Face-to-face learning is paramount

23 Apr 2020 / 19:35 H.

IN the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, online learning has taken centre stage. It is seen as the best alternative for emergency remote learning.

However, in the rush to embrace online learning to ensure education goes on, several important concerns have been overlooked. Real learning has been missed out; learner readiness for independent and self-learning have been ignored by many. So, has teachers wellbeing and readiness for online learning.

We need to learn from countries such as Australia with the great outback where children have no alternative but remote learning. Their educators recognise that remote learning is no easy task and requires careful planning and extensive support.

Personal interaction through phone calls is mandatory to keep motivation high, to ensure students feel supported and get the help they need. It also requires tremendous effort on the part of the learners, their parents and the community. And this cannot be done overnight.

Keeping this in mind, it is unfortunate that teachers who are treading the online waters with great caution and trepidation, cognisant of their lack of readiness to effectively deliver lessons and to ensure that their students can cope with the “new normal” are labelled as laggards, who need to change their mindset.

We have to be a tad more careful in chastising them, as well as expecting them to convert overnight their face-to-face instructional content and assessments to online delivery. And for learners, especially our young ones, to become instant independent self-learners. More so, in such a distressing time as this.

To make education equitable for all, every learner should be ensured of access to all instructional material, feedback and support that they need to succeed.

How do we ensure equity if we use a delivery mode that is only accessible to some and not others, even if they make up a minority.

We talk about “kemakmuran bersama”, “kesejahteraan setiap individu” and “no one left behind”. We need to walk the talk.

Sensitivity to the needs of all must be considered. We cannot leave behind those who are out of reach and financially challenged, expecting them to catch up once things return to normal. We must give our learners time to adjust to independent self-learning and for our teachers to cope with the new expectations.

To some extent, these concerns have been voiced out. However, one important matter that has not received due justice is the place of face-to-face instruction in education.

Never before has face-to-face instruction received such a bashing. It is blamed for almost everything done wrong, from the focus on teacher-centred teaching, lack of experiential learning, not accommodating learner differences and learning styles, to backwardness.

Nothing seems to be good about face-to-face instruction.

Although it facilitates close meaningful interaction among students in collaborative or cooperative learning, instant feedback for all, as well as integration of technology in the teaching and learning process.

Just by glancing at the confused faces, teachers know how their students are doing and the help they need. More important is how face-to-face interaction helps build confidence, motivation to learn, and develops good desirable human characteristics and values. This happens more readily through face-to-face interactions.

Higher education has been talking about future-ready graduates and sustainable education for quite some time. It has been rallied to prepare tertiary students to expect uncertainties and to be able to adjust and adapt. The Covid-19 pandemic is just one of those uncertainties.

And it requires more than what online learning can deliver. It is learning to be and to live together, which face-to-face interactions bring with it. Inclusivity in the same learning space, learning respect and compassion. Learning not only to know and to do, but also how to live together.

The MCO is a time for us to learn; not only about engineering, or science or whatever have you. It is a time for us to learn about our humanity and the purpose of our existence. About living together, sharing, helping others in need, while we are in the same precarious position, clamouring for the same yet limited resources. Caring for humanity. How to live together and help one another regardless of nationality, race or status. Learn the purpose of our existence, the realities of life, building resilience and brotherhood.

Our conception of education has to be broader and more meaningful than what it is today. Its primary purpose should not be about human capital for industry. It is to teach us the meaning of humanity, its purpose and preservation.

Without this, humanity cannot survive. And I don’t think online learning can take on that responsibility but meaningful face-to-face instruction stands a very good chance at humanising education.

Dr Noor Lide Abu Kassim is professor of Kulliyyah of Education, director of the Centre for Professional Development, and editor-in-chief of the IIUM Journal of Educational Studies at the International Islamic University Malaysia.


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