Stakeholders At Stake: Digital Education Through Malaysian Students’ Perspectives:
Uncertainties and struggles prevailed when the COVID-19 outbreak affected the whole globe across various tangible and incorporeal matters, education included. It was unavoidable that all groups and communities would face different forms of hardships, and the lived realities of those hardships may have not been as visible or addressed as they should be.
When it comes to education, countries that were able to use digital technology for online distance learning (ODL) are considered to be fortunate enough for their students. In Malaysia, particularly, ODL was first implemented back in March 2020 when movement control order (MCO) was ensued, and continued on till the present day (in September 2021) and it will seem to continue until further notice. However, it also came with its own challenges and limitations for both teachers and students. Furthermore, certain issues and areas within the education climate in Malaysia have been observed to become more difficult to resolve, and some parties have even experienced them. But what are these issues?
Featuring Alyaah Hani and Jie Yee, representatives from Dewan Muda Malaysia (DMM) in the Ministry of Education, MSGA was able to gauge their differing insights and experience as Malaysian students. Both participants are currently pursuing pre-university courses. Their perspectives have provided better clarity as one of the main stakeholders in education, and their wishes and demands towards the current Malaysian education system.
First-hand Experience on COVID-19 Education
The first shift from physical learning to ODL was arduous and complicated. Understandably, digital literacy became even more necessary to ensure that students are able to adapt to ODL. The change in environment and the way of engagement in teaching and learning sessions, however, became some of the underlying issues, especially for Alyaah and Jie Yee. “Lessons were no longer as engaging as they were before and were mostly centered around completing a task as opposed to understanding the task at hand,” Jie Yee said. Additionally, possibly for some students, they had responsibilities at home which were not meant to be blended into academic life. Spaces at home, in turn, did not become a conducive environment for students to receive their education. As noted by Alyaah, “It was tough at first to adapt to ODL and it was really hard to focus as there were a lot of distractions.” When that became inevitable, the quality of education that students should receive was also affected.
COVID-19 has also further perpetuated issues that have been personally affecting students that are more relevant to the current situation. Some of these issues are the inconsistency of government’s decision in the reopening of schools, postponement of important exams, such with the case of Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) for the year 2020 and 2021, lack of mental health support and provision by schools, lack of consideration in school work distribution to students during ODL by teachers, inconsistency of online teaching platforms usage and lack of access to digital technology and stable Internet services for online teaching and learning sessions. The list does not stop there unfortunately. For students who are underprivileged or not as fortunate, such as students in the B40 group, may have been subjected to loss of learning and loss of educational opportunities. Underdeveloped infrastructures to ensure proper, quality education for all students, especially for those who are living in rural areas, were received otherwise, or not received at all. And the sad truth is that these issues have been ongoing long before the COVID-19 outbreak hit Malaysia.
So, What Needs to be Done?
The wishes and demands by Alyaah and Jie Yee towards the Malaysian education system are direct and highly pertinent, even more so in the current time.
1. Increase autonomy for teachers in teaching and learning sessions.
The guidelines given by the Ministry of Education (MOE), although they were inclusive, were not comprehensive enough. Teachers were given the liberty to plan and give instructions, assignments and homework using a variety of online platforms and social media deemed appropriate. Within the guidelines as well, teachers could ask students that may have limited access to the Internet to do learning through textbooks, exercise books, revision books and activity books while at home. Reflecting the ongoing online learning and loss of learning opportunities for students to be a part of online teaching and learning sessions, these students might feel that they had been left behind or neglected in terms of education.
Although the implemented strategies for online learning emphasised flexibility in terms of schedules and pedagogies, matters such as contentment and motivation of students as part of the sessions should be taken into consideration as well. It was difficult enough for students that were not able to gain access to education via digital technology to be on an equal level as their counterparts, but it became even harder to ensure continuous engagement between students and their education. With an increase in autonomy for teachers to decide how the teaching and learning sessions should be conducted in accordance with ODL, it is possible that continuous engagement is promised. However, the responsibility should not be shouldered solely by teachers. The federal government must take the initiative to combat issues that are pertaining to digital education to ensure that teacher’s autonomy for the delivery of education can be improved and developed further.
2. Increase interventions and supervision
As previously stated, contentment and supervision of students should be taken into consideration. Teachers can collaborate or engage with parents and caretakers for more direct supervision and interventions on students should they require more support in ODL. “This could look like checking attendance on who has been absent during online lessons or conducting tests to determine the average level of understanding of a topic at hand and identifying those who have fallen below it. The next step would be to conduct interventions, providing extra lessons after school, adapting lessons to suit their understanding, identifying the reason behind their lack of understanding and filling in those gaps,” as suggested by Jie Yee. She has noted that this approach requires multi-stakeholder responses, but the presence of the Ministry of Education is needed to take a lead on the issue and provide all stakeholders involved with a solid direction.
3. Issues that matter
“My biggest concern in the education system is the promotion of an environment that encourages the fear of failure, fear of humiliation and fear of disapproval,” said Alyaah. When asked about the education climate in Malaysia, Jie Yee responded that it mainly focuses on achieving results rather than helping students identify their passions or understanding a topic at hand. Issues such as online bullying and sexual harassment were also brought up. It is important to examine the issues that were brought to attention by the students. At the end of the day, the delivery of education was meant for them rather than seeing it as an obligation by other stakeholders. Alyaah hoped that the education system would be protected from short-term politics, by establishing a National Agency for Learning, run by experts from across the system that determines joined-up education, skills policy and funding for the long-term interests of citizens and society. ‘Stakeholders at Stake’ reflected in the title can be taken as a form of call-to-actions by students to ascertain that their livelihood, wellbeing, status and situation in education are not merely seen as a weapon for politics.
It is time for the Malaysian education system to be revamped to better suit the interests of Malaysian students as well. In education, it is not a one-way approach where only the teachers are the sole provider of education. The mould of our Malaysian students at the national level will decide the shaping and the building of a new Malaysia. Thus, what is given to them will also be given by them to the nation in the future. And what we want for both our students and the nation is only the best in all good things. Representing MSGA, education reform to the current Malaysian education system will provide that “best” for our students in moving towards the direction of education equity, education equality and better, bigger access to education for Malaysian students across all ages, groups, and backgrounds.
By: Ungku ‘Arifin
Vice President of Advocacy 2020/2021