By Prema Ponudurai
The consumption of digital technology is growing rapidly, with more than 26 million Malaysians using the internet today for many online activities.
This is in accordance with 12e Malaysia Plan 2021-2025, which aims to transform Malaysia into a digital and technology driven nation by 2030.
By embracing digitalization, the education sector is empowering students to achieve Malaysian aspirations. It also guarantees their competitiveness through various interdisciplinary teaching pedagogies that use the latest innovations in artificial intelligence, virtual reality and augmented reality.
Nevertheless, this feverish inclusion of digitization must be coupled with the development of basic human skills and exercise caution to stay true to visions of holistic development.
With the growth of technology over the years, educational philosophies have shifted from teacher-centered learning to student-centered learning and now to “self-centered” learning.
As online delivery, distance learning, self-directed learning, personalized and independent learning expand, the central role of the teacher is rapidly diminishing.
The education of yesteryear was filled with fond memories of bonding with friends, pranks and eccentric teachers. However, this may not be the case for future generation learners with the accelerated integration of technology.
A heavily tech-infused education often leads to an isolating learning experience with a remotely accessible teacher and distant classmates. Recently, studies on technology use and loneliness have increased, leading to the coining of the term technolonely.
Friendships are the foundation for growth in college, where connections are made by students with common interests and on a similar path of intellectual and personal growth. Empirical studies have also indicated that friends are the main social support system for adolescents compared to family.
According to the World Health Organization, among the main causes of mental health problems in young people today are isolation and loneliness, which can also lead to deaths by suicide among young people around the world.
In Malaysia, a national study found that young people between the ages of 16 and 24 are 4.8 times more likely to attempt suicide than other age groups.
Some of the major causes of noted suicide attempts are academic pressure, lack of connection with peers or parents, and prolonged online interactions resulting in decreased human communication.
Based on these facts, it is crucial that universities play a central role in developing human relationships for their students and in creating a more robust human-centered teaching and learning environment in order to ensure the general well-being of students.
Currently, a range of extracurricular activities and clubs are available at universities. However, these can be enhanced to transcend other aspects of a student’s social support system.
For example, living on campus should be made available to students beyond the first year only, as studies have indicated that stronger relationships are built by students living on campus compared to those living off campus. campus.
Teaching and learning should also take place off-campus through visits and excursions to related sites so that learning takes place implicitly and the opportunity to build social capital through shared lived experience increases.
Interestingly, a 2017 study found that high social capital improves the employability of college students.
The philosophy of human-centered education goes beyond simply imparting academic knowledge and skills, but also focuses on a “values-based” approach. It attaches importance to the development of human virtues and the cultivation of the qualities of “being human”.
Through curriculum enhancements, universities should offer credit electives in non-academic areas that contribute to overall growth such as sports, service learning, volunteerism, and community projects.
These contribute to the development of the social and emotional domains of the students and to their development as a whole person.
For example, Durham University in the UK offers modules like Harry Potter and the Age of Illusion; Liverpool Hope University in the UK offers courses on The Beatles; and Cornell University in the United States offers a course in recreational tree climbing.
Therefore, as universities are often viewed as gatekeepers to society, a balance must be maintained for students to establish and maintain human connections for social support, as these relationships are the foundations of a well-rounded educational experience and offer opportunities to forge lasting friendships based on shared interests.
As we prepare students for the future workforce, we are seeing transformations in work trends in the form of remote and hybrid work cultures.
As we battle the twin disruptions of pandemic and automation, universities have an equal responsibility to not only prepare students with knowledge and skills, but to navigate relationships and communication for this environment of work.
By nature, the human mind was designed to be creative, problem-solving, and innovative in order to survive.
While it is important to develop digital skills for the future, technology is constantly changing and society will need to continually hone and relearn digital skills to keep up with trends and stay competitive.
However, it is imperative that ever-consistent human soft skills such as respect, communication, collaboration, listening, empathy and resilience are also instilled in students, as these are the essence of what means to be human. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “the greatness of humanity is not in being human, but in being human”.
So the next time you’re in class, instead of first asking your students to log into the learning portal to access your lecture notes, take a few minutes to ask them, “How can I help you to become a better person? It could make all the difference.
Prema Ponnudurai is head of the School of Media and Communications at Taylor University