The gradual reopening of universities has begun throughout Asia, but many issues remain uncertain, including the implementation of face-to-face classes for students. The Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) press release dated May 27, 2020, stated that regarding the conduct of academic activities at the current Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and the Movement Control Order (MCO), all teaching and learning (TnL) activities must be implemented online up to December 31, 2020, where all TnL activities face-to-face are not allowed. According to a statement issued by the Commission, the student housing center has ordered students to vacate college throughout June and July since the government approved cross-border travel on June 10, 2020. Some students living in rented houses have also decided to cancel their rental agreement because students are contemplating the liability for renting their rental house to be paid until December 2020 following the announcement issued by the KPT. This is because most students have decided to return home to their families since the Prime Minister announced the MCO on April 16, 2020. The university has also issued a new timetable as the TnL is expected to be conducted till December 2020.
It is worth noting that although the COVID-19 rate in Malaysia shows 1 to 2 new cases per day and the recovery rate is 97.72%, updated on July 4, 2020, the world’s COVID-19 rates are increasing day by day. As we know, the COVID-19 vaccine has not been found, and not all Malaysians have undergone a COVID-19 screening test. Also, the fact that 1400 quarantined Malaysians being held 14 days at home after returning from abroad has not yet been tested for the second COVID-19 screening test. Thus, Malaysia should take precautions to prevent Malaysians from being infected with the COVID-19 virus by adopting a government-mandated SOP for the opening of every industry sector in Malaysia, including the reopening of universities. As the school opening SOP is the most relevant SOP for reference to the university re-opening SOP, we invite you to see the effect this SOP possesses. Taken from the Ministry of Education (MOE) website, the re-opening date of the school as early as July 15, 2020, will follow the school’s facility’s model to accommodate the number of students taking into account social distances. If the school cannot follow the method outlined in model 1 and model 2, then the school’s method of learning is based on model 3, the rotation model. Thus, the TnL method will be hybrid, face to face learning and home-based learning. The SOP outlined for the school’s opening is good, but as it is well known, the number of university students is double than the number of school students.
Also, take into account the factors of school students coming from the same place while university students come from different regional and state backgrounds where some students are also international students studying in Malaysia. University students also need to move from one place to another when attending face-to-face lectures because classes are distributed around the campus. In the event of transmission of the COVID-19 virus, it would be difficult for the front liners to detect the transmission of COVID-19 among university students. SOP accommodation for university students is also difficult to apply because the university’s college facilities are limited and cannot accommodate all students. Students living in rented houses are also difficult to comply with the SOP because most students live in a terrace house occupying 8-14 students. It also considers the difficulties for students who have discontinued their rental agreement of a house to look for a new rental home in the near future.
Despite the issues raised about the benefits of maintaining the university’s closure, from a positive perspective, other factors contribute to the benefits of reopening the university in the near future. One of these factors is the constraints that students face during e-learning. As it is well known, the implementation of e-learning has its own effects. There are many things to keep in mind when it comes to implementing e-learning. This method of e-learning is less efficient for some students, especially for students who are less motivated when studying alone and for students with low self-organization. This is because, without a regular schedule or routine, e-learning makes it difficult for students to meet the due date and other goals for each course they take. The fact that face-to-face learning is more effective for students as well as lecturers because face-to-face interactions are more effective in delivering information during TnL. Some students need guidance from their lecturers and friends to stay motivated. Students need guidance, such as knowing the deadline for submitting assignments, knowing the pattern of handling and completing each assignment, consulting with lecturers if they face difficulty in TnL, and group discussion with their peers to improve their motivation. It is undeniable that some students are able to organize their learning process and motivate themselves to continue learning in virtual.
However, not all students have the skills to organize and manage the e-learning process well. In addition, e-learning methods are packaged with the addition of continuous assessment tasks that students receive. This causes students to experience stress because there are too many tasks that need to be completed while e-learning takes place. The home conditions of some students who are less effective at pursuing e-learning should also be taken into account. Therefore, it is good to have face-to-face learning so that students do not miss out on the courses they take.
Also, it should be noted that e-learning methods require specific requirements of technology use as most e-learning programs are designed for high-speed internet and the use of modern computers or mobile devices. Students who have problems with high-speed internet access and who do not have sophisticated device tools will have great constraints if they continue their online coursework. As a result of the problems mentioned, e-learning is a significant challenge for students. This is because to overcome internet access problems and upgrade the device tools used during e-learning, students will have to spend extra to overcome this problem if e-learning is continued or else students will miss out on lessons and have trouble completing assignments.
Furthermore, it should be noted that the university students’ maturity level is higher than that of the school student. So the issue of complying with the SOP mandated by the government should not be difficult to be implemented. An awareness campaign should also be conducted by each university to ensure that students are exposed to the general knowledge of COVID-19 symptoms to instill a new culture of norms and self-control among students to prevent the spread of the epidemic following the re-opening of universities. As a recommendation, awareness campaigns in each university can be conducted for a week to spread the message about COVID-19 outbreaks of infection by placing at least two hand sanitation stations in each faculty as well as residential colleges. The primary purpose of the campaign is to raise awareness for students to continue preventing the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak by complying with the university’s re-opening SOPs and the guidelines issued by their respective universities.
In our view, therefore, based on the factors outlined above, the government should take into account the positive and negative factors of re-opening universities by looking at the capabilities of all parties involved in the re-opening of the university. We welcome with a warm heart the announcement made by the KPT on July 8, 2020, on the guidelines for the re-opening of universities in stages. It is hoped that all parties involved in the full re-opening of the university in October 2020 will be given sufficient time to prepare well before the university resumes.