Crisis-Proofing Education – Have We Got What It Takes?

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By Muhammad ‘Aamil Azhar – Research Analyst, Institut Masa Depan Malaysia

A crisis always leaves its impact on education in one way or another. Whether in the form of natural disasters such as floods, tsunamis, cyclones, or even a global respiratory pandemic, children’s access to education is threatened during such crises. Children from lower income families are most vulnerable to such situations.

Even during times of crises, education can help children deal better with the hardships they are faced with in times of hardship. It has been noted that schools can provide children with the stability, structure and routine they need in order to cope with loss, fear, stress and violence during and after crises. In addition, education empowers children by providing them with the wisdom necessary to protect themselves by identifying signs of forthcoming disasters

Sadly, our schools have been closed for more than 49 weeks, with no end in sight. A concerted effort must be found and implemented to transform education to continue no matter what happens. Education must be crisis-proof, and children’s access to education must be made a universal right.

To gain better insights regarding the issue of education amidst turmoil, Institut MASA held a webinar titled “Crisis-Proofing Education” last Friday which consisted of on-the-ground and top-level experts.

Muhd Shafiq Abdul Aziz, a teacher from a rural part of Perlis, shared his experience of PdPR teaching having moved from an urban school to a rural school. His students were ill prepared for distance classes due to unfamiliarity over usage of online educational tools. Even worse fate fell upon students whose families had fallen into financial instability, where they had to forgo their classes to help their parents with their business.

Ms Rachael Francis of Myreaders Resources laid bare the results of her research that should put us all to shame. Even in middle-income Malaysia, 7 out of 10 children are at risk of not being able to keep up with school because they are missing out on early primary education and basic literacy. Underprivileged students have been sidelined from education for over 8 months due to their lack of access to smart devices and internet data for online classes with 4 out of 5 children who have no access to education are from B40 communities. Ms Rachael further opined that even short-term loss of learning would stem to reduce students’ ability to excel in their exams.

On the topic of assessments, the former Director General of Education, Datuk Dr. Habibah Abdul Rahim called upon the use of more flexible methods of assessments. Long gone should be the days for when examinations are limited to specific venues, and specific times. She recommends a hybrid of traditional (venue and time specific) exams, with a mix of online or on-demand exams. Such important examinations, especially school leaving or university entrance exams must be made more accessible and not hindered by any setbacks.

The former Chief Executive of Yayasan Pendidikan Peneraju Bumiputera (YPPB), YM Raja Azura Raja Mahayuddin shared her wisdom and experience on the future of education. To her, crisis proofing education also means preparing students should be prepared for the ever-changing needs of the future workforce. As an education expert as well as a corporate leader, she felt that the education and employment journey must be treated as a continuum. Students’ potential could be better honed and sharpened by understanding their key strengths, motivation and interests at an earlier stage. Raja Azura felt that life skills must be embedded as part of hands-on or action-based learning. With this, relevant skills for future workforce such as digital which is the ability to work in a fully digital environment; cognitive skills for redesigning and innovation; social and emotional skills to drive effective collaboration and expression; and adaptability and resiliency in managing time, boundaries and mental wellness can be honed.

It is necessary to devise inclusive methods of education delivery for students who have come through crises so that we can heal the wounds and scars that are left in the minds of children and young adults and to ensure the country’s steady growth. A focused action on crisis-proofing education, at all levels, would be aligned with the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030’s guiding principle of Equitable Growth, Equitable Outcome and Inclusivity. The inclusive future, no matter how bad it gets, would help our nation reach a more equitable future where no one gets left behind.

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