Rising to the COVID-19 challenge

James Kon & Wani Roslan

Not only has the COVID-19 pandemic sent shockwaves across healthcare systems worldwide, it has impacted education in a massive way.

In an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, education institutions around the world including Brunei Darussalam were forced to shut their doors. To ensure uninterrupted learning amid school closure, the Ministry of Education (MoE) shifted classroom to the virtual realm.

On July 27, schools were re-opened and all classes back to normal.

Today, teachers across the country celebrate Teacher’s Day which is this year themed Pendidikan Berkualiti Teras Kecemerlangan Pelajar (Quality Education, the Core of Students’ Excellence).

The Bulletin interviewed Headmistress of Lambak Kanan Jalan 49 Primary School Hajah Noorliah binti Haji Aspar, who was the recipient of an Excellent Teacher Award in 2018 and the prestigious Princess Maha Chakri Award (PMCA) in 2019.

When the business continuity plan (BCP) was implemented, Hajah Noorliah used Microsoft Teams and Zoom to communicate with the teachers and her colleagues.

“This was one of the ways to monitor the progress of the teachers and students,” she said.

“Senior educators,” she added, “served as the bridge between MoE and the teaching staff by keeping teachers abreast on the ministry’s recommended teaching tools.

Pengiran Haji Mohd Wahab bin Pengiran Haji Abdullah teaches his students on the etiquette of serving. PHOTO: JAMES KON
Masnurfaiza binti Md Zaini during class. PHOTO: AZIZ IDRIS

“I also instructed tech-savvy teachers to help colleagues who were unfamilir with online platform,” said Hajah Noorliah.

She noticed that some parents had to learn to communicate with teachers virtually.

Alhamdulillah, parents have been supportive especially in collecting the home learning packs for the students on schedules,” she said. She also said teachers had to channel their creativity in delivering lessons online as there were limitations in terms of effective presentation of learning material.

“They needed to have a positive mindset. They needed to be considerate of the students’ and parents’ schedules as well as the workload given to students,” she said.

To teachers, the headmistress said, “Be more adaptable to changes and always be ready. Be innovative in lesson-planning by taking advantange of online applications. Always have check-in sessions with students to ensure they are not behind in their studies.”

On the Teacher’s Day theme, Hajah Noorliah said, “It means that a quality education acts as a platform or a channel to realise the nation’s aspirations to produce citizens who are capable of contributing towards the growth, stability and prosperity of the country.”

Meanwhile, Programme Coordinator of Professional Cookery and Services and Culinary Operation at the Institute of Brunei Technical Education (IBTE) Sultan Saiful Rijal Campus Pengiran Haji Mohd Wahab bin Pengiran Haji Abdullah, who was the recipient of an Excellent Teacher Award in 2018 for Culinary Arts, said, “Even before COVID-19, we had been teaching our students ICT, both in-class as well as online.

He added that students were given a step-by- step demonstration online when it came to practical lessons. “They were provided with ingredients which they picked up on campus before carrying out practical lessons at home. If the students didn’t have the equipment, they given access to school equipment,” he said.

During the sessions, students had to record videos and submit them to teachers for assessment. Some students were also encouraged to upload videos on YouTube.

“As teachers, we need to adapt to new technologies and keep up with the students’ work, especially during the COVID-19 outbreak,” he said.

“Teachers ought to learn more about online platform because it can help create better content for students. The recorded videos could be used for revision. Thus, we hope that this style of teaching will continue.”

Pengiran Haji Mohd Wahab attributed his passion for teaching to his former instructors.

“They taught us how to cook and handle food properly,” he said, adding that, “I am also inspired by my mother who loves to cook. When I interact with the students, I try to understand their capabilities and skills and help them to improve.”

Another teacher, Masnurfaiza binti Md Zaini from Paduka Seri Begawan Sultan Science College (Maktab Sains), was one of the recipients of the Special Mention Teacher’s Day Appreciation Award in 2017.

In an interview, she spoke on adapting to the new norm and other challenges in education due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country.

For months, she taught her students by using Microsoft Teams. “Teaching online required more time and effort because we could not interact with our students physically. We could not tell whether the students understood the lesson as it required more time for them to process and think. Sometimes, there was miscommunication due to the grammar and spelling errors by the students,” she said.

When it came to teaching physical education remotely, she asked her class for action plans and self-administered fitness tests. “During a time when all sports complexes were closed, it was challenging for them to improve their techniques as they required repeated drills,” she said.

In terms of action plans, she asked her students to provide a report and regular updates so she would be able to advise them on what could be improved.

As innovation played a major role during the outbreak, she discovered the importance of creativity in delivering lessons to students efficiently and effectively.

On the theme of Teacher’s Day, she agreed that quality education is the driving force behind academic excellence, and believed that it can be achieved through the synergy of leadership

and environment. “Different students have different rates of learning,” she said. “It’s a trait that we need to take into account.”

In terms of improving the quality of education, she said that the MoE’s strategy in producing high-quality teachers is through providing comprehensive training prior to the teachers being posted to a school.

“Teachers need to be mentally and physically prepared as well as adaptable to changes,” she said. “It is lifelong learning and teachers need to be a step ahead to prepare students for the future,” she said.

Another recipient of the Special Mention Teacher’s Day Appreciation Award in 2018 is Haji Adee Suharde bin Haji Muhidin from Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Hajah Saleha Girls Arabic Religious Secondary School (SUAMPRIPAHS), who also shared his challenges as a teacher during the outbreak.

“The workshops that I attended previously showed me new teaching techniques which were applicable not only during the height of the health crisis but also at present,” he said.

As a business art and technology teacher, he said that he would do research on the Internet to find good resources to share with his students via online platforms such as WhatsApp and Telegram.

Haji Adee Suharde said the outbreak had a profound impact on education, by focussing on the discipline of students as well as parents in completing schoolwork.

He believed that education has evolved over the years; teaching methods constantly emerge and teachers need to adapt to them to produce excellent students.