Teachers, parents face ‘a new normal’ with e-learning

Izah Azahari

The first day of the new school term came into session virtually all over the country yesterday in the Ministry of Education’s (MoE) efforts to tackle the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Sultanate for the health and safety of students through online platforms such as e-mail, Google Docs, WhatsApp, video conferences, Microsoft Teams, social media platforms or telecommunication applications, along with the provision of home-pack learning for those without access to the Internet or devices.

With this new method of teaching only coming in its trial phase, many teachers and parents found a number of difficulties ranging from the unavailability of access to the Internet, financial difficulties in providing children with devices, not having much knowledge of ICT for students and parents alike, as well as time constraints for parents who do not have the option of working from home despite the current situation.

A Social Studies teacher from Muda Hashim Secondary School in Tutong, Norlehaniwati binti Haji Bakir said preparing for online lessons is a different experience as in a real classroom setting, she would be able to control what she is teaching whether it is the lesson or the students.

Going online has seen about 80 to 90 students missing their lessons because they cannot go online, low mobile data and no knowledge on how to go online among others.

“I use Google Classroom as my online tool. I prepared a study pack earlier on for each of my students as a manual tool for them to study at home so they will not be left out or miss any of my lessons,” said Norlehaniwati. “Going online is something new for both teachers and students in Brunei.”

Meanwhile, a Psychology teacher from Duli Pengiran Muda Al-Muhtadee Billah College Nor Masitiamalina binti Haji Suhaini said considering the circumstances, it is best to conduct online lessons as social distancing should be prioritised to flatten the COVID-19 curve.

“I need to find virtual ways to achieve control and to monitor students’ learning developments. It’s just that for now, it may take time for me to get used to this kind of virtual teaching environment,” said Nor Masitiamalina.

An online class in session. PHOTO: RAHWANI ZAHARI

As she is not that tech-savvy, the teacher said her skills in conducting online classes are quite limited, and for the very first time, she was exploring a number of software applications to find one that is fitting to her teaching style within a span of two weeks.

“I need to think about the welfare of my students as well – making adjustments to these online lessons so that it could support all students in their learning developments,” she added.

Another government secondary school teacher who requested for anonymity said two weeks of lesson preparation, planning, mock executions went by quickly and she found confused colleagues, a disgruntled husband, excited family members, reluctant friends and even ‘Please-Cher-I-Just-Woke-Up’ students.

“It used up Internet data and overshot the set quota. I stayed up all night to tweak lessons, ensuring we won’t miss out on anything that a normal classroom setting would easily fix, preparing take-home study packs, pre-recording our teaching as an effort to make sure no student is left behind, while some teachers have spent over hundreds of dollars for the sake of continuity,” she added. “It’s a new territory for most of us – educators and parents or guardians alike.”

The teacher added that for the sake of the nation, everyone should play a part.

Parent of a primary school student Syazana binti Haji Ramli said the first day was a disaster for her as teachers provided timetables as per normal, but had not allocated specific times for each class which caused confusion as to whether the classes would be in the morning or afternoon session.

“I understand that we are still in the early phase of this method of learning, and even though we were thrust into it with what is currently happening, I hope we will get through it,” said Syazana.

She added that it can be overwhelming especially with younger children to look after on top of doing chores and working from home, where the online learning adds a new level of stress, but she understands that there will be trials and errors which highlight the need to work together to progress towards a new normal of online learning.

Parent of a Year 4 student said her daughter started with the online learning for her ballet and Kumon since the end of last week. She added that she had work from home on Saturday, but was back in the office yesterday as they take turns according to their schedule.

She added that it is difficult when the e-learning class is during working hours and parents are not at home as not all children know how to use devices or to key in the meeting numbers and the like. However, she believes that the home-pack learning hardcopies will help as she would still ask for them from her children’s class teacher because she still prefers it to avoid the children from going to unnecessary or unwanted sites when they are not under parent supervision.

Meanwhile, father of a Kindergarten 3 student from a private school welcomed online learning as many parents now are urged to work from home, where he jokingly added that this is parenting 4.0 in welcoming digitalization.