Trying times for academics and higher learning institutions in the face of COVID-19 pandemic

By Salsabila Putri Hariel

KUALA LUMPUR, 8 December 2021: The sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic had caused the education process to go through significant changes that became trying times for the academics and higher learning institutions to adapt to online teaching and learning which brought about both positive and negative impacts.

This was the subject of panel discussions during the CORENA 2021 plenary session yesterday on the topic “The post-pandemic state of higher education in ASEAN”, participated by four panelists from ASEAN countries, namely Thailand, Brunei Darussalam and Indonesia.

Moderated by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Zeti Azreen Ahmad from the Department of Communication, IIUM, the discussion centred on two main issues; the desire to start doing blended learning (combining face-to-face with online learning) after two years of online education; and the other, on the demand for academicians to be technology savvy.

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Norihan Abu Hassan from Universiti Teknologi Brunei (UTB) said that the emergence of the COVID19 pandemic changed many aspects including turning to online learning.

“Of course, not everyone could quickly adapt to this,” Dr. Norihan said, adding that “at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the university conducted a survey on the condition of the students, after which the university tried to help students who had problems.”

Entering the second year of the pandemic, Norihan said, people are slowly getting used to the situation and education could be run in a hybrid way (merging online and offline learning systems).

Agreeing with Norihan, Dr. Sumana Laparojkit from Prince of Songkla University International College, said, “We need to turn uncertainty into certainty and adapt ourselves to this new situation. As we we got used to it, we became more comfortable.”

Dr. Sumana explained that at Prince of Songkla University, the teaching community tried to provide students with online learning facilities such as internet quota assistance, laptops, and giving permission for students to borrow lecture tools from the university for them to use at home.

Following the points mentioned by both the panelists, Dr. Zeti Azreen concluded that there was the need “to make the right decision in the most uncertain period; the ultimate goal is to provide support to our institutions and students so that the quality of teaching and learning can be sustained”.

Meanwhile, Dr. Siswanto Rawali explained that at Lambung Mangkurat University, the academic community was trained to learn about technological changes where a learning server called Simari was created to facilitate students’ access to learning.

“One of the obstacles experienced at the University of Lambung Mangkurat and Indonesia during online learning is the Internet connection because Indonesia is an archipelagic country,” he highlighted.

Dr. Sharifah Nurul Huda Alkaff from Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) said that “ignorance is something that must be avoided during this pandemic.”

She explained that for academics, learning to use technology is key to producing their work in this pandemic situation.

“Educators will not function if they do not know how to operate technology. They must help each other, especially for educators who are not familiar with technology in this era,” Sharifah remarked.

In response, Dr. Zeti said that “it is impossible to detect technology from our life; as academics, we have the responsibility to learn and re-learn, and this includes to be technology literate” where she emphasised that education in this era is not only classroom learning but also using technology such as podcast as a learning media,

Touching on the student’s mental health and well-being during the lessons, Dr. Sumana expressed that students’ mental health remained a top priority for the university.

Dr. Sharifah shared her views that UBD had organised group therapy sessions where it became a platform for students facing similar problem to realise that they are not alone.

The plenary session was conducted via the Zoom Cloud Meeting and was attended by more than 180 participants.***

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