A new chapter begins

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There is something special about the Yuletide season. It goes beyond Christmas trees, Santa Claus and presents.

For many, Christmas is a time for get-togethers, and for reconnecting with friends and family. It is also a time for reviewing the past and to plan ahead for the new year.

While pondering the topic for this year-end article, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol came to my mind.

While I am the opposite of Ebenezer Scrooge – the grumpy, hard-hearted old man who hated Christmas until a visit on Christmas Eve by the spirit of his dead partner, as well as the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, helped him see the error of his ways – I do find that taking the time to reflect on the past and present will help enlighten the path to the future.Taking stock.

 

Nevertheless, on the back of a successful vaccine rollout, light could be seen at the end of the tunnel. With the transition to endemicity taking place in May, we all moved on to embrace the new norm, with treatment also in place to alleviate the suffering of those stricken with the virus.

Yet, we cannot and must not forget the problems which were highlighted by the pandemic.

In education, educators and students suffered disruptions in teaching and learning – the most profound being the reality of the digital divide. The scourge of learning losses loomed large over our students.

As the dust settled, we learnt that Malaysia has one of the highest learning losses in Asia, according to the Asian Development Bank. As many as 40% of students could not participate in online learning during the 40-week school closure.

A 2021 Unicef study showed that 20% of inner-city Malaysian children lost interest in schooling. Overall, the

Covid-19 lockdowns further marginalised children with disabilities, children living in poverty, and those from indigenous communities in the remote areas of Sabah and Sarawak.

There was a shift in the way our educators taught. Understandably, there were some minor hiccups at the start, but everyone was forced to adapt. Many had to learn while some improved in their video recording skills, and became more creative in their delivery of online classes.

Both educators and students craved to return to physical classrooms and welcomed, even though a little apprehensively at the beginning of the reopening of campuses, meeting face to face with their classmates and learning directly from their teachers again.

The future beckons

We have just welcomed a new government, and a change in ministers at the higher education and education ministries. We look forward to working with Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin and Fadhlina Sidek, who are now in charge of the two important portfolios, to improve the country’s education sector. On that note, I’d like to share my hope for the future of Malaysia’s education system:

Covid-19 was a crisis but looking at things from a positive perspective, we need to systematically review policies and processes to keep up with the times.

We also need to improve the quality and efficiency of teaching and learning in our schools and higher education institutions to be more prepared for whatever may come.

Overcoming learning losses must be a priority.

Let us remember the importance of the fundamentals – reading, writing and arithmetic – while also preparing our students to survive and thrive in a technology- and skills-driven future that is full of endless possibilities.

We need to collaborate more across sectors, industries and nations – especially when it comes to addressing the impact of climate change.

There are no borders in the digital world, just as the virus does not discriminate in its spread. Hence, collective problems require collective solutions – regardless of where we live in this world. Sustainability and planetary health education will be key as we move ahead.

We have to understand that technology moves at a fast pace.

There is the need to constantly stay up to date with the latest technological advances and harness the possibilities. We also need to ensure that no one gets left behind, especially when it involves access to digital devices and e-resources. Remember the poor students and those in rural areas. While competition is good for progress, equity is a necessity for balance and peace.

Let us emphasise the importance of good values and unity among our young.

In an increasingly polarised world, it is our unity in diversity that gives us strength, peace and prosperity. In an ever-changing, complex world, the guidance of educators becomes ever more important in nurturing our future leaders.

Onward with optimism

It has been a year of adjusting and getting our lives back together. Thank God we are no longer locked up and in isolation. Education institutions are open again with face-to-face classes in full swing. Online learning, however, will always be available when required.

Unlike the Dickens tale, there are no ghosts in this article. There are, however, lessons to be learnt from the reflections.

There is much work to be done, but I feel confident and energised for the year to come. The thought of empowering our children and students has always spurred me on.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone!

Prof Datuk Dr Elizabeth Lee is the chief executive officer of Sunway Education Group. A veteran in the field of private higher education, Prof Lee is also an advocate for women in leadership. She has been recognised both locally and internationally for her contributions to the field of education. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.

Article source : The Star

 

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