“There is no replacement for student-teacher interaction,” says Alice Ong

There is still a lot of uncertainty revolving around whether students can return to school safely. Most countries have shut down schools in order to tackle the spread of the Coronavirus, but have recently started to go back to normalcy in stages. In our exclusive interview, Alice Ong, Principal of UCSI International School in Malaysia, gives us insight into how the school tackled the challenges that came along with school closures.

How has UCSI International responded to school closures due to Coronavirus?

In March, Malaysia entered into a movement control order (MCO), schools and almost all non-essential businesses were given very short notice to close. UCSI International School, closely watching the COVID 19 situation in the region, started to plan ahead and moved all our classes online. The move was smooth and on March 18, 2020, we started Online School.

What were the biggest challenges faced with distance learning? How did UCSI adapt to these new challenges?

Our online classes launched very effectively, with only a few hiccups along the way. In fact, teachers and students quickly adapted to new delivery methods and used different tools on Google to conduct life lessons. However, there were some challenges for our students in terms of being physically distanced from their teachers. The school realizing that there is no face-to-face interaction to see how the students were adapting to this change, mobilized school counsellors to support our community by sending out tips on dealing with isolation, anxiety and more. They also made themselves available to have online sessions with students.

What positive outcomes did distance learning have on teachers & students, if any?

hg0088手机版登录Having a very committed team of teachers allowed the school to continue to focus on student academics and learning. Our teachers pivoted well and came up with many interesting activities that only can be done online such as simulation apps for the students, experiments and activities using items from home. Students were challenged in their creativity and produced many interesting musical compositions with lyrics.

What safety measures will you put in place to guarantee a safe return for students?

hg0088手机版登录Prior to the lockdown, the school already started taking precautions such as sanitising doorknobs, handles, lifts, etc hourly. Educational posters and messages have been posted around the school to remind students and staff to practice good hygiene. In addition, temperature checks are also taken before entering school. As a school, student safety is one of our top priorities. The wearing of masks is highly encouraged along with regular sanitization and physical distancing. All protocols set by the Ministry of Education and Health are followed and students must know and understand them before entering the school. The school nurse is also on hand to support. When the lockdown began, the school already started strategizing the return of the students.

Currently, schools in Malaysia have started to reopen in stages, the government has also implemented strict guidelines for schools to follow and we have passed scheduled inspections and many surprise inspections with flying colours.

Do you think schools in Malaysia will start implementing blended learning strategies?

This pandemic has shown online lessons are essential in times of pandemic, a blending strategy might be a possibility, however, this pandemic has also shown that there is no replacement for the student-teacher interaction in person. Having the online infrastructure will greatly support the school and the teaching and learning process should other events like haze cause the schools to close.

About the Author

Alice Ong has spent over 30 years in the field of education. She is an American trained teacher and started her teaching career in the US. She has taught students from Pre K-12. She enjoys working with children and seeing them grow. She has taught in many International Schools and taught in the American system, British curriculum and the International Baccalaureate Programme.

In the schools she has worked with, she has chaired steering committees, worked with the team introducing IBhg0088手机版登录, guided schools through IB Programme Authorization and Evaluation and set up Learning Support for students.

hg0088手机版登录Ms. Ong has also served as IB MYP Coordinator, IB CAS Coordinator, Learning Support Coordinator, Head of Middle School and Principal of School. Along with school administration, Ms. Ong continues to teach Upper Secondary students. She believes that it is important to continue to engage with students and with the latest approaches to teaching and learning.

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