The COVID-19 pandemic which struck Malaysia and the rest of the world seems to have no end, as yet. Every day, there are still people getting infected by COVID-19.
As we all know, COVID-19 is a killer virus that has affected millions of lives. Based on the latest World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics, the COVID-19 outbreak has recorded over 29 million cases with a death toll of 936,521 people as of Sept 17, 2020.
Moreover, without us realising it, COVID-19 has drastically changed the pattern of human life. It has changed the way most individuals work, socialise, have access to health care, shop and go about their daily life.
Adapting to changes
There is no exception to the country's educational institutions. Many changes need to be adapted by each student, including introduction to online learning and teaching sessions, adaptation to school operations with Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) during new norms as well as dropouts in lessons following the closure of schools and other educational institutions during the Movement Control Order (MCO) being implemented.
It is not deniable that students have trouble accepting sudden changes in the aspect of teaching and learning. This problem involves students at all levels of education including primary, secondary or tertiary levels.
For quite some time, all of the students had to stop their school sessions during the MCO period. Now, most of them have to struggle with their teaching and learning session when the school started to reopen last July. Most of them experienced dropouts in the teaching and learning aspect due to the limited Internet network and the failure of low-income parents to provide electronic devices that are beyond their capabilities. These students were not able to follow learning during the online session conducted before. As a result, they experienced the dropout of the subjects learned. This invites concern about their achievements during the final assessment which they are going through.
The adverse effects experienced by each of these students should be taken into account and as a matter of concern by all parties. This includes educational institutions, teachers or lecturers, parents and students themselves. All constraints that can cause students to experience learning dropouts should be taken seriously.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which is still uncontrollable, may cause disruptions in teaching and learning activities. This can happen if a student is found to have symptoms. Symptoms here mean that a person has a fever (body temperature 37.5oC and above), cough, flu, sore throat or shortness of breath. Students with these symptoms will not be allowed to attend class activities. They need to be isolated and immediately referred for further treatment. This will lead to school absenteeism and lesson dropouts.
However, this can be avoided if the teachers or lecturers take proactive steps by delivering the content of teaching through online learning. This allows the students who are unwell to be able to continue their learning. Reaching the opening of a new semester in October, the same situation might occur among students at the tertiary level such as in public and private universities as well as skills training institutes. Although, this situation may increase the workload of teachers or lecturers, it requires their sacrifice in ensuring every student does not experience dropouts in their studies.
Through the Malaysia Education Development Plan 2015-2025, the government has outlined the focus, key strategies, and implementation plan to make national education relevant according to current and future needs. At the same time, it ensures the education system in Malaysia is one of the leading in the world which allows Malaysia to compete globally.
There are 10 Leaps forming the basis for this Development Plan. These include lifelong learning and online learning that are very relevant in the current situation. In the era of the Industrial Revolution 4.0, where every piece of information is just at your fingertips, students and teachers/lecturers should make use of this technology for online educational applications.
The current educational context requires students to master and be well-versed in communication and information technology (ICT) literacy. Therefore, to avoid this problem of dropout, every educational institution should ensure their students are knowledgeable and always at the forefront of this digital development. The increasing use of this technology also gives a new breath to the educational landscape in the 21st century.
Malaysian Education Development Plan
In line with the Malaysian Education Development Plan, the government is also working hard to formulate the initiative of the National Fibre Optic and Connectivity Plan (NFCP). The plan targets to ensure that 20% of premises in suburban and rural areas are equipped with access up to 500Mbps by 2022 and completing the fibre optic network covering 70% of schools, hospitals, libraries, police stations and post offices by 2022. It is hoped that the targets set by the government can be achieved earlier so that teachers and students, especially in rural areas, are able to use high-speed Internet access to improve this existing teaching and learning sessions.
Education Minister Dr Mohd Radzi Md Jidin stated that based on the Ministry of Education (MOE) survey on online learning involving 900,000 students nationwide, 36.9 per cent of them did not have any electronic devices. This revealed that there are still many students who do not have any electronic devices such as laptops, notebooks or smartphones to use in the context of online learning. Therefore, assistance from government or NGOs to meet the needs of students in terms of electronic device facilities is encouraged. This will help the low-income families to provide their children with electronic devices.
However, parents should not neglect their children's dropouts. In events related to educational issues, parents should meet and discuss with the teachers regarding measures that can be taken to achieve the solutions. With this, all planning can be framed and the problem of dropouts can be overcome successfully.
Ultimately, in combating the issue of dropouts, cooperation and concern from all parties is very critical and important. This is because the issue of dropouts is very significant in determining the reputation of a student's academic excellence. If this issue can be addressed, the reputation of academic excellence can be enhanced and will allow them to compete globally and in line with current educational technology. Do not let the COVID-19 epidemic interfere with our educational aspects.
Dr Abdul Rashid Bin Abdul Aziz @ Dorashid is a Senior Lecturer, Counselling Programme, Faculty of Leadership and Management, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia.
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