BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the online education gaps between privileged and needy students, a Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) academic said.

Dr Hjh Rosmawajah Hj Jawawi, dean of UBD’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Institute of Education (SHBIE), said the pandemic posed difficulties on online learning as not every student has computer or internet access.

Limited internet access due to high data costs and lack of digital devices in households must be addressed, she said.

Dr Hjh Rosmawajah was speaking as co-chair of the first virtual Teachers Day Conference 2020 on Monday.

In April, a study from Brunei Computer Emergency Response Team (BruCERT) cited internet speed and costs as the major challenges of learning or working from home amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Hjh Rosmawajah said early childhood and primary school pupils as well as students with special needs are affected to a greater extent.

The inability to physically meet significantly affects young children and students with special needs as they need to adjust to a different learning environment, she said.

The pandemic forced education institutions around the world to switch to remote learning and other alternative teaching and learning methods.

UNESCO reported that more than 1.57 billion students – 90 percent of the world’s student population – have been affected by the temporary closures of schools and universities.

This year’s Teacher’s Day Conference was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

Brunei’s students started home-based learning on March 30 as schools remained shut for more than three months until they were partially reopened on June 2.

All schools, including tertiary education institutions, resumed full operations in the final phase of the country’s de-escalation plan on July 27.

During the school closures, the education ministry deployed measures to facilitate continuity in learning through online platforms; home-learning television programmes; social media and home learning packs for students who do not have computer or internet access.

Education Minister YB Dato Paduka Hj Hamzah Hj Sulaiman said COVID-19 is likely to leave a lasting impact.

“It stimulated innovation within our education sector, requiring teachers to be dynamic, resilience, adaptable, innovative and creative,” he added.

He said teaching in Brunei focuses on coverage of the curriculum, delivery of factual and procedural knowledge, as well as preparing students for year-end and public examinations.

Classroom instruction relies heavily on textbooks, worked examples and strong emphasis on drilling and practice, he said.

However, the minister questioned whether this is enough to equip students with future-ready skills even though this has produced students with strong values and fundamental numeracy and literacy skills.

The expectations and style of learning of the new generation is very much different today. The new generation of learners produces effective learning outcomes when their learning is blended with technology and open exchange of ideas, he added.

YB Dato Hj Hamzah said there is a need to shift from teacher-centred classroom approaches and change the perception that teaching is talking and learning is listening.

“A 21st century classroom focuses more on the students’ level of understanding or mastery rather than whether or not students know the right answer,” he added.