Playing catch-up with online learning during MCO

About 4.7 million primary and secondary students at government institutions are on a month-long break with the extended movement control order.

PETALING JAYA: From a lack of internet access to disinterest by parents and students, online learning during the movement control order (MCO) is proving to be a challenge for teachers struggling to ensure that classes continue despite the turmoil caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In government schools alone, some 4.7 million primary and secondary students are on a month-long break with the extension of the MCO to April 14 from its original expiration date of March 31.

The education ministry recently provided guidelines for school administrators, teachers, parents and students to facilitate online learning for students during the MCO, primarily through its learning portal.

The platform provides links to communication tools such as Google Classroom and Microsoft Teams for teaching and learning at home, and although the ministry is unable to provide data on how many teachers or students regularly utilise the portal, interviews with several teachers show that internet access remains the biggest hurdle in implementing online learning.

“Not all pupils have WiFi or tablets at home – especially those from the lower income families – so we’re unable to monitor everyone,” said Agatha Wong, who teaches Year 5 and 6 English at SK Convent Ipoh.

Wong said teachers were using WhatsApp and “whatever methods we can” to communicate with their pupils and send them information to revise, but some students don’t have smartphones and their parents are “too busy with work” to participate in WhatsApp groups.

“I just hope this MCO will be over soon and we can resume teaching in classrooms, which is more fun and exciting,” said Wong.

Theresa Wong Kooi Choon, who prepares Form 6 students for the Malaysian University English Test at SMJK Nan Hwa in Sitiawan, Perak, also said the feedback she had received from students had been less than stellar.

“The response from students has not been very encouraging as some students don’t respond or reply.

“Some students do not have full internet access, which has been a problem. Nothing much can be done on my part except to try and maintain contact with them as much as I can via our Telegram chat group,” she added.

Kamalakannan Letchmanan, a primary school teacher at SK Puchong Jaya 2 in Selangor, said only two-thirds of his students had been following his online lessons.

“The pupils send pictures of their work through WhatsApp, and there is also an option to turn in their work via Google Classroom where they can download a document, complete and then upload it back to the platform,” he said.

“However, a third of the pupils do not do the given tasks because of technical errors such as broadcast problems and sound issues,” he said, adding that the lack of internet access and data were other issues he faced in implementing online learning.

While teachers have been given the flexibility to choose their teaching methods during the MCO, the education ministry’s only restriction is on the sending and receiving of printed teaching material.

In Sabah, where internet access in rural areas has been an issue for years, the state’s education director Mistrine Radin told FMT they were working around it by promoting messaging applications.

Mistrine urged parents without smartphones or internet access to ensure the schoolwork given by teachers before the first-term holiday is completed and handed in after the MCO ends.

“For parents or students who have a smartphone and are able to purchase data, I would like them to register their phone number in their respective parent-teacher WhatsApp or Telegram groups.

“This will allow their children to get daily learning materials from their teachers, and the parents can send their children’s responses to the group so these can be promptly checked,” she said.