“Hands-Off” Learning During a Pandemic

Experiences are key to understanding the world around us. As children are natural hands-on learners, educators use the method in school to let learning happen with many materials, in a variety of spaces, and through various activities. This is especially the case for the Orang Asli whose views of education and learning differs from the rest of us.

Mainstream education structures and contents provide little meaning for indigenous communities throughout the world as their view of education varies from the mainstream view. To the indigenous, the quality of knowledge is holistic rather than compartmentalized, teaching and learning methods are interactive and demonstrative rather than instructive, and the social values that govern learning attitudes are co-operative rather than competitive.

The return to school during the pandemic is difficult for parents and teachers alike. We are dealing with physical distancing, school hygiene, and other practices to protect our children. Which begs the question, how do we keep them safe whilst not making them feel like prisoners in school? How do we maintain engagement, and promote meaningful learning especially when the crux of learning for the indigenous is almost everything that the COVID19 SOP opposes?

The children are struggling in silence

Let’s not overlook the fact that our children are also struggling to get back into school/learning mode and at the same time dealing with the stress of the ongoing crisis. We are so engrossed to how we are going to teach them, and in that single-mindedness, we forget that they are adapting to the new norm just like us. Their response might be different from adults but ignoring their views and adaptability could be costly. With limited movement and hands-on activities, they can be demotivated, they could view learning as a chore, and school becomes less and less meaningful.

Let’s crunch some numbers.
Physical distancing is expensive, and for a community that struggles with poverty, this is a huge concern as families can’t contribute financially.

Limited close contact collaboration in the classroom means teachers need more infrastructure that caters to individual students. Worksheets, books, stationery, gadgets and other learning tools cannot be shared.

RM 1.20 a mask a day equates to RM 6.00 a week, RM 24.00 a month for each child. If a family has five children that’s RM 100.00 for masks alone.

Going back to the classroom, has anyone thought of holistic solutions?

How do we go about hands-on teaching and learning with the SOP for post-pandemic schooling getting in the way? Perhaps we could explore alternatives by using virtual simulations, blended learning, and differentiated instructions to name a few.

Teachers like us in rural areas, are also attempting to engage more with parents and the community in general. In a seamless scenario, parents could help their children at home by creating a routine around school. They could attempt to make learning playful by incorporating it into everyday activities like cooking, games, or gardening.

However, it is tough to just focus on what happens in the classroom and ignore the ruckus that’s going on in their pandemic affected lives. Cooking, gardening, fishing and gathering produce from the forest are means to sustain their livelihoods and put food on the table, it is not a game.

We see our students, connect with and love them beyond the notion of going to class to teach just to get a lesson over with. Hands on and experiential approaches that we have been doing daily in our classrooms before the pandemic, brought refuge and meaning to their already arduous lives.

We can’t help but lament how learning has now become unsafe and expensive, thus forcing us to adapt to mainstream views which are contrary to not only our principles, but also to the beliefs and social values of the indigenous.

However, under these difficult circumstances, we as educators are ready to take on more responsibilities as we are blessed with this burden. Perhaps it’s time we worked together towards redefining sustainable education with the community and school at the helm as equal partners, something we believe is now more crucial than ever.

Co-authored by Faiz Shakri and Samuel Isaiah.

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