Muhd Sahrudi Iswandi Hisham, IBTE’s Digital Director of Information Technology Services Division.

When the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the world, and subsequently entered our shores, everyone was none the wiser to the extent how the pandemic might affect our lives. 

From travel bans to working from home, the suspension of dine-in services to the subsequent surge of online services, the coronavirus left no stone unturned, giving rise to changes that swept all aspects of our normal modern-day life. 

One of the noteworthy changes came with the closure of schools and learning institutions nationwide. 

This understandably, prompted a major shift in the sultanate’s education system, as face-to-face learning was halted in favour of online or “distanced” learning. 

For the nation’s major technical and vocational education and training institute, the Institute of Brunei Technical Education (IBTE), adapting to the new normal was not without obstacles, due to the formal and informal nature of its curriculum. 

According to Muhd Sahrudi Iswandi Hisham, IBTE’s Digital Director of Information Technology Services Division, when the pandemic hit Brunei, education institutions, including IBTE, were scrambling to find suitable platforms to deliver their curriculum. 

“From whiteboard teaching to going digital, that was quite a big step for our instructors, especially when you consider our various programmes like construction or agrotechnology which involves more hands-on teaching,” he explained. 

WhatsApp was one of the first few platforms that came to mind, added the digital director, but having gone through a number of trials and errors which involved both students and staff, the online application proved to have limitations that could not cater to the IBTE’s needs. 

“Quite a number of our instructors are not young, so they often went with the familiar like WhatsApp, but we found that Microsoft Teams was a better fit (for us), so we had major training sessions with our staff, on how to use the platform,” he said.

“There was a bit resistance which is to be expected, but eventually they saw the benefits of the platform through the training, the ability to track conversations, sharing and collaborating on files and videos, it was a ripple effect which saw them adapt to the teaching tool,” he added. 

Despite this breakthrough, however, practical lessons remained a challenge, said Muhd Sahrudi, with the institution having to revamp the curriculum and learn more on theory-based lessons during the four months of nationwide social and physical distancing.

Though instructors were able to share videos and educational content with their students, the online learning tools implemented were still not conducive enough in delivering the practical aspect of a certain number of IBTE programmes. 

Programmes that require specific use of machinery, equipment and material, such as construction engineering from IBTE’s School of Building Technology and Services were unable to move forward with their physical lessons, he explained. 

Lessons for brick layering for example had to be forgoed and instead were replaced with its theoretical aspects such as calculating the square footage and the number of bricks.  

“There were a number of instructors who tried to accommodate practicals by conducting live streams with their students. For instance, at the School of Hospitality and Tourism, both instructors and students would be live streaming and live cooking together,” he continued. 

In light of these obstacles faced by the institution during the months of distanced learning, IBTE has actually set up measures to ensure that students get the best quality education, in both theoretical and practical aspects, should a situation like this occurs again. 

According to Muhd Sahrudi, IBTE has recently established an online learning management system, described as a knowledge management hub similar to Coursera, which will feature IBTE programmes and courses online that students can enroll. 

“It’s still in its pilot stage, but we plan to have more of this digital content ready as it was proven to be difficult to source these types of content during the pandemic, so we are planning ahead quite a bit,” he continued. 

“We hope that the online platform would be up and running before the year ends, so at least, god forbid, should a second wave occur, we will be ready,” he added. 

This article was first published on September 23, 2020 in our Teacher’s Day Edition

The Bruneian | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

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