Over the last half decade, technology has been recharging the education sector with digital content, smart classrooms, and online assessments; but it wasn’t until these past two years that its impact was truly felt.
Everyone, from educators to students, needed to quickly adapt to new ways of teaching and learning; but the biggest challenge lies in finding an inclusive approach to cater to the diverse demographics of students with varying digital literacy and readiness levels.
Part of the findings from Digi’s ‘Life Under Covid-19 for Children Online; Values and Challenges’ survey conducted in November 2021
In its “Life Under Covid-19 for Children Online; Values and Challenges” survey conducted in November 2021, Digi Telecommunications Sdn Bhd (Digi) found that 71% of schoolchildren reported they were spending more time online since the pandemic, and negative sentiments towards online classes outweighed the positives. Specifically, secondary school students felt increased mental stress from their grades as they felt they had a lack of discipline and motivation at home.
Digi’s Head of Sustainability, Philip Ling
Digi’s Head of Sustainability, Philip Ling said the findings highlighted that more needs to be done to create a healthy and conducive digital environment for our children. “It is every child’s right to have access to high quality and inclusive education regardless of where they are. This means providing them access to quality education tools and strong connectivity, so they can grow into the future talents that can ultimately lead us through the digital economy. As a digital service provider, we are part of the ecosystem who are actively engaging partners to understand the wellbeing of children and to curate capacity building programmes that are most effective for them.”
Teaching during the Pandemic
Students exposed to new digital skills to prepare them for future jobs
It is undeniable that the pandemic has put our education system and learning method to the test. Teaching during that period required a shift in the educators’ ability to engage their students differently. Adequate reskilling and adoption of innovative teaching approaches are critical to ensure students remain engaged under the virtual or hybrid learning environment and to help them nurture continuous learning even outside of classroom hours and more importantly, to develop understanding on the subject matter at their own pace.
Understanding that education is not a one-size-fits-all approach, teachers felt encouraged to think outside of the box and make online learning exciting for students. Sharing his experience, a teacher at SJK(C) Chi Seng 2, Goh Kok Ming, said he had to quickly adapt during MCO to teach his students in Perak.
“During the school closures at the start of MCO, students became less motivated as they could not visualise their learning goals and it is of no surprise that their attitudes towards learning changed. Educators also face challenges such as access to readily available online teaching materials and resources, self-motivation to hone their own digital competencies, overcoming demographic factors and connectivity issues,” he explained.
Goh Kok Ming, a teacher from SJK(C) Chi Seng 2, Perak tries to make learning more hands-on during the pre-pandemic days.
To keep his class engaged academically, emotionally and socially, Kok Ming had to curate and experiment with several initiatives. These included virtual Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) challenges, introducing an appraisal system using digital badges, and a task choice board consisting of tasks that students can choose to complete within a specific time frame. The task board is designed to empower students to think, make decisions and complete tasks according to their own pace.
Additionally, Kok Ming has created gamified engagements such as online scavenger hunts done via Google Forms and forming an innovation team called Kampong Coders whereby students will design and innovate products or items to solve the daily problems that they face, hence allowing them to develop communication skills and design thinking skills.
“For me, learning occurs not only in formal activities, but also through informal engagements. Thus, these elements make the learning experience fun, meaningful and relevant to their learning contexts,” shared Kok Ming.
As students gradually return to schools today while the country transitions into an endemic phase, teachers will need to employ discretion and flexibility to ensure a seamless transition of learning experiences for their students. For Kok Ming, he acclimates to the situation by carefully integrating online and in-class programmes. This structure caters to the different student needs and helps them adjust to hybrid learning.
Crafting Solutions for Educators
Another fellow teacher, Julie Mozianda binti Ahamat, a former Basic Computer Science teacher at SMK Kuala Perlis shared that different methods and tools are needed to sustain students’ interest levels and comprehension – and that’s where digital tools and resources like YouTube videos and micro:bit have helped her to diversify her teaching tools and methods as not all students learn the same way.
“Using the micro:bit quick start kits, coupled with the digitised learning modules hosted on a platform called Future Skills For All (FS4A), I found that children have the flexibility of learning anytime, even in their own homes with their parents. This also allows for family bonding time that is both interactive and educational. In fact, during the pandemic, these tools have helped students to programme interesting projects like robots or musical instruments, which allows teachers like myself to see the breadth of a student’s creativity,” shared Julie.
FS4A is a digital learning initiative, which Digi introduced in early 2020 to support teachers like Kok Ming and Julie to embrace the change in the education model and to accelerate the adoption of hybrid learning in Malaysia. It enables teachers to teach outside of the box and find a more inclusive way to help students understand the subject matter better.
Through a 3-year joint initiative with Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and in support from the Ministry of Education (MOE), FS4A was developed as an easily-accessible digitised future skills modules and videos aligned to the national curriculum.
To date, the FS4A programme has successfully onboarded close to 35,000 users, comprising students in upper primary and secondary level students, and their teachers. To reach a wider group of students, FS4A will be expanding to include new robotics modules for upper primary and lower secondary school students, coupled with other features to enhance overall inclusivity to the learning platform. One of such developments includes the collaboration with the Malaysian Federation of the Deaf (MFD) to make the learning of coding accessible to deaf students.
Training teachers from the MFD with the skills and tools for inclusive coding education for deaf students.
Towards mid-2021, FS4A initiated the #BolehCode campaign which aspired to drive greater adoption of programming as a national movement. Under this initiative, state-level and national-level competitions were held where students competed in different categories such as Micro:bit, HTML, Python and SQL challenges. The competition received encouraging participation with over 3000 registrations.
Based on an impact study done analysing responses from over 1,500 participants of the #BolehCode campaign, 65% of the participants ranked their coding skills at 7 and above, which showed an increased interest in coding, as compared to 23% prior to them attempting the FS4A lessons.
Creating a conducive virtual teaching and learning environment
In some ways, the silver lining of our past two years of experimenting on digital education has birthed a generation of schoolchildren who are more digitally-advanced than ever. Based on the survey findings, students have been adopting among other activities, vlogging, gaming and watching movies online, alongside going for online classes.
The shift in the way education is done has also allowed teachers to continue pushing boundaries. “Moving forward, the challenge for us teachers is to continue to be creative in adapting our teaching to appeal to our students and to maintain their learning momentum regardless of whether it is done over a screen or in-person. This will, in turn, make way for a batch of students who are digitally-savvy and adaptable to new technology,” concluded Julie.
With the path to hybrid learning being paved, it is up to the industry and the community to bridge the digital gap by ensuring that our children have access to digital technologies and are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to use them. To learn more or to enrol into the FS4A programme, visit http://futureskills.moe-dl.edu.my/.