COVID-19 Op-ed

Challenges to Learning and Teaching in Malaysia in the Time of Covid-19

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Rashid AtingResearcher at
Social Wellbeing Research Centre, Faculty of Economics and Administration,
University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. This piece of work strictly represents the
author’s personal view, and is not made on behalf of any institution or
organization. The author can be reached through his e-mail:

With Covid-19 virus infections still rising, governments
throughout the world are still scrambling to adapt to and adopt conditions
leading to a new normal in their countries. The education sector is one that
has been most impacted by the pandemic. To overcome this, the education
sector in Malaysia has opted for the approach of online learning or
e-learning with technology and devices as a mediator of communication to
replace face-to-face learning. This is currently the most popular alternative
solution to contain the spread of Covid-19.Article 28 of the Convention on
the Rights of the Child states that every child is entitled to receive a
compulsory primary education. Malaysia has amended the Education Act, 1996
(Act 550), and has called for compulsory primary education for 6 years to
Malaysian citizens between 6 to 12 years old. Considered as a second-tier
industrialized country in Southeast Asia, Malaysia recorded a literacy rate
of around 94.64 per cent in 2017 (New Straits Times, 2017) and this number
surged to 96.85 per cent in the last year (UNESCO, 2020). These figures
display that Malaysia’s population has low illiteracy that is less than 10
per cent for the entire population above 15 years old. The literacy rate
among those who are 65 years and above is at 75.6 per cent (UNESCO, 2020).
Even with a higher literacy rate among its citizens, Malaysia still faces
some constraints with the e-learning approach. It has not been fully
legalised like in more developed countries. Hence, the related ministries
have not been taking these matters seriously, leading to poor planning and
implementation. At the same time, e-learning has not been fully inclusive,
caused by a fragile foundation of the current education system that lags
behind its neighbour country, Singapore (malaysiakini, 2020). These problems
have triggered a new phenomenon called the “digital divide” among countries
around the globe that has been further exacerbated as urban schools get more
benefits and internet access compared with sub-urban schools (New Straits
Times, 2020a).For Malaysians, most regions have access to Internet and most
citizens are technology literate, which can defined as having the basic
knowledge of handling mechanical gadgets such as a desktop, laptop and so
forth (IGI Global, 2020). In terms of literacy in technology, 90.1 per cent
of the Malaysian population is technology literate. Higher literacy in
technology is caused by several factors such as internet penetration
(Malaysia was the second best across South East Asia) (CNA, 2020);
development of e-commerce industry (J.P Morgan, 2020); providing technology
as a perquisite for academic needs (Shariman, Razak, & Noor, 2012);
and other related factors. The access to Internet in different states in
Malaysia is not the same, as some remote areas such as Pahang, Kelantan,
Sabah and Sarawak do not have adequate Internet access. Among the many
reasons are the low technology literacy, lifestyle, and the inaccessible
location. However, even with this condition where some locations are
inaccessible for internet network providers to reach, a study exhibits that
for both urban and rural areas there is 92.2 per cent and 81.5 per cent
technology literacy respectively (DOSM, 2019).As a response to the “new
normal” in Malaysia, new alternatives need to devised to cope with the new
environments such as propagating mass promotion of e-learning to society. It
is a fact that this approach is relatively new for the society and it will
take some time and effort to get used to it before it becomes a norm. Under
this new norm, parental expenditure inclined more towards electronic devices
as a medium for home-based learning as reiterated by government. During this
moment, online learning can assist to ensure the continuity of studying. Through
this unprecedented situation, numerous applications for education purposes
have been introduced as a solution for these matters such as Google
Classroom, Google Hangouts, Google Meet, Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams and the
most popular application Zoom (New Straits Times, 2020b). At the same time,
there is a category of people that is unable to afford the instruments needed
for e-learning such as computers, printers, broadband network and even a
handphone. To cater to certain households’ incapability to purchase these
gadgets, the government introduced Kelas@Rumah, a daily television show that
is available on a free-to-view television channel. In addition, the Malaysia
government also took some initiative to provide 1GB free internet through
selected telco companies throughout the Movement Control Order. As Malaysia
moves towards a recovery curve, more research needs to be done on issues
related to e-learning, as it has now become necessary to facilitate the
teaching sessions during this outbreak.The pandemic is expected to endure for
some years. This unprecedented phenomenon that hit all the countries in the
world brings many possibilities for the implementation of a new normal for
the human life. The education sector is also not exempted from this. As the
world embraces and moves towards the Industrial Revolution 4.0 (IR4.0), more
technology is being used in the daily life to suit the needs of families due
to lockdown that subsequently caused the closure of education institutions.
By looking at the needs and demands in the upcoming year, this is the right
time for the whole world to shift to another phase of human civilization by
implementing technology in daily life.


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