moheUUM ONLINE: The COVID-19 pandemic that has adversely affected the humanitarian and health crises around the world, with the higher education sector being no exception, is forcing teaching and learning activities (TnL) to be implemented online to replace the face-to-face method commonly used before.

Recognizing the importance and need to integrate the new normal in TnL that emphasizes on the aspect of cloud computing as an alternative to traditional TnL, the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) has decided to reach out to students of Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) by offering various assistance and initiatives that can help students create conducive and balanced learning environment through the online TnL approach.

Minister of Higher Education, Dato' Dr. Noraini Ahmad said the Ministry was well aware of the fact that not all students had access to online facilities and without the said facilities the ongoing TnL activities would definitely be disrupted.

According to her, the pandemic had become a catalyst for technological TnL in tandem with the Industrial Revolution 4.0 and the Education Revolution 5.0. As such, the situation had indirectly driven MOHE to be steadfast and committed in mainstreaming Global Online Learning as stated in the Ninth Ascent of Malaysia Education Development Plan 2015-2025 (Higher Education) - PPPM (PT) 2015-2025.

She said, in the spirit of MOHE Cares, the Ministry had taken several steps to reach out to students by implementing several initiatives to facilitate students to access online TnL including the provision of MYR50 Cash Assistance to New Students, Data Plan Assistance, Device Assistance (Laptops) which targets B40 Students as well as the Care for Student Fund.

“Through the Cash Assistance, a total of 76,153 students will enjoy the benefit which involves an allocation of MYR3.8 million and hopefully help them learn through online in accordance to the lecture schedule set by their respective lecturers.

“As for the Data Plan Assistance, an estimated MYR24 million has been allocated for the purpose of channelling this initiative to a total of 320,396 students from the B40 category. Through the assistance, a total of 225,784 units of SIM card have been distributed to students in collaboration with telecommunication companies, particularly YTL Foundation and Lembaga Tabung Haji. The remaining 94,612 students will receive cash for the purpose of purchasing data plans,“ she said at the Launching Ceremony of Data Plan and Device Package to students of IHE  via MOHE Facebook Live recently.

Dato’ Dr. Noraini said the Ministry also saw a urgent need to continue providing assistance in the form of giving away devices such as laptops to students of IHE who are in need of assistance.

According to her, the Ministry through coordination at public universities had taken proactive measures by allocating a total of 8,965 units of laptop specifically for students under the B40 category with a target allocation of MYR13 million.

She said a total of 5,965 students would receive free laptop assistance, while another 2,700 students would receive assistance in the form of cash grants for the same purpose and another 300 students would enjoy financial loan assistance that would enable them to own the necessary laptops at special price.

"The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the number of B40 groups in the country, where a large number of people in our society have lost their jobs and suffered from declining sources of income.

“In this regard, the Ministry has always been sensitive and understanding in the financial crisis experienced by students especially those from the B40 bracket, therefore to ensure that these students do not miss out on online TnL, MOHE in collaboration with Yayasan Sukarelawan Siswa (YSS) launched a crowdfunding initiative through Care for Student Fund,” she said.

She said MOHE together with all IHE was in the midst of planning and working together to improve the infrastructure and dimensions of digital content as well as computer applications to strengthen the Digitization of Education agenda in the higher education sector for the future and development of higher education in Malaysia.

According to him, the Ministry was confident that with the initiative that would be channelled in the not so far future could help facilitate all learning activities of university students.