implementing digital technology for ODTL that are more evident affecting teachers, which include having stable Internet connection to provide education on top of needing to use multiple digital equipment to ensure relevance of teaching for different subjects. These are only superficial as the issues are more profound, some of which reflect prevalent geopolitical and social challenges in Malaysia. Encik Rizal mentioned that when connecting with his students, the majority noted that their motivations were deteriorating and they lost interest to learn as due to poor Internet coverage and lack of access to better quality technology for them. This affects the teachers as well because Internet connection and quality digital educational tools are not personal issues but rather an underdeveloped infrastructure matter and lack of budget allocation and investment in the development of education in Malaysia as a whole. It is as simple as teachers and students who live in rural areas may not have the same privileges of those who live in urban areas.
The changes from traditional, face-to-face teaching to online teaching have been the main problem that was faced by teachers, especially senior teachers. In requiring the use of digital technology for online teaching, digital literacy and competency follow suit. Teacher R and Ms J noted that they had to take extra measures in having to learn digital tools for educational purposes before they could teach their students. As they were not familiar with advanced technology considering they are far more experienced in traditional settings, Teacher R and Ms J struggled with adapting themselves to using online teaching tools. Some examples reflect handling and managing different platforms to ensure interactive lessons for students, online forms and documentations, and overall energy and time consumption in curating lesson plans that are more relevant in online sessions. Although using digital technology and online platforms for teaching and learning offer a degree of freedom to mould unconventional education, flexibility does not necessarily equate to quality. There are other factors that had to be considered which influence how effective a lesson plan through online teaching really is, including psychosocial development of students in regard to COVID-19 unpredictable situations and active approach to maintain motivation and participation for online classes. Encik Rizal and Teacher R stated that it was difficult to get their students to attend their classes as they have lost motivation in learning and became indifferent to move forward with online education. Both teachers had to find an alternative approach to attract their students to attend classes, and the effort had to be put more by the teachers. And these issues are more encompassing for both students and teachers that are both tangible and nonphysical.
Above and Beyond Expected Teachers’ Obligations
Encik Rizal, Teacher R and Ms J have all endeavoured various methods in ascertaining that their students were able to receive quality education. Encik Rizal made the bold move of giving out extra resources such as his old iPhones. He also said, “I also lend them my iPads and MacBooks. Last year [in 2020], I actually won a Volkswagen Beetle from the Win the Icon competition. I sold the car because I wanted to invest it, but I used some of the money and bought a few iPhones 7 Plus (new and second-hand) and gave them to my students who were really in need. I posted on my social media and some of my friends joined the course by donating their old gadgets too.”
Teacher R, on the other hand, would always motivate her students to join her class and rewarded them with praises, small token badges and developed herself to be a good listener for her students with problems that they were facing. Through this, she was able to gauge whether the materials that were provided by her were relevant and beneficial to her students or not. Teacher R used different teaching materials, techniques and ways of teaching to cater her students. All of her students’ needs were considered through constant guidance and monitoring them every step in order for them to be on the right track.
Similarly with Teacher R, Ms J would always connect with her students through various communicative tools such as WhatsApp. She would talk to her students personally, especially for those who were absent in her classes and students who did not participate, and helped them in ways that she could. Furthermore, she would provide differentiated enhancement materials from online sources for references. Those materials provided the students with more knowledge and skills that would be more useful and suitable to their passion and interests. Lastly, Ms J gave more positive and constructive feedback to motivate students to widen their learning focus. The standards and quality of teaching by these teachers were not necessary to be set by them. However, they put their students’ needs first before theirs and it reflects not only their passion but also their empathy towards their students.
Call-to-actions and Conclusion
In compromising their best interests, it is crucial to realise that they still hold importance and disguised as unspoken demands and wishes for changes that are necessary towards the Malaysian education system. The list of demands and wishes that were given by Encik Rizal, Teacher and Ms J are including but not limited to as follows:
In MSGA, we are in support of putting forth the needs and best interests of teachers to be reflected within educational policies and implementations. They are the voice of reason and the mould of students’ educational development. It is important to see teachers not as resources but an individual asset that would shape the future of Malaysian education. Thus, teachers also play an important role in education reform.
By: Ungku ‘Arifin
Vice President of Advocacy 2020/2021