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Monday, August 30, 2021

Rebuilding education with staggered schooling, decentralised strategies

 


Recently, the Education Ministry (MOE) has announced the opening of schools for face-to-face learning in stages from Sept 1, 2021, starting with the SPM examination class. Later, this opening date was postponed to Oct 3, 2021.

By the time schools are opened for face to face teaching and learning on Oct 3, 148 school days have been missed this academic year. Out of that, our children have attended only 22 days of school face to face learning. The rest were done through online home-based learning (PdPR).

Officially, PdPR was still carried out during the school closure period, but its effectiveness is very minimal. In addition to the problem of the lack of gadgets and poor internet connection, many students do not have a conducive learning environment at home.

Children staying at home not only face a non-conducive learning environment but are exposed to other problems. There have been reports rise in cases of child abuse, sexual abuse, and other undesirable social problems, especially from low-income families.

Children’s development and mental health are suffering the most, as Unesco warns of various child abuse reports during lockdown, alongside illiteracy rate reaching 584 million in 2020 alone.

This is made even worse in 2021 where the report states that 65 percent of low-income governments have reduced funding for education, compared to 35 percent in high-income countries.

A total of 4,349 cases of child abuse were reported by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry in 2020 alone, with familial disputes, drug abuse, loss of income and stress among the contributing factors to domestic violence during the pandemic.

Child pornography cases increased by 250 percent during the movement control order (MCO) period compared to before the implementation of the MCO, according to Bukit Aman Criminal Investigation Department on May 19, 2021.

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) highlighted that this may be due to the surge in internet usage among children amidst the lockdowns and heightened exposure of potential child predation.

A total of 1,721 cases of sexual crimes against children were reported with 95 percent of the cases involving sexual abusers known to them at home in the first six months of 2020, according to a report by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry on Aug 18, 2020.

Considering the above, while schools are closed because we care for the children, for the same reason, schools should be reopened because we care for them.

We already have a date when schools will be reopened, but many parents and other stakeholders may still be wondering what the school’s opening plan or plans are.

We cannot afford to postpone the reopening of schools anymore. We need to face the bull by its horn. Schools must be opened, albeit with all the precautions.

Concerns about the safety of students during the face to face teaching and learning (PDP) cannot be underestimated. Therefore, although schools will be fully open in early October, the face-to-face PDP needs to be implemented carefully, in stages and with vigilance.

MOE needs to take a different approach in anticipation of the various situations that will be faced. The MOE’s outlook needs to change, from the mindset that schools must be closed until cases are down to manageable numbers, to that of schools must continue to be opened and we will find the ways and means to do so safely throughout the year. MOE needs to prepare various multi-pronged strategies which will enable the restoration of our education system.

One way of opening schools is by opening them in stages, in a staggered and hybrid manner - partially online and partially in person. Schools can use the approach of staggered schooling where students are allowed to attend school in rotation.

For example, Years 5 and 6 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday while Years 1, 2, 3 on Tuesday and Thursday until the situation completely recovers. Shifts can also be made by weekly rotation.

For those not going to school, PdPR with the help of MOE’s Didik TV should be continued. There will be a number of critical steps that will need to be taken, including analysing students’ needs, to whom and how it applies for each school.

Attendance at schools may be prioritised not only for those sitting for examinations but also for the special needs students, pre-school and early primary school children and those whose learning environment at home is not conducive.

Currently, the decision to open and close down schools is made by MOE at the national level and applicable to all schools regardless of background.

The circumstances and conditions of each school and its location differ from each other. For example, there are schools that are in red zones, while there are others in rural and remote villages that have no cases of Covid-19 infection.

Therefore, different approaches need to be worked out for different areas. Autonomy and empowerment should be given to the District Education Office (PPD) and schools, with advice from the District Health Office, to make modifications to the educational process, curriculum management and delivery. With this, schools can be managed more optimally by taking an appropriate approach based on local conditions.

Decentralisation is not a new concept. One of the shifts expected from the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 is Shift 6, which seeks to empower JPNs, PPDs, and schools to customise solutions based on needs.

The blueprint quoted a Unesco study in 2012, which reported that “Malaysia has one of the biggest centralised education administrations in the world”, and “Historically, many programmes have been designed according to a “one-size-fits-all” model. International evidence suggests that different sets of interventions are required in order to best serve schools at different performance levels.”

Our children deserve a good education for their future, with health and safety remaining a key concern. As long as we are in a pandemic, we need to ensure a balance in all aspects of life for our children.

For this, Unicef and Unesco have given the guide that, “Schools should be the last to close and the first to reopen.” In Malaysia, the opposite has happened. Nearly everything is open but schools. - Mkini


PROF DR OMAR YAAKOB is the chairperson of the Education Committee of Pertubuhan Ikram Malaysia and ZALIZA ALIAS is the founder of Gains Education Group.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of MMKtT.

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