AUGUST 2 — For many of the schools we’re working with, internet connectivity remains a key barrier in the continuity of online learning. Students struggle with low bandwidth, lack of devices and sharing data and devices with their parents and siblings. In some areas, students are completely cut off from any form of internet access and teachers find it almost impossible to reach out to them. While we know that the issue of internet connectivity and infrastructure is one that might take long to resolve, there are some key things that teachers have done to ensure students’ learning is not interrupted, especially given that schools in Malaysia have been closed for over 30 weeks now.
In our work with some of the more rural schools, one of the key strategies that leaders do is to carry out a needs assessment amongst parents and students to ascertain their internet bandwidth capabilities, their struggles and what are some of the best ways for them to continue learning. In one of our schools, SMK Medamit, their senior assistant Puan Evette found that students were completely cut off from any internet access and the best way was through module delivery. She and her teachers then set out to deliver these modules to the students and then collect it for marking. This helped students to at least get some learning during school closure. For SK Sipinong, Cikgu Sazahlie found that his students had a bit of access but parents were illiterate and for that reason, couldn’t support their students at home. His teachers then set out to do one-on-one coaching with the parents and then sent lessons through whatsapp voice notes. It is essential for school leaders to firstly understand the context and situation in their school, the needs of the parents and then apply the best learning strategies for them.
The second is to set out clear goals for teachers to achieve. One of the key ideas we work with our school leaders is around setting a personalised school vision, goals and then working on a School Improvement Development Plan. This helps them to ensure that their plans are focused on student outcomes and set clear goals on how they want to achieve this. We also encourage leaders to share this plan with their teachers and parents in different dialogue sessions so that the entire school is in line with what’s going on. One of the best practices we have seen is from SJKT Ladang North Hummock led by Puan Anuradha. She frequently has dialogue series with her parents, encouraging them to play an active role in their child’s online learning. And we know, with parental support, a child can certainly learn and do better in school, especially online schooling.
The third is reflecting on what has been done and what can be done better. We take our schools through a series of reflections on what can the ‘start, stop and continue’ doing to get better results. As a former teacher myself, school can be very fast paced and at times there is not enough space for us to rest, reflect and do better the next time. Offering this space to our school leaders to reflect has helped them to reevaluate their plans and to set out next steps that are stronger and more focused.
Finally, we urge leaders to ensure the mental and emotional wellbeing of their teachers and students. As we’re all still in a global pandemic, it is important to remember that our students and teachers who have been out of school for over 30 weeks now are struggling with various issues. Online teaching and learning cannot be the same as offline, with a packed timetable and so on, but must take into account the situation that we’re in and the fragility of our students and teachers’ mental wellbeing at this time. We urge our leaders to encourage mindfulness activities during staff meetings and lessons so that the school community takes time off to check in with themselves and their mental health.
Online learning is here to stay and thus, schools have to plan and strategies to ensure that even the last, lost and least of our students are taken care of and that their learnings are not disrupted severely. At this juncture, the Ministry of Education should also plan for stronger and more strategic leadership development courses for teachers and school leaders to help them build their expertise and lead their schools through this pandemic.
Cheryl Ann Fernando
* Pemimpin GSL is an organisation focused on providing support and capacity building training for schools in Malaysia. To date, Pemimpin has worked with over 200 schools from all over Malaysia, impacting over 1000 teachers who have been part of their programme offerings. Pemimpin believes that excellent schools begin with excellent leaders. Cheryl Ann Fernando is the CEO of Pemimpin GSL. She is a Teach for Malaysia alumni and was also part of the National Education Council for Policy Reform in 2018/2019.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or organisation and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.