Wednesday, June 3, 2020

A teacher’s take on tackling education in a post-pandemic world.


I’ve just finished watching a 5-hour live stream of teachers and educators (from all around the world) discussing the latest issues concerning education. In any given year, the discussed topics wouldn’t interest the general populace. 


However, this year’s topic is different because the COVID-19 pandemic affects everyone — whether you’re a university student or parent with a child in school. So with that in mind, I’ve decided to share my perspective on the topics discussed in the conference for everyone.


Session 1: A teacher’s well-being


It was apt for the conference to start by addressing mental health. A teacher’s peace of mind is of the utmost importance if we are expected to be responsible for our student’s mental development.


When it comes to mental health for teachers, I’m an advocate for “Mindfulness”. 

You can read more about it in this article I’ve written here.


A panelist pointed out a very accurate analogy.

“During a flight emergency, wear your mask first. Then, help those beside you.”


Education should apply a similar concept. If teachers aren’t taking care of their mental health first, they’ll be unable to properly tend to their students’ cognitive and affective well-being.


Session 2: Teacher leadership


Positioning teachers as researchers in the classroom is another way to improve student learning. This entails the teacher to conduct their own research to understand the challenges faced by the class. Then, implement a solution catered to their needs. 

This idea is called Teacher-Scholar and is encouraged by the Malaysian government.


However, our obsession with public exams prevents most teachers from becoming proactive researchers because a successful solution doesn’t necessarily translate into exam scores. The implementation of teacher-scholar might also be viewed as an unnecessary burden if we continue basing our KPIs (Key Performance Index) on exam scores.


The solution is to start designing KPIs that support teacher-scholar initiatives. Doing so can result in more teacher-scholar efforts — after all, what gets measured, gets done.


Lesson 2.1: Profesional development


In regards to professional development, I personally find that most teachers are too focused on being recognized within the formal sphere — in which they attend courses only to satisfy the education ministry’s directives. 


We should find a balance between social and professional development. For example, taking time to build character or learn from more knowledgeable and experienced colleagues.


Lesson 2.2: Political development


It was mentioned that education should be free from political influence. There’s irony in that statement because, in order for education to be politic-free, it needs to have political involvement


Government influence is necessary for education policies to achieve order and structure — whether it be centralized or decentralized.


Educational autonomy stems from governance. A democratic government will usually leave more room for autonomy in education. However, an authoritarian country will lean toward indoctrination instead (leaving no room for autonomy).


I’ll avoid discussing Malaysian education and its politics this time because I believe it deserves its own post.


Session 3: Teacher technology


Worldwide lockdowns and quarantines during the COVID-19 pandemic have forced a shift within education. Teachers are moving their lessons from the physical classroom to online platforms such as WhatsApp and Google Classroom.


This sudden shift to online classrooms has affected students living in rural areas the most. Without internet access, they’re being left out without any recourse. While there is little we can do to remedy this situation at the moment — it would be a tragedy to ignore this. 


Governments worldwide NEED to start focusing on providing consistent high-speed internet coverage to all its citizens (living in both urban and rural areas). We need to prepare our education system for the next pandemic (near or far).


I would also like to congratulate the Malaysian government for providing students with free 1GB of data every day to attend their daily online classes — it is a praiseworthy effort. Unfortunately, it is not a complete solution due to many rural areas that still lack internet coverage.


During the live stream, there were some concerns over whether technology will one day replace teachers


The answer to this ever-popular debate remains:


‘Technology can only facilitate education, but it will never replace the human factor that is needed in the education process.’


Session 4: Teacher collaboration


A poll during the conference showed that a majority of teachers believed that “Teacher Collaboration” is a key factor for improving their teaching practice.


I couldn’t agree more.


We live in a global community (made possible through the internet). By sharing our ideas and teaching practices, we can improve each other’s teaching skills and find ways to enrich student learning. As the saying goes, two heads are better than one.


Last year, I was scheduled to attend a teaching symposium. Needles to say, I was doubtful whether the benefits would justify the expensive cost of attending. After completing the symposium, I can genuinely say “It was worth every cent.”


The symposium introduced me to different teachers from all over Sabah who generously shared their teaching practices with me. When I returned back to work, I was inspired to apply what I’ve learned to my classroom.


As a result, the percentage of SPM (Public Exam) passes for my school’s English paper increased by 19% (more than half of my students passed from the previous year). 


I firmly believe this was the result of teacher collaboration.


Conclusion:


For a teacher to become the best version of themselves, they must practice (to the best of their abilities) all the lessons in this post. 


And I hope, as full-time educators, we continue sharing our ideas on coping with the quarantine. It’s through wholesome emotional and social support that we can thrive in the new normal.




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