By Dr Muhammad Noor Abdul Aziz & Dr Mohd Shahidan Shaari
The deadly COVID-19 pandemic struck Malaysia almost two years ago. Since then, the education forefront has had a 360 degree turn. The government has initiated various measures to contain the virus. Some of the measures have come under fire, and some have received a pat on the back.
The pandemic has been a pain in the neck for both teachers and students. They might not have thought that learning and teaching activities would be carried out online despite the location and time. It is expected of the lecturers to brush up on their IT skills to accommodate their students during the remote learning period.
Students are embroiled in conflict with lecturers who always lay the blame on students for not being strong enough to wade through the storm. Recently, the Higher Education Minister announced that students would be allowed to return to campus in October. This news brought smiles to students’ and even lecturers’ lips. Both heaved a sigh of relief. Despite their presence on campus, face-to-face classes are still not allowed for some reason. To do justice to both sides, we should consider views from both of them.
Students have been asked whether online classes are still relevant for them to attend. Most of them are not happy with online classes that can culminate in their stress. It is difficult for them to interact with their lecturers, and hence they end up gaining little knowledge. In comparison with face-to-face classes, they have scant understanding of what their lecturers teach. However, if they have face-to-face classes, they can consult with their lecturers shortly after classes. For some subjects that involve maths, such as economics, accounting, finance, etc., they have to scratch their heads to digest the subjects. This is because the subjects are not easy to be taught and learned online.
It is also hard for them to give undivided attention in online classes due to their presence at home. They have to share their rooms with other siblings, and that acts as a major hindrance for them to concentrate during their online classes. Besides, interruptions from their parents also become a stumbling block to focus on their lessons.
Students need their friends to support each other in a bid to alleviate their stress of studies. Online classes have made them highly independent, and some of them who are not able to manage their time wisely will succumb to stress without anyone’s knowledge. Students are complaining that their internet access is so poor that they skip their classes unintentionally. Thus, this will result in them lagging far behind their friends.
Postgraduate students also inevitably face adversities in conducting their research. Their data collection has been delayed several times owing to the fact that they are not able to distribute questionnaires in person. Besides, they have to meet their lecturers in person at least twice a month in order to discuss their progress to ensure that everything will fall into place. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they have to arrange online meetings with their lecturers, which has posed a greater challenge for them to complete their studies.
Lecturers reveal their views regarding online remote learning, and almost every one of them unanimously agrees that Internet reception and connection issues are their top hindrances. Even though they prepare well for their classes, disruption takes place with continuous lagging on either side. It dissuades and demotivates both lecturers and students.
Apparently, another serious matter that needs to be tackled is the student engagement issue. Since it is an online class, students tend to give an array of reasons ranging from no data for their mobile phones to doing house chores which disable them from being engaged in their class tasks. Furthermore, lecturers could not check the students’ presence because they often switch off their video cameras because it consumes data. Lecturers have to crack their minds to think of various ways to tap into students’ understanding by assigning tasks that do not require much data usage.
It brings to another issue of task and assignment loads. Most students grumble and whine that online learning makes them glued to their seats to complete tasks. From the lecturers’ perspective, it is one of the ways to check their understanding and get students to practise using the content knowledge. If back on campus they can do it, why can’t they perform the task at the convenience of their homes?
In a nutshell, lecturers and students are in dire need of help, support and compassion from all people. It is not the right time to blame each other as it does not bear any fruit. In fact, the problem has escalated when a few of them resorted to quitting their studies due to the stress of online classes. Both should exchange shoes to fathom each other. Both lecturers and students should have mutual understanding and agreements so that teaching and learning activities can be fruitful and successful.
The lesson learned from the pandemic is that we should embrace the new norm that is remote learning. All in all, it boils down to time management since everyone is at home and has chores to do other than teaching and learning activities. It is imperative that both students and lecturers plan their time wisely and divide them equally for better mental health and avoid disruption in teaching and learning.
Dr Muhammad Noor Abdul Aziz is Senior Lecturer at the School of Education, Universiti Utara Malaysia.
Dr Mohd Shahidan Shaari is Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Applied and Human Sciences, Universiti Malaysia Perlis.