RECENTLY, Higher Education Minister Mohamed Khaled Nordin stated that local universities will soon introduce a hybrid and adaptable educational system at public Higher Education Institutions (HEI), requiring physical attendance only in the first and final year of studies.
According to the prestigious Stanford University’s definition, hybrid education involves the combination of traditional face-to-face classes and online participation from students, wherein they meet routinely throughout the semester but spend considerable time meeting via the Internet or working online asynchronously.
This flexible and convenient system has many significant drawbacks that must be acknowledged.
Long-term hybrid education among students increases risks of academic dishonesty, decreased engagement and motivation, and the failure of students to develop excellent interpersonal skills.
Rising ethical concern with technological advancement
In Malaysia, the Ministry of Education revealed that from 2000 to 2005, a total of 1,710 students from ten universities and colleges breached the terms of the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971.
Ethical issues include cheating by using a plagiarism detector, duplicating other people’s work, and seeking individual or technological aid for assignments.
Research also indicates that students from high school, college, and university received better results on online tests than they did on traditional ones.
In addition, by outlining strict guidelines for using ChatGPT, usage of this powerful artificial intelligence (AI) tool in Malaysia’s HEIs is now permissible.
If the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) permits usage of these powerful AI technologies, it should be prepared with specific mechanisms to handle ethical issues and not just constrain students with guidelines.
For example, Singapore has proactively monitored the use of AI in HEIs by utilising “secure browser and lockdown” tools to monitor students during online examinations, preventing access to other websites until the examination is over. In addition, students must be monitored by a webcam while taking their test.
Deteriorating physical and mental health of students
Social isolation, poor involvement in physical activities, increased stress and anxiety, and increased digital fatigue due to more coursework and assessments with limited deadlines are among the significant effects of long-term hybrid learning on students.
Research involving 285 Malaysian HEI students found an alarming prevalence of anxiety, depression, and high stress caused by the sudden transition to e-learning during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Digital connectivity and engagement of students
Equitable access to digital connectivity is essential for quality education.
For instance, 52% of students in Sabah faced difficulties with technical and internet connections during online learning.
In comparison, Estonia started building its digital infrastructure even in 2001, whereby all schools were with computers and internet networks and by 2018, the country had digitalised all study materials for students in secondary schools.
Marketability of students in the employment market
Studies indicate that the conventional classroom is still preferred by roughly 60% of employers, who give its graduates preference for jobs over online graduates.
It is evident that high-quality on-demand education programmes are crucial for the employability of fresh graduates.
Inadequate public tertiary education will increase the likelihood that parents will have to shell out more for the enrollment of their children in private HEIs.
Here are a few policy recommendations by EMIR Research for the stakeholders to consider before putting the proposed new system in place:
1. Expanding the enrollment for value-added university programmes in HEIs
A recent poll conducted by the UCSI Poll Research Centre involving Malaysian Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia graduates found that among 1,000 of its’ respondents, 39% were eager to begin working, while 10% were unsure about their next steps.
Additionally, this 49% of respondents lacked interest in continuing their education due to their financial situation and view that obtaining a higher education degree was not financially rewarding and did not guarantee better jobs.
It is recommended that MOHE analyse university programmes that are currently on-demand in the market and add value to the students’ career development, for example, through boosting student enrolment in programmes such as computing and information technology, digital designing, marketing, business management, and human resources.
2. Revising current student-educator ratio in public HEIs
In 2020, the academic staff-to-student ratio was 1:18.55, and this number varied depending on programmes and universities.
A ratio of 1:100 has been shown to apply not only to traditional classes but online learning as well.
Higher student-to-educator ratios lead to ineffective teaching and learning. It decreases student attention spans as the educator cannot closely monitor and provide targeted intervention in areas where feedback is crucial for a student’s progress.
On top of that, this physically and mentally drains the health of educators as well.
It is recommended that stakeholders hire additional qualified educators to reduce the ratio, especially for university core programmes.
3. Robust emphasis on financial literacy among Malaysian students
Shockingly, a study of 500 undergraduate and graduate students at Malaysian universities revealed that 369 (73%) of the participants had never taken a course in financial management.
The Education Ministry and MOHE should prioritise educating students about financial literacy, including budgeting and saving, from an early age. This may be accomplished by including such courses in the curriculum or by establishing clubs and organisations concentrating on financial literacy in schools and colleges.
In the final analysis, apart from being a social concern, the long-term unpreparedness to implement hybrid learning and address the most obvious structural problems are risks to Malaysia’s Education Blueprint 2015-2025.
The country is an international educational hub for students from China, Indonesia, and Vietnam, contributing significantly to strengthening the ringgit, among other things.
The poor quality and management of Malaysia’s tertiary education will push most of these students to pursue education in other countries.
Therefore, the MOHE needs to meticulously prepare if it intends to implement a hybrid learning system in public universities. – July 13, 2023.
* Jachintha Joyce is a research assistant at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focussed on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.
* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.