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By Rohana Nasrah
This first of a series of four articles on the implementation of home-based teaching and learning in Sabah looks at how teachers at a school in Papar coped with digital pedagogy last year.
KOTA KINABALU (Bernama) – The atmosphere at Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Agama (SMKA) Tun Datu Mustapha in Papar on the first day of the 2021 school year was quite unlike the previous years.
This time, only the students sitting for the 2020 Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination, which starts today, were allowed to return to the school, located about 29 kilometres from here, for face-to-face teaching sessions.
The school’s Form One to Four Five students, meanwhile, had to brace themselves for home-based teaching and learning (PdPR) due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
This school has hostel facilities and the students come from districts such as Semporna, Beaufort, Sipitang, Kota Belud, Pitas and Kudat.
The continuation of PdPR from last year, following the enforcement of movement restrictions in March 2020, is not something this school’s teachers are looking forward to as they know only too well not all their students have Internet access nor the electronic gadgets to enable them to participate in the digital learning process.
Norhaziaty Mohd Aduit, 45, who teaches mathematics and principles of accounting and has been teaching at SMKA Tun Datu Mustapha since 2002, said last year’s PdPR’s sessions opened her eyes to the importance of digital infrastructure which is lacking in Sabah, especially in the interior regions.
She said the state’s Internet infrastructure development has not kept pace with Industrial Revolution 4.0’s impact on the current education delivery system. In other words, Sabah’s Internet networks need to be upgraded so that no student, particularly in rural and interior areas, is left out of PdPR.
For Norhaziaty and her colleagues, the classroom pedagogy switched to the digital medium in the wink of an eye in March last year.
Leaving their marker pens and whiteboards behind, they started using mobile platforms such as Google Classroom, Google Meet, WhatsApp and Telegram to teach their students.
The sudden change in the teaching and learning (PdP) system came as a culture shock for Norhaziaty, who is a graduate in accounting from Universiti Teknologi Mara Shah Alam. It was the first time in her 19-year teaching career that she was conducting classes online.
“It tested my efficiency and required me to adapt to the new normal digital pedagogy as quickly as possible so that my students could keep themselves up to date with the syllabus.
“Of course, I faced challenges as I had no prior experience teaching mathematics and principles of accounting on online platforms,” she told Bernama in an interview recently.
Norhaziaty, nevertheless, remained optimistic and took the challenges in her stride. For her online PdP sessions, she opted to be creative and innovative so that her students could comprehend and memorise every formula and concept in the critical subjects she taught.
Her teaching methods included the use of the YouTube channel and the production of interactive and informative videos on how to solve mathematical and principles of accounting problems. Her videos made it easier for the students to understand the lessons better, as well as engage them to explore further the topic being taught.
“The important thing was to meet the objectives of the PdP sessions,” said Norhaziaty.
She was, however, concerned about her students who lived in the rural and interior regions as many of them did not have Internet access while some had to share their gadgets with their siblings who also needed them for their PdPR sessions.
Realising their limitations, the empathetic teacher gave her students permission to complete their assignments in accordance with their ability and capacity.
To overcome the constraints faced by students who faced Internet access issues, SMKA Tun Datu Mustapha conducted its 2020 year-end examination and SPM trial examination “remotely”.
This entailed sending the exam papers to the students via postal services or by hand, with the costs borne by their school, and getting the students to sit for their papers as per the timetable prepared by the school. After the examination period, the answer sheets were either posted to the school or collected by the teachers.
“We teachers served as the ‘runners’, sending exam papers to the homes of the students,” Norhaziaty said, smiling while recollecting her duties last November.
“To us, this was the best alternative as not all our students had good Internet connections. So, our school exams (in November last year) were conducted manually with the teachers preparing the question papers and distributing them to the students. We made it fair for all of them.”
Her colleague and fellow “runner” Norshahidah Zakaria, 48, who teaches Arab and Syariah Islamiah, said she delivered the test papers to students in Kudat district, located about 180 km from Kota Kinabalu in the northern part of Sabah, and returned to the same place two weeks later to collect the answer sheets.
For the road trips to Kudat, Norshahidah and her husband Ismail Anam, 52, who also teaches at the same school, left their house at 6 am and drove through the scenic countryside for some three hours before reaching Kudat town.
The first trip also required them to hand over the exam papers to students living on Pulau Banggi but when they reached the jetty in Kudat town, they found that the ferry service to the island had stopped temporarily. Luckily, one of the boat skippers there agreed to help them to distribute the papers to the students concerned.
“Having worked in Sabah for over 20 years, I have had a lot of experiences but (the Kudat experience) provided a new dimension because I had never experienced anything like that before,” said Norshahidah.
PARENTS INVIGILATE EXAMS
Nurhasdianty Hasly, 32, who teaches science at SMKA Tun Datu Mustapha, said she had to travel on narrow and unpaved roads in interior areas in Beaufort and Sipitang to deliver the exam papers to the students staying there.
“I contacted either the students or their parents first to facilitate handing over the question papers to them and collecting the answer sheets from them,” she said.
SMKA Tun Datu Mustapha principal Rapihi Derim, meanwhile, said 20 teachers from his school were involved in despatching the question papers to over 400 students. As for those who lived near the school, their parents were told to collect the test papers from the principal’s office.
Rapihi said he and his staff placed their full trust in the students’ parents to invigilate the examination process which was monitored by the teachers via Google Meet.
The parents were also made to sign a pledge stating that the exam papers would only be handed to their children as per the school’s exam schedule.
“The exams are important to gauge the students’ level of competency in all the subjects. Some use the project-based teaching method but we feel it is not suitable for students in Form Three, Four and Five.
“By conducting exams for them, we wanted to motivate our students to continue focusing on their studies,” said Rapihi, who also thanked the frontliners who helped the teachers to send the exam papers to students staying in areas placed under Enhanced Movement Control Order.
He also said that the school spent about RM10,000 to implement the “remote” examination initiative. The cost included payment for prepaid top-ups for the students’ mobile data facility throughout the examination period.
SMKA Tun Datu Mustapha students interviewed by Bernama said they were thankful to their teachers for taking the trouble to send the exam papers to them.
Nurul Hazalina Elyana Hairudin, 17, said her teachers also motivated them to study hard and participate in online exam seminars.
Nur Syafinah Mohd Aldah, 17, said she found PdPR challenging and preferred face-to-face teaching sessions where she could seek clarification from the teacher if she did not understand something.
“PdPR is really challenging for me because my environment is not supportive and Internet access is slow here. But our teachers have been giving us their full support to prepare for the (SPM) exam,” she added.
Having conducted PdPR sessions for nearly a year now, teachers like Norhaziaty are now more prepared to embrace the new normal teaching elements although challenges still prevail.
Norhaziaty said no matter what happens, she would remain committed to the pledge she has taken to educate the children of this nation.
“Last year was the beginning (of the changes in Pdp). Unexpected situations may crop up in the future too, we don’t know. But after what happened (last year), I’m optimistic that teachers in Sabah will know what kind of alternative plans and initiatives to implement,” she added.
Translated by Rema Nambiar