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Humanising digital education

It's all about digital learning these days but AnnaKate reminiscences about wearing her pinafore and getting away with sleeping in class.

The future called and it wants its digital education back. While the race to produce a Covid-19 vaccine was still ongoing, digital education saw days of future past. Schools without borders are now equivalent to a classroom in my bedroom.

Innovative use of technology aiding any type of teaching and learning is the essence of digital education. This year, not only are teachers using technology to help students understand better, they are depending on technology as the only medium to continue teaching during this extraordinary time.

(Sorry kids, not even a pandemic can stop education.)

Virtual classrooms, in the short run, seems like the logical next step. A virtual classroom acts as a countermeasure against lost syllabus time while the world slowly resumes functioning with the second wave of COVID-19 ever threatening.

In a digital classroom, where technology has revolutionised the learning experience, students are empowered with the autonomy to learn at will, independently, and flexibly. Moreover, digital education is second nature to digital natives, those born and raised in a digitally cultured world.

Not to mention, migrating classrooms online is a lot easier than building a school in a bubble.

While all these sound good, given the unprecedented circumstance, a little je ne sais quoi is missing, no?

Humour me if you will, before we find out what’s missing.

If I were to recall some of the earliest memories of my school days, I would reminisce about group activities where we rearranged our wobbly wooden desks to form a big rectangle, huddled in for brainstorming. The teacher would visit our “camp” with our mahjong paper spread on top untuk sesi pembentangan. (Definitely giving away my age here)

There were also my zapin days, being one of the two first Chinese dancers to grace the school stages in our baju kurung and samping with a sanggul to complete our attire. It wasn’t only the performer’s pride that I remember, it was also the countless practices we had together for school performances and competitions.

Funny how I don’t recall standardised examinations and the unceasing need for assessments (not that I’m ashamed of my results) and homework, which are so-called the “cornerstones of education” for the longest of time.

I noticed my memories were “human stories”. There was certainly learning involved, but they were predominantly the connections cultivated between teachers and students during the many exchanges of ideas; a “whole” experience of education.

Education to me is more than just the transfer of knowledge. In a broader sense, it encompasses self- and interactive learning between teachers and students which creates an interconnectedness with and awareness of others. It is an approach to education that puts the human experience at the forefront; essentially focusing on the fact that all students are, first and foremost, human beings.

Picture this: A teacher noticed her students are dozing off in class today, after having a lively sports day yesterday. It seemed like there was a need to change her delivery method.

Instead of jamming the fast-paced one-way teaching track onto her students, she quickly converted the classroom into a rapid-fire group contest. Pumping adrenaline by triggering their competitiveness is a way to invigorate her tired students; making them more alert and receptive to the subject at hand.

A win-win situation I’d say.

As educators such as Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Erich Fromm, and Malcolm Knowles put it, this approach emphasises freedom and autonomy, trust, active cooperation and participation, and self-directed learning.[1] They call it humanistic education.

I too remember being motivated and given leeway to learn at my own pace. A teacher of mine would let me sleep in Literature (after-school classes on Fridays so spare me) and would only shake his head with a smile on his face, amused, as I exited the classroom every time when the class ended.

However, he would always check in with me on the subject the week after. He was never one to scold and punish, but always encouraging and open to different views and values from his students. It wasn’t easy for him teaching hormonal teenagers, I bet, but it was for me a liberating experience learning from him; setting incomparable standards to any teacher that follows.

Philosopher Daisaku Ikeda describes that it is the simple power of the interpersonal interactions through which the ideals of humanistic education are given form. Even a lone ranger like me agrees with this. It is as vital for teachers to sincerely encourage students as it is for students to forge genuine connections with teachers and fellow students whilst learning.

While digital intervention in education should not be deterred, it would be a good start for education to be reinvented with a humanistic approach in line with the use of technology.

It doesn’t have to be now, given the pandemic, but ironically it is now at this watershed moment that I believe is time for education to be given a good rethink on its approaches.


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