AS Malaysia enters its 35th week of home-based teaching and learning (PdPR), students nationwide, especially those from the B40 group, continue to fall behind due to the lack of face-to-face learning.
However, those with parental or familial help are more fortunate as they have guidance at home, said Prof Dr M. Niaz Asadullah from the Universiti Malaya Faculty of Economics and Administration.
PdPR, he said, requires a supportive family environment and complementary educational infrastructure to be effective.
Agreeing, Malaysian Mental Health Association president and consultant psychiatrist Prof Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj said children undergoing PdPR need supervision.In the absence of a regular school environment, the home becomes the new learning environment; therefore, support of individuals in that environment – one’s family – becomes crucial, he said.
While acknowledging that some “home environment hurdles” are inevitable, Dr Mohanraj said parents can mitigate the negative effects by becoming more involved in their children’s education.
Ensuring that children stick to a proper schedule that balances study and recreational time on digital devices, for example, can make a huge impact, he said, adding that poor supervision could lead to less time being spent on schoolwork.
“If parental support is not forthcoming, the child is likely to feel less motivated to participate in PdPR. Low self-esteem will then follow when their grades fall.
“Thus begins the vicious cycle of psychological decompensation and poor performance,” he explained.
PdPR, he said, is “unlikely to achieve its full efficacy” if family support does not complement the efforts of teachers.
Dr Mohanraj said PdPR should be viewed positively so long as there is a healthy balance between work and play.
PdPR, he added, is a good opportunity for parents, particularly those who work, to play a more active role in their children’s learning.
“Quality bonding time would otherwise not have been possible with the parents’ hectic work obligations and their children’s packed timetables,” he said.
“Home Schooling during the Covid-19 Pandemic in Malaysia” – a study Prof Niaz did in January – showed that a whopping 86% of over 6,800 Bumiputra students surveyed reported studying on their own, at least some of the time, during the many school closures they faced over the past one and a half years.But, for those who did receive help, most got guidance from their mothers (see infographics), said the education economist who also serves as a co-editor of the International Journal of Educational Development.
“Based on scholarly literature on children’s cognitive development, mothers play a critical role to complement school-based lessons,” he said, adding that there is a need for rigorous research to document parental constraints of home schooling.
The findings would serve to inform policy decisions, he said, adding that this is an area in which the Education Ministry could collaborate with academicians.
Prof Niaz’s survey also found that family environment-related challenges to online learning prevented many students from experiencing the many benefits of PdPR.
Family disturbances were a usual occurrence for a majority (61%) and more than half (55%) claimed that they had to dedicate more time to household chores.
Though family support is important, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Medical Centre Psychiatry Department head of child and adolescent psychiatry unit Assoc Prof Dr Fairuz Nazri Abd Rahman said it is not a crucial factor for PdPR to be effective.
“It is more important that families are able to provide the equipment, access to digital devices, location, as well as a suitable environment for the student to study.
“Parents also have to work so they are unable to be around the student all the time.
“Except for the younger ones who require adult supervision, students do not have to be accompanied by family members during the whole lesson,” she said, adding that older students should be able to study independently and only approach family members if they are stuck or do not understand the lesson.
Pointing to how studying alone helps develop independence in students, she said while they must be given the opportunity to determine their own pace of study, it is also important that they are able to approach someone if they need help.
Even with their parents supervising, focusing can be a challenge, said Dr Fairuz Nazri.
“It is difficult to pay rapt attention throughout a digital learning session. Many do not fully absorb the lessons (even if their parents are monitoring them).
“Teachers must keep PdPR interesting. Make full use of the resources and media available,” she said, adding that teachers need to connect with every student – for example with eye contact – to acknowledge their presence.
Two-way communication makes PdPR meaningful for the students, she said.
She suggested that PdPR be conducted in a common area of the home, such as the dining room, so that family members can monitor from afar to ensure students are not distracted.
“But it is also important that families respect the student and give him or her some peace and quiet when online learning is going on.
“Chores, however, are still necessary and doing housework is good for the student so long that it doesn’t become a burden,” said Dr Fairuz Nazri.
She also said that if PdPR is prolonged and students cannot return to schools, their self-esteem and confidence will drop.
And mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, she cautioned, will rise especially among students facing major exams.
Universiti Sains Malaysia School of Medical Sciences Department of Paediatrics Assoc Prof Dr Azizah Othman said parents need to provide a safe, healthy environment, and adequate facilities for appropriate learning experience to happen, and this is especially important when learning occurs at home.
“Parents, as the caretakers and providers, are the key people, in addition to the teachers who are the ‘educational experts’ in PdPR or any form of schooling; their involvement and support are indispensable.
“We know parents’ involvement, support, and continuous monitoring of their children’s education are essential, especially when PdPR operates mainly between teachers and individual students, which limits teachers’ monitoring capacity,” she said.