These past few months have been eye-opening for all of us. The Covid-19 pandemic, Movement Control Order (MCO), and emergency remote learning presented us challenges so unprecedented that it is now impossible to view teaching and learning as similarly as before. For most of us, we had always known that changes were needed – long before the pandemic hit us. Nonetheless, we were not in a position so urgent for change. We talked, yet we weren’t so vocal about it. We tweaked our teaching strategies, yet we knew not to hope for the entire system to change anytime soon. After all, although the system is not the best, it is not that bad either.
Teaching and learning during the MCO: A peek into a change we were not ready for
Everyone left schools for the mid-semester break thinking it was just going to be a week-long holiday. None of us saw that it was going to be for the rest of the semester and longer. Teachers left only with exam papers to grade at home. I did not bring any work home because by 12 March 2020, my papers were all marked, graded, and recorded. I was ready to make the break a good rest mentally and physically.
Then the MCO started. Teachers and students were caught by surprise. None of us were ready for this. Some of my colleagues even left their laptops at their rented homes and by then were already safely back in their hometowns. For me and thousands of teachers all over the country, we were only connected to the few students on our social media and phones. In fact, by that weekend, and perhaps for some schools the start of the second phase of MCO, remote learning did not start. We were waiting for instructions and guides from our school administration, district office, and the Ministry of Education.
When did remote learning start was not clear – teachers who adapted quickly managed to start earlier than those who needed time to process the situation and chart their next move. Students and parents were looking at schools to navigate the situation too. For all of us (teachers, parents, and students), metaphorically speaking, were learning to swim while already in deep water, without proper support and swimming coach. There were a lot of flapping, flailing, kicking, and screaming (experiments and complaining).
As the MCO extended to a few more phases and versions, we saw remote learning progress more clearly. Classes became scheduled and more efficiently run. Teachers and students were learning through many kinds of channels – online quizzes, Google Classroom, social media, etc. Lessons became more substantive and learning took place either real-time or recorded to engage with students’ needs. Teachers had time for their own learning too – education conferences, skill development courses, and teaching webinars were available frequently. That said, the challenges we faced in the beginning of remote learning were not all solved. Indeed, we are still in the phase of trial and errors.
Schools Reopening: How new is the new norm?
When the ministry announced the date for school reopening, everyone was excited. How will learning change? How will day-to-day schooling run now? So on and so forth. Personally, as 24 June approaches, I become restless. I have all these ideas and new-found beliefs in teaching and learning that I don’t know how and where to begin. Surely, I will not want to have gone through the past few months of change only to be back to school doing exactly how I did things during pre-MCO.
As a teacher teaching SPM English, language learning at school for me is now beyond achieving passes and good grades. I had known this long before 2020 but it has always been easier to evaluate myself as a teacher from the grades my students get in exams. After all, I may have been a quality teacher for my students, but as results and reports reach the desks in the greater offices, I, and my colleagues become faceless and reduced to numbers. That is how the motivation for change is subdued – what matters most in the end directs the decisions I make as an individual teacher.
Of course, it is possible to make the changes I want in the way I conduct my lessons and engage with my students. Still, the desire to see a significant change in the way schools are run lingers and is now louder than ever. These changes are bound to be difficult, aggressive, expensive, and may even be repulsive – but that’s change, and no change has ever been easy.
With schools reopening for SPM and STPM classes, teachers are already buzzing with all the syllabus they are planning to recap and rush for to prepare students for the national exams. Thus, that expectation that spoon-fed lessons and intense summative tests seem inevitable. I may succumb and regress to this way of teaching or I may find colleagues who share my views and make transitioning my classes into learning-centred easier.
Furthermore, will the attention these classes are going to get overshadow the need to rigorously improve the online classes for the other students? Answering my question during her session at the Education Summit 2020, Puan Fauziah binti Sirat (Managing Director, Cesta 16) talked about the importance of training teachers to be the right version of E-teachers. She also echoed what many educators have been saying; that this crisis (Covid-19 and remote teaching and learning) should be a turning point for educators to start looking into the importance of making sure our younger generation or students love to learn.
The MCO brought out the truth about student motivation in learning. Without the physical presence of the teacher during lesson, how much learning is a student motivated to do? It hurts seeing the students being online yet refusing to join the lesson, but this is tip of the iceberg. We need to face that years of daily school attendance is not equivalent to motivation to learn. What we are teaching in the classroom may not be what they need to learn and their absence while being online means we need to look into this matter rather than simply blaming it on laziness and disciplinary problem.
With a few days to the 24th, things are not as clear as the social distancing rules in school yet for me. nevertheless, like we have always done, we will either adapt or hopefully kickstart – either way, something gets done.