By: Idayu Mumtaz binti Iskandar
Once when there was a famine in Madinah, Umar Al-Khattab (R.A.) being the leader of the time walked down the streets where the community lived. He came to learn how the grassroots were actually experiencing life, like witnessing a woman stirring stones in her pot of water as her children wept. He went to Bait Al-Mal, packed some provisions for the family, and carried it on his own back despite having a helper. Having such empathy at heart and accountability in action are indispensable, especially for today’s leaders and policymakers to emulate as the COVID-19 crisis demands us to rethink our approaches in fundamental sectors such as education.
Health experts say that social-distancing will need to be practiced for the next six months up to a year or more, including other preventive measures. Physical activities at campus would mean a 6-foot total distance between any two people at all times. It seems obvious that utilizing modern technology at a greater degree is the way forward in education to adapt to the new lifestyle. However, in reality, it does not come without challenges.
Bringing education online is not simply about making classroom lectures virtual. While online learning has been there in this country for some time, some universities are more prepared than the other; therefore, to achieve fairness, each institution must be true to their current capacities and practice of online learning, and the preparedness of lecturers and students at grassroots levels. On the other hand, shaping the new education normal due to COVID-19 should consider the fact that the crisis has been taking massive tolls on the rakyat’s economy as well as mental health.
Carrying out academic affairs which involve tens of thousands of our students whose population is now divided by several factors since the pandemic has come thrusting itself upon us must be done with thorough considerations. For example, we should come united calling for enhanced internet coverage and infrastructures at least nationally as now most of our students have returned to their respective hometowns. Some students still cannot afford to own the suitable electronic devices or they have to share one with family members at home, thus they must be assisted. Some students who stay in outskirts would rely on going to cyber cafes in town to do research and assignments, but at this moment, this is not an option. While alternatively materials can be sent to them by post as a short-term solution, our nation should come out of this crisis solving these inequalities so no one’s son or daughter has to suffer from the same distress again in the future.
While it is time to invest better in E-learning platforms, lecturers and students deserve to be adequately empowered in terms of necessary training, support, and resources to adapt to the new process of teaching and learning which should happen without compromising the course delivery effectiveness. Having in mind the various environments of students’ conditions at home or campus now, it implies a pressing need to revamp conventional course designs, assessments, take on attendance, and grading systems which might work only in the traditional classroom settings. I believe this is all the more reason to involve students as the largest stakeholders in the decision-making to get honest inputs of our grassroots experiences in receiving the service of the new normal.
As a society, we must collectively check to what extent the government and authorities have put in efforts to properly integrate the ideals of using modern technology in education with our grassroots reality. The ultimate goal should go beyond continuing business as usual or following the trend of sophistication, but to ensure quality education can be provided for all, as the shift to the new normal highlights the loopholes we otherwise would not notice. Necessary reforms must be done to maintain justice, to continue the agenda of leaving no one behind in education.
Tarik, U. (2014). Umar Ibn Al-Khattab: Exemplar of Truth and Justice. Istanbul: Tughra Books.
AFP (April 15, 2020). ‘Social distancing may be needed until 2022’. New Straits Times. https://www.nst.com.my/world/world/2020/04/584379/social-distancing-may-be-needed-until-2022
Hassandarvish, M. (April 28, 2020). Malaysian expert: Silent mental illness ‘pandemic’ to arrive following Covid-19 economic fallout. Malay Mail. https://www.malaymail.com/news/life/2020/04/28/malaysian-expert-silent-mental-illness-pandemic-to-arrive-following-covid-1/1860920
Sister Idayu Mumtaz binti Iskandar is an undergraduate at Department of Usul al-Din and Comparative Religion, Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences.