Learning As a Key to Solidarity Amid Global Crises

July 15, 2020

Tan Lin Nah
Chief Executive Officer
INTI International University & Colleges

Education and continued learning were a critical focus during the height of the Movement Control Order. While simultaneous attention has been given to unemployment, business continuity and the role of technology throughout this pandemic, the function and features of education, both presently and for the future, has called on more than just academics to review education’s long term goals.

Amid health and safety concerns, in April 2020 more than 1.53 billion learners were out of school with 184 countries forced into closing institutions of learning at every level, impacting 87.6% of the world’s total enrolled learners1. As governments, including Malaysia’s, are making the defining and difficult decision of re-opening schools and learning institutions and enabling children and youth to resume life as they have once known, it’s important that this renewed attention to learning and development does not fizzle out.

COVID-19 also showed us that learning was a key to solidarity for individuals from all walks of life amid the crisis. A 2020 report by ON24, a global provider for data-rich webinars and content experiences, indicated a 330% jump in webinars hosted in the first half of 2020, with double the number of participants, year over year. The same report found that 55% of respondents had plans to increase the number of webinars produced in 20202.

The accessibility and ease of creating and attending webinars and virtual forums offered a buffer for learning and collaborative activities. Location flexible, cost effective and the safest means of keeping people connected in the new world of social distancing, webinars served an important role in continued adult learning and self-development throughout the crisis – and are undoubtedly here to stay.

In similar vein, the formal education of young individuals should not be compromised, even if there is a heightened wait-and-see approach in light of economic uncertainty. While long term progression and securing future opportunities is an important reason for students to resume their studies, the real significance of education lies in the mental, social and emotional development of learners.

In almost every learning context, students gain more than just knowledge. There are elements of collaboration, leadership, critical thought process, emotional development and increased self and societal awareness. Institutions of learning have and continue to serve as spaces for discovery, creativity and innovation and within the present global crisis, offer a safety net for students to continue building their capabilities and perspectives with hopes for a better future. Most importantly students are able to do so as a collective, an aspect which from both industry and socio-economic standpoints, must come to the fore if we are to rebuild from this crisis.

Having students return to classrooms and campuses is the next catalyst for education reform, as institutions must now honestly and holistically review learning outcomes and experiences, while ensuring that safeguards and SOPs are properly adhered to. In this aftermath of global lockdowns (and the lingering risk of what may happen next), the time is truly now to review education as an entire ecosystem.

Leveraging better devices and technology to answer the need for remote learning is already one part of ongoing conversations; universal internet access and stability to ensure no student is left behind is another. Beyond that, it is time to re-look the training of our educators and how well they are supported to face, if necessary, another period of crisis. Aligning with the expectations of other professionals in the new normal, how prepared are educators to work with agility, resourcefulness and for the good of wider communities? How do we create specialists who are also capable of viewing education with a multidisciplinary lens – one that responds to the multifocal needs of a crisis impacted IR4.0 workplace?

Additionally, it is also a time to revisit the regulations required by policymakers, especially in the administration of education institutions. One of the realities brought to light during the crisis globally was how institutions are being governed on outdated processes and compliance structures that make up a significant part for accreditation and approvals.3 These structures, while created in good faith for fair and standardised governance, may at times hinder the development of education with the times, especially the future of learning, employment and jobs.

Despite the challenging months we anticipate ahead, Malaysia has done well to reduce disruption to education. Efforts such as Delima and Komuniti Guru Digital Learning bersama KPM have been steps in the right direction on how education should evolve. As classroom doors begin to reopen both locally and globally, the partnerships between education providers, policymakers and industry must now be strengthened and further steps must be taken to review the effectiveness of how we deliver education to present and future generations of learners.

Taking from what we have learnt these past few months, the time is now to ask how we will reinvent education so that, as we rebuild from COVID-19’s impact, we expand the role and importance of education in consolidating humanity’s growth, collective solidarity, and response to the now global nature of crises.

1 UNESCO 2020
2 ON24 2020
3 Times Higher Education 2020