The Covid-19 pandemic has brought us to a new phase where our environment is transforming, bit by bit. Societies are facing a ‘new normal’ from everyday life to professional settings.
According to Dr Fauci, the Director of the USA Institute of Allergies and Contagious Diseases, who is also part of the USA Covid-19 Taskforce, a vaccine for this virus is predicted to take approximately a year to be produced. This means that along the process of creating said vaccine, the world must practise higher hygienic ethics and social distancing so that the virus will not spead even more drastically.
He also expected that the practice of social distancing must be done until 2022. With this limitation, universities and their students must seek a ‘lifeline’ in filling the gap in learning spaces in universities.
The Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia (MOHE) through an official statement on t20th of March 2020 has allowed public and private universities to perform online teaching and learning. This brings a new dimension towards the system practised by universities, whereby face-to-face (F2F) learning has always been in use.
Several universities such as the University of Malaya (UM), the National University of Malaysia (UKM) and Universiti Institut Teknologi Mara (UiTM) has begun heeding the recommendation by MOHE to perform online classes throughout the Movement Control Order (MCO), however, there are still universities deciding against it and proceeded with pushing forward their semester to be restarted in June, for instance, the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM/UIAM).
Based on statistics produced by the IIUM academic division, more than 70 percent of students can not afford to practise online learning due to various factors. This execution received myriads of reactions from academicians, students and the universities that we have to think of, together.
Differing access to the Internet and limited technological possession
The 5G system has taken over today’s world, with its maximum speed said to beat the existing 4G. Malaysia are not lagging behind in researching and attempting to bring this system to the country, but we must know that even if Malaysia wishes to inculcate the 5G system, too many citizens are yet to be able to use the Internet, especially due to affordability factor and limitations on certain areas, which, in worst case scenarios, see them unable to receive usable coverage.
This issue brings the biggest question on the implementation of online classes in Malaysia, in consideration of the disparity in Internet accesibility in certain locations, making affected students unable to take part in the ‘new norm’ of Teaching and Learning (T&L).
Add the current economical gap and its instability issues, this becomes a huge factor to low-income families, rendering them unable to afford the best Internet access.
Another cause of worry is when students face limitations in accessing technological consoles. The absence of a laptop and/or smartphone also becomes a factor as to why they are unable to participate in online classes.
Through a study performed by a research institute in Malaysia, 4 out of 5 B40 families have only one laptop to be used and shared for the sake of their education and livinghood.
The lack of reading materials and technology-based education has caused B40 students to be left behind in the progress of education, specifically in rural areas like the rural Sarawak and Sabah. This is a different experience than that of the children from the M40 and T20 economic classes, who would have easier access to online education and adequate reading materials throughout the MCO.
Upholding the Ninth Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda for the sake of newer educational future
In terms of academics, of course students and leacturers alike want a conducive and the best setting when they are in a process of knowledge transfer. However, in such a limiting and unpredictable situation, there are limited choices that we can make. Even educational experts believe that online education is the future of education.
The UNESCO Ambassador of Peace and Reconciliation, actress Forest Whitaker stressed that in order to achieve the ninth objective of the SDG, that is “To build sustainable infrastructure, promoting sustainable and inclusive industry, and inculcating innovation”, we need impactful ICT development in education.
From the capital to the rural, education is what drives humankind’s thought and attitudes.
SDG’s 2030 agenda brings us to a realization that the need to empower society’s knowledge and ensuring that everyone receives equal opportunities to learn and interact with each other is evident, simultaneously pushing for the accessibility towards Infomation, and Communication Technology (ICT).
The government and universities must play defining roles in taking on the task of the evolving technological development. Policies, incentives and assitances to help students receive equal access must be planned from now on. Universities must also prompt detailed research on the future of online education.
I believe that the ninth SDG, or the entirety of the 2030 agenda, will not be fulfilled without large-scale investment in ICT towards the community, especially to those in rural areas and villages.
It is also clear to me that we can not achieve something sustainable if we separate technology and education, and this specifically relates with the fourth SDG obejctive pertaining to an equal quality education for all.
Quality education is not only about equal access, but also concerns the ability for students to comprehend the world systems holistically. We must remember that the role of education is to prepare the people to face any upcoming challenges later on.
Education for all.
Amin Mubarak is the Director of Ajar Demokrasi and currently serves as Research Officer for Kubang Pasu MP’s