University of Fribourg
September 25, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over although infection rates have dropped in some countries. This crisis severely affects all aspects of life, including education. According to a report by the International Association of Universities, COVID-19 has affected higher education around the world in areas such as communication, new enrolments, policy development, government support and partnerships, teaching and learning, international student mobility, exam planning, and scientific research.
There are many questions that pop up as the world moves toward a post-COVID-19 era; for example, what will education be in the future? How could we strengthen the education system after COVID-19? Who plays a key role in improving the quality of teaching and learning? These questions look simple, but “simple” does not mean easy.
Because of COVID-19, education system across the world has been abruptly changed to distance teaching and learning or online learning. This new teaching and learning method shapes individuals’ view of online learning. Some see it positively, while others see it negatively. It is like when you and others are sitting in front of the TV watching the same movie together. The views is the same, but the interpretations of the movie may be different.
The COVID-19 pandemic seems to be a mirror that can be used to reflect on the quality of teaching and learning, management system, and leadership skills, especially on how to provide a safe school environment during COVID-19 and what to do after COVID-19.
In Cambodia, the education sector is undergoing ongoing developments. Over the last decade, the country’s education system been found to suffer from a lack of quality in teaching and learning, skills mismatch (ADB, 2015), corruption, a shadow of education (a fee-paying for extra classes) (Brehm, 2016), inadequate school infrastructure, poor school leadership capacity, and insufficient support budget (McNamara, 2015).
In retrospect, there were not many university students who were able to afford a personal computer or laptop in the 2000s. University infrastructure was not good enough in terms of internet connection, WiFi, university email accounts for students, LCD projectors and other materials to support teaching and learning. The lack of teaching and learning resources were common. For example, Vann (2012) noted that there were out-dated textbooks in the library, lack of access to electronic journals, slow internet-speed, and inadequate laboratory facilities for science classes.
Despite these, the quality of education appears to have improved after the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) introduced a number of projects, including a reform to the Grade 12 national examination in August 2014 and the implementation of a World Bank-funded project, called Higher Education Quality and Capacity Improvement Project (HEQCIP).
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an opportunity for further integrating online learning into the Cambodian education system. The integration of online learning into mainstream classrooms, called Hybrid Teaching and Learning Environment (HTLE), should be the way forward after the pandemic. In this article, I will elaborate on some elements that should be considered in the implementation of HTLE in Cambodian higher education institutions (HEIs) in the post-COVID-19 world.
Needless to say, Cambodian HEIs have recently been forced to develop and implement Hybrid Teaching and Learning Environment to address the impact of COVID-19. According to Charlier, Deschryver, and Peraya (2006), the term “hybrid teaching and learning” is characterized by the presence in a learning environment of innovation dimensions linked to distance learning activities because it involves the use of a techno-pedagogical environment based on a complex form of mediatization and mediation. The term “mediatization” is the engineering of training and design pedagogy (functions of device training). It involves the processes of designing, producing, and implementing media communication devices. For “mediation,” it refers to the process of transforming human behaviors and knowledge to fit the functions of the device (Deschryver & Charlier, 2012).
Since COVID-19 has created profound impact on the economy, culture, communication, and education system around the world, there are some essential elements to be considered in introducing hybrid teaching and learning in higher education. They include, among others, annual training and professional development opportunities for teaching staff, incentives for using hybrid teaching and learning, technical support, and learning infrastructure such as stable internet connection, WiFi, applications, and Learning Management System (LMS).
To ensure the success of HTLE, all teaching staff should be encouraged to take part in professional development opportunities such as national and international workshops, seminars, and symposiums to improve their current teaching skills, knowledge, and values. All of these are required to develop pedagogical innovation. Obviously, this is not an easy task for individual higher education institutions in countries like Cambodia because the majority of teaching staff in Cambodian higher education are based on part-time contracts.
Villiams, Kitamura and Keng (2016) highlighted that “many Cambodian higher education institutions, particularly private ones, have hired very limited number of full-time teaching staff” (p. 179). The author further noted that, in Cambodia, “a majority of teaching staff are part-time lecturers, and the institutions have not provided appropriate and sufficient training opportunities and support to these part-time lecturers” (p. 179). Many part-time lecturers moonlight—teaching or working for more than one university. Perhaps one of the solutions to address this issue is to recruit full-time teaching staff or offer professional development opportunities to part-time faculty members. This approach, however, requires individual institutions’ policies and willingness.
Moreover, to implement HTLE successfully, there should be incentives for lecturers who are integrating hybrid teaching and learning into their classrooms. The incentives do not necessarily have to be money or an increase in teaching rates but should be a level of freedom to provide online or distance teaching when they are busy or unable to go to class due to certain reasons such as heavy rain. For example, lecturers may be allowed to offer online or distance teaching to their students a few times in a semester, so they can use this allowance for online teaching to conduct virtual classes when they think fit. By doing so, this could help both lecturers and students to learn to engage each other virtually and be more accustomed to online learning and teaching.
It is crucial to note that a technical support team and learning infrastructure are essential elements to enhance the quality of online teaching and learning. This technical support team must be approachable, responsive, and helpful. Individual higher education institutions should therefore have an effective technical support team that can provide assistance with technical issues, such as installing software for teaching and learning, introducing LMS (e.g. Moodle, Canvas, and Chamilo), and creating school email accounts for both lecturers and students for official use. The school email account should be used to connect to the internet and WiFi on university campuses so that lecturers and students can communicate, collaborate, and share information. A stable internet connection should be available to promote self-study and research among students and staff.
In a nutshell, to improve the quality of education requires concerted efforts, hard work, clear vision, effective management, and active involvement from different stakeholders from a macro to a micro level. Since HTLE is a rather new to the Cambodia context, it is impossible to change and improve the status quo overnight. Obviously, we need participation from individual institutions as well as strong political commitment and willingness to walk the talk to improve the education system. One way forward is the government needs to increase education budget, further promote capacity building among higher education staff, and invest in research and development to nurture a culture of research and innovation.
KAING Sopheap, a recipient of the Swiss Government Excellence Scholarship 2019—2022, is a PhD candidate in educational sciences at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. Funded by Erasmus Mundus Action II, he obtained a Master of Educational Sciences from Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Free University of Brussel), Belgium in 2017. He is currently conducting a doctoral research study on “Implementing Conditions of Hybrid Teaching and Learning Environment in Cambodian Higher Education”.
Kaing, S. (2020). What’s needed to implement Hybrid Teaching and Learning Environment in Cambodian higher education. Cambodian Education Forum, 1(15), 1-5.