What We Can Learn From Malaysian Higher Educators?
By Prethiba Esvary, Content Writer 

I never truly knew (or realised) how much effort educators actually put into preparing lesson plans and teaching materials. Not until I grew up and started working. On a typical workday, I would come home by 6 pm, shower, have dinner, and sit in front of the television. My mum and sister, who are both teachers, would go back to their desks and continue working. Initially, I assumed they were just uber dedicated to what they do. Well, they are. But it apparently comes with the job.

As journalist and educator Gayatri Unsworth so aptly puts it, “…when you are a teacher, your work really never quite stops. You exist in a cyclical state of planning, preparing, delivering, assessing, giving feedback, reflecting, and adjusting.”

When the Malaysian government announced a movement control order (MCO), educators were faced with a myriad of challenges. The question now is how are they overcoming these inevitable hurdles, especially when they are largely held responsible for a child’s education?

We decided to focus on the higher education sector and spoke to educators from Asia Metropolitan College (AMC), Asia Metropolitan University (AMU), and University of Cyberjaya (UoC) to understand some of their experiences and learnings during this MCO.

 

Catherine Chen
Catherine Chen

Lecturer, Diploma in Biotechnology, AMC Kuching
Catherine Chen is a biotechnology graduate of Swinburne University and is currently doing her Master of Education. She teaches Chemistry, Biochemistry, Principles of Genetic Engineering, and Medical Biotechnology.

During the first two weeks of the MCO, Chen shared that things were “chaotic” and “a little disoriented”. She had to be there for her concerned students and at the same time, find new ways to conduct her lectures and learn things she was unfamiliar with before.

Initially, she had no idea if her students could understand what she was trying to teach.

With a class as big as 40 students, one can only imagine what it must be like when a question is posed to them. Through trial and error, Chen says, she figured out how to manage her lessons.

“In the first two weeks, I definitely worked longer hours,” she admitted.

What is she doing differently now?

  • Communicating regularly with students on WhatsApp and Microsoft Teams.
  • Posing a lot more questions to students to ensure they are with her during the video sessions.
  • Providing more examples than usual to ensure students understand what is being taught.

How has the MCO affected online attendance?

“The attendance rate is [actually getting] higher,” Chen shared.

Based on feedback and discussions with her students, Chen gathers that her students are enthusiastic about this new learning approach. This can probably be attributed to the fact that her students fall into the Generation Z category and have a love for technology and flexibility.

How does she conduct assessments?

After she has taught a particular topic, she either schedules an assessment on Microsoft Teams or prepares a short quiz (on her PowerPoint slides) at the end of her video session. Students can either reply verbally in the video session or type their answers in the chat section.

 

Brandon Ling

Programme Coordinator and Lecturer, Diploma in Pharmacy, AMC Kota Kinabalu (KK)

Brandon Ling is a graduate of the National University of Singapore with experience in clinical and retail pharmacy. He teaches Pharmacology, Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Dispense Preparation Method, and Introduction to Pharmacy Practice.

Due to the restricted movement regulation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, educators all over the globe had to scramble to learn how to use different applications.

The situation is no different in AMC KK. Ling shared that he only started using Zoom — a popular video conferencing tool — about a month and a half ago. In fact, he and the rest of the lecturers had to make a quick switch from using Edmodo — an online teaching platform — to Microsoft Teams as their main platform of teaching.

When asked for the reason behind the switch, Ling said, “Our institution subscribes to Microsoft Teams. It also has more features than Edmodo and looks more organised.”

Microsoft Teams is good for storing and disseminating information and assessments to students, he added.

How are his students adapting?

Ling shared that while some of them do not have laptops, they are able to learn and complete assessments (such as quizzes) using their smartphones. All they have is to do is download the necessary application and log in. They are not required to print and re-upload documents. Everything is done online.

Some of his students have gone back to their hometowns where they don’t have access to Wi-Fi or a strong Internet connection.

Aware of this issue, Ling and other lecturers would prepare narrated slides whereby they would record their voices as they move through the slides in a PowerPoint presentation.

This would then be uploaded into Microsoft Teams.

How does Ling gauge his students’ levels of interest and understanding through online teaching (tutorials, etc.)?

He admitted, “Through online teaching, you really can’t tell. We can only tell through online assessments such as tests and quizzes. From there, we can assess their level of understanding.”

What about practical sessions?

He and the rest of the lecturers are doing their best to go through as much of the lectures and tutorials during this lockdown. Since there aren’t any practical sessions, he shares YouTube videos that demonstrate particular experiments with his students.

How can lecturers be prepared for something like this in the near future?

“The [institution] has to provide training [for lecturers]. There are probably some features in these applications [which we may not know of] that can empower us to do our jobs well.”

The second thing would be to provide laptops that are pre-installed with necessary applications. This would make it easier for educators, he shared.

 

Professor Dr Mudiarasan Kuppusamy

Dean, Faculty of Business and Technology, UoC.

Professor Dr Mudiarasan Kuppusamy has a PhD in Management from Western Sydney University, Australia, and specialises in the field of Information Systems.

Online teaching has its limitations. Aside from the obvious technical issues, the amount of material covered in a single online session may be less than that of a traditional face-to-face classroom setting. The use of an online medium naturally reduces the pace of teaching and learning over a period of time. A question one might ask is as follows:

Will lecturers be able to complete a subject’s syllabus on time for final examinations?

In an email interview, Prof Mudiarasan shared, “What used to be three hours of lecture (and tutorial) have now been reduced to one hour or so,” he said.

What he and his fellow lecturers have done is to introduce additional asynchronous activities to make up for those lost hours.

  • Asynchronous learning is learning conducted at one’s own pace (anytime, anywhere, anyhow). E.g. watching recorded lectures, reading online lecture notes, making posts on discussion boards, etc.
  • Synchronous learning is real-time learning that happens in a specific virtual place at a specific time. E.g. video conferencing, participating in live chats, streaming online lectures, etc.

The Faculty of Business and Technology at UoC are currently in the midst of designing a comprehensive online teaching plan (covering both synchronous and asynchronous learning) with the view of bringing teaching and learning to a “new normal” mode, Prof Mudiarasan shared.

Students are now learning (and understanding) at varying paces due to the online learning approach. What needs to be done when the university reopens to ensure that no student is left behind?

Prof Mudiarasan shared, “Differences in learning capabilities are not only a problem now. It [has been there] before the MCO. Students come from different backgrounds and capabilities. Some may be able to catch up easily and some [may take a longer time].

“We will do what we normally do – a consultation system. We currently have a process in place which encourages lecturers to keep track of students’ learning attitudes and behaviours…. [From there], we will know who is lagging and vice-versa.

“When we reopen, we will push for greater consultative engagement with students, in fact with all of them, to ensure they are on track.

“There will be times when we will run additional discussion classes to ensure they are on track.”

 

Professor Dr Mohamad Khan

Vice-Chancellor, AMU

Professor Dr Mohamad Khan is an expert in occupational health and safety (OHS) management and has had vast experience in the field of education and academics. He has also published more than 50 journal articles on OHS at national and international level.

Educational institutions in Malaysia are required to apply for a license in order to conduct programmes that are 100% online. These are known as open and distance learning (ODL) programmes.

According to Prof Mohamad Khan, only a select few educational institutions in Malaysia were given this license. However, due to the MCO, all institutions are now given permission to conduct all their classes online without the need to apply for this license.

He shared, “All this while, we (AMU) haven’t used a 100% online education approach. In fact, we have minimal experience with blended learning (a combination of traditional face-to-face learning and online learning).

“In fact, all universities in Malaysia are in the same boat!

“I think that this lockdown is actually a blessing. It’s a wake-up call for regulators and the education ministry.”

He proposed that once the MCO is lifted, the education ministry ought to provide an online platform with a minimal subscription fee (amount to be paid by the institution) and that is user-friendly and easily accessible.

With this comes the need to increase the network bandwidth in rural/ less developed areas to enable learning for every student, he added. Otherwise, having even the most advanced learning platform would be pointless.

 

Tan Sri Dato’ Dr R. Palan

Pro-Chancellor, UoC

Tan Sri Dato’ Dr R. Palan is a Malaysian entrepreneur in the education and technology space. The Pro-Chancellor of the University of Cyberjaya is also a passionate educator. He studied at the Harvard Business School and completed his PhD Education at the Federation University, Ballarat, Australia.

On the subject of education in the 21st century, Palan shared,

“I am a great believer that schools are the greatest discovery of the last century. Schools provide a very structured way of learning. However, there has been tremendous criticism on this subject.”

Palan made reference to an argument by Sir Ken Robinson, a renowned education and creativity expert, who criticised the one-size-fits-all approach in our mass education systems today which stifles children’s creativity.

Then there’s also the harsh criticism by Ivan Illich, author of Deschooling Society, that schools are perpetuating mass schooling and therefore leading to social injustice and inequality. Ivan made the case for the need to abolish the current school systems as it was really impossible to reform them.

Additionally, Palan added, “IQ, or the intelligence quotient, was originally developed by the French (specifically by Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon), to identify student’s learning capabilities and customise learning for them.

“Unfortunately, that has not happened.”

So, what now?

While the traditional face-to-face classroom learning will continue to remain relevant, Palan thinks that this is a great time to use technology and figure out how we can tailor education to fit the diverse learning needs of students.

Bringing It All Together

It’s definitely interesting to see what technology can do to help educators inculcate relevant knowledge and skills unto students.

I also believe that no matter how advanced technology becomes, it will not change the significance of an educator’s role in a student’s learning process.

It is incredibly inspiring to observe how our educators have revolutionised pedagogy in just a matter of weeks.

While we are all still adapting to this ‘new normal’ way of life, let’s also recognise the hard work put in by the people who are educating our youth.

Our teachers are indeed heroes.