Bracing For Educational Change

There is a quote from the Disney Pixar’s animation Wall-E that seems rather apt for the Movement Control Order we find ourselves in today in Malaysia:

“I see the ship’s log is showing that today is the 700th anniversary of our five-year cruise. Well, I’m sure our forefathers would be proud to know that 700 years later we’d be… doing the exact same thing they were doing”

As we enter our second round of protracted school closures here in Malaysia, we have been forced to wonder just how long this will drag on and what needs to change to ensure education can continue. Or, just like the crew on the Wall-E ship, will it be that we will be doing the same thing 700 years from now? Just who would have known that a joke from a 2008 animation would become plausible 12 years later?

In terms of education, teachers and educational administrators across the globe are all finding new ways to face and tackle the unique set of problems that are presenting themselves as we are forced to embrace eLearning. Most teachers would agree that there is no replacement for human contact and the physical in-school classes; however, they would also be the same teachers who readily agree that if the situation truly demands it, we have no choice but to embrace strategies like eLearning.

So, what is it that teachers are stressed about? Well chief among concerns from teachers and parents is that technology access is not uniform; thus the situation is likely to cause a further rift in our society between the haves and have nots. Cheating is also likely to be rife, especially in the early days as we adopt the new methods of assessment. The Head of Counselling in elc International School, Mrs. Geetanjali Chaabra goes as far as saying that “the lack of social interaction leads to more mental stress. We need to be wary of the mental well-being of individuals and be on the watch for increased cyberbullying”. Really, the physical cues that teachers typically pick up during the course of the school day are much harder to see on a screen, especially when shared with 19 or more other students simultaneously. As a result, students are unlikely to get emotional support as quickly as they should. Of course, these are just a handful of concerns and there are serious academic studies already underway trying to quantify and measure the severity of the situation.

However, many teachers are also pondering whether this is a blessing in disguise, and that the negatives are simply a vain attempt to stop the tide of change by those scared of change. A tide that if positively and proactively embraced can lead to a system of education that is superior to anything we have seen to date. Diane Grimes, Head of Primary in the elc Sungai Buloh campus, highlights how Malaysia’s movement control order has shown “our ability to adapt to new challenges, for both students and teachers”, and that with “supportive, understanding, appreciative parents”, effective teaching and learning has managed to continue despite the change to eLearning. Across elc you hear senior leaders all agreeing that the stay at home order has, on the whole, seen families come together and begin to understand each other more closely. Ms. Camerino, Head of Primary in the Cyberjaya campus, pointed out how being at home has seen a rise in “genuine quality time with the family”. A simple statement with such depth, as students have remarked to teachers about instances of “genuine” shared moments with family members, from meals to board games to simple conversations. Encouragingly these interactions help tether families to the “real” world despite the increased reliance on technology. It is this tether and connection that provide a resilience to students that help them overcome. So, you can see there are positives to our situation too, which are quite often contradictory depending on your point of view and unique mix of experiences.

At elc we appreciate the educational challenges that COVID19 have brought about are significant. The senior academic leaders have no doubt there will be unpopular decisions made along the way as they seek to find balance between the physical classes and eLearning. Some of those may even turn out to be mistakes that simply do not have the desired results. However, elc will continue to push the boundaries and always seek academic excellence from students and teachers. Perhaps elc‘s Head of Secondary at the Sungai Buloh campus, Mrs. Chong’s optimistic sentiment best sums up elc‘s positive outlook:

“… (MCO has) changed the way we do things, how we perceive our normal daily routines and how we react to unexpected challenges. I believe that in the face of much adversity, the human spirit rises above problems, pain and suffering to look for the positive and the beautiful.”

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