Teaching in pandemic times

James Kon

The theme for this year’s 31st Teacher’s Day celebration ‘Quality Education is the Core of Student Excellence’ supports the effort to put knowledge and quality education for all as key to form a knowledgeable and skilled generation that will contribute to achieving Brunei Vision 2035.

With the second wave of COVID-19 outbreak, it has been a challenging time for both educators and students. Three passionate teachers recently shared their views and experience with the Bulletin.

Md Qawiem Qiwamuddin bin Md Mu’izzuddin of Belait Sixth Form Centre, who teaches geography in PREU1 level, shared the current learning routines, from preparing learning materials to teaching via online platforms.

“When the second wave hit the country in early August, tutors had to revise teaching and learning plans to better suit home-based learning. Lesson tools, such as presentation slides, articles and videos, are created a week before and updated before each lesson.

“Once the content is ready, we then need to properly choose a medium that is inclusive. This depends on several factors – such as students’ accessibility to the Internet and accessibility to learning equipment such as laptops, desktops, tablets and mobile phones.”

On his preferred platform for teaching, he said, “I use Microsoft office 365 as my teaching platform because it is subscribed by the Ministry of Education (MoE); and in my opinion it is one of the safest.”

Tiffany Soon Ying Shin (left) and Eza Azlina binti Awang Jambul

The Microsoft office 365 package has a lot of applications and it has been easy for him in terms of “teams to conduct my online live lecture, discussion, giving instructions and assigning tasks”.

He added, “It can record attendance and marks. Powerpoint for my lesson content, can include a recorded video, audio, animations, texts and images, while forms are for learning assessments (classwork, homework, tests and plenary quizzes during lessons).

“I choose these apps for my lesson delivery because it has a simple user interface, as well as being accessible, organised and secure.”

On ensuring that his students learn effectively, Md Qawiem Qiwamuddin said, “We have to strike an agreement with the students on certain things. First off is to ensure they take on the responsibility in disciplining themselves for learning. We advise students to organise and manage their time properly. We advise them to sleep early, wake up early and be punctual for online lessons. Their presence is imperative and so is their engagement.”

However, he noted that teachers must also strike a balance with consideration place on their students’ mental and physical well-being. “We try not to overburden students with work, but at the same time not be too relaxed.”

On the MoE’s assistance to boost online learning, he said, “The ministry subscribed to Microsoft in order for us to use it without any charges. Tutors have been using Microsoft Office 365 since 2016 or 2017 but not to its full potential. Now we are using almost all the features.”

Since the first outbreak of COVID-19, he recalled that tutors have undergone countless physical and virtual training provided by the ministry through Brunei Darussalam Leadership and Teacher Academy and Universiti Brunei Darussalam.

“The school administration and leaders conduct professional development in blended learning, online learning and at the same time expose us to applications that might be of interest to us. Sharing tips among colleagues and peers also plays a role in preparing us,” he said.

Collaborative work with multiple network providers was done to ensure virtual learning experience is inclusive of all social and economic backgrounds. Infrastructure, data donation and device contribution are among the initiatives introduced.

Speaking on this year’s Teachers’ Day theme, he said, “When we have quality education, we are able to produce quality learners. And learning is a lifelong process, thus we want to produce quality citizens. The process does not end; it will not end once the pandemic is over or when we are in 2035; it will continue until the end of time. As a teacher, providing quality education is vital for the nation’s survival.”

Md Qawiem Qiwamuddin also said that teachers need to be aware of all developments, particularly in education.

“Education will remain a vital part of life. It will continue to evolve and change over time. Observe what is around us, and educate ourselves from it,” he said.

Meanwhile, biology teacher Tiffany Soon Ying Shin from Sufri Bolkiah Secondary School, shared that she prefers Google Classroom, WhatsApp, Nearpod and Lucidchart.

“All these are accessible from various devices and have very friendly interface. Students seem to enjoy using them,” she said.

To ensure that students continue to grasp the study material well, Soon said she tries different platforms which require minimal Internet consumption and technical requirements.

She also asks for her students’ feedback frequently, reflects on her lessons daily and seeks help from school administration to overcome challenges in the virtual classroom.

On this year’s Teacher’s Day theme, Soon said, “I agree with the theme. Youth spend a great deal of their life in educational institutions. The knowledge, skills and experience gained would influence their perspectives and mould their characters greatly.

“I believe one inspirational educator is enough to change the course of a student’s life. Teachers play an impertinent role in providing quality education that is aligned with global development.”

With regards to the future of education, she shared, “The government has been putting strong emphasis on developing the scope of education in Brunei. With time and cooperation from all stakeholders, we will be able to move closer to Brunei Vision 2035 goal of having highly educated, skilled and accomplished people.”

Meanwhile, Eza Azlina binti Awang Jambul from Tentera Laut Diraja Brunei Primary School spoke on her initiatives of ensuring her students learn effectively amid the outbreak.

“As a teacher, we must discipline ourselves, such as managing our time efficiently. I have submitted learning plans to parents one week before class to give parents more time to prepare. I always state clear objectives to my students on what they need to achieve at the end of my lesson.

“I take initiative in designing my own video lessons as guidelines for parents on how to assist their children during online learning. I also use fun Internet resources to keep my students engaged. I have conducted one-on-one video calls for students who need extra assistance and guidance, specifically in literacy and numeracy.”

Before deciding which online teaching platforms to use, she said, “I conducted a survey and discussions with parents via WhatsApp to identify their preferred platform.

“Mutual understanding between teachers and parents is crucial during these trying times. Therefore, it is very important to have a constant flow of communication with parents about the well-being of their children, so teachers are able to understand the challenges they face.”

On the MoE’s assistance to help schools adapt to the new norm of teaching, she expressed, “Alhamdulillah, the ministry has done their best to cater to our needs. They have been giving teachers guidelines on how to teach using online platforms and providing useful online resources for the students.

“The teaching community in the country has been positive. Teachers are so generous in sharing their resources with one another to ensure teaching and learning run smoothly and effectively.”

Eza Azlina added, “This year’s Teachers’ Day theme, ‘Quality Education as the core of Learners Excellence’, is in line with our current situation.”

She affirmed that in the current pandemic, teachers need to adapt, grow and keep a positive attitude in shifting physical classroom to an ‘on-screen’ one.

“However, we are not solely focussing on academic excellence but also emotional, physical and mental health of the students.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has forced sudden transformation globally, including education. Technology is no longer a motivating factor when it comes to learning; it is a requirement,” she added.