top of page


Online learning, virtual learning, distance learning or remote learning are the names we commonly hear these days and they have become a part of the new normal among teachers and pupils of English as a second or foreign language in Malaysia as well as worldwide. However, to get it right, the accurate term is emergency remote learning or remote learning.

Shisley (2020) states that the phrase “emergency remote learning” refers to what educators are doing right now; an alternative and unplanned method for teaching from a distance because of their inability to be physically located in a classroom with their pupils. On the other hand, online learning, is based on a totally different philosophical and conceptual model of learning that always envisions the delivery of instruction online. In other words, emergency remote learning may take place online and share similar components as online learning, but it differs from online learning because of design and structure.

Ray (2020) points out that remote learning gives an opportunity for pupils and teachers to remain connected and engaged with the content while working from their homes. Opportunities for remote learning are typically linked to emergency situations that pose a threat to pupils’ safety like the pandemic of COVID-19. Remote learning can be carried out online to keep pupils on their learning track. When the crisis is over and they return to schools, they will not need to complete a lot of make-up work to be ready for any scheduled assessments.


Based on the directives endorsed by the Ministry of Education, State Education Office, District Education Office and school heads, ESL teachers have to teach their pupils from home through this remote learning. Kudos to Malaysian ESL teachers who, since the first Movement Control Order, have been giving their best in embracing this new normal.

However, after conducting online classes for some time, many ESL teachers have noticed a very common and critical issue that needs effective and immediate actions. The issue is none other than the poor attendance among pupils in some schools. What does it mean by poor attendance? Well, it simply means only less than 30% of the pupils attend the online class. For an example, if the class has 25 pupils, only 5 of them attend the online class.


Certain ESL online classes have been steadily recording attendance of less than 30% of the total class enrolment. At times, the attendance is only about 10% or only 3 out of 30 pupils attend the online class. What could be the reasons? Beyond doubt, there are reasons for their absenteeism.

Pupils’ absenteeism in their ESL online classes is due to some reasons. ESL teachers are fully aware that some pupils do have valid and convincing reasons for not joining the remote learning sessions. In short, their problems are genuine.

However, it has been the concern of many ESL teachers when some absentees do not have genuine reasons for missing the online classes. Those absentees do not join the online classes which are scheduled by their schools mainly due to their attitude problems. Many of those absentees are actually able pupils; they have all the facilities (laptops, smart phones, good internet access) but they are not committed to their own learning and have poor self- discipline. For instance, they refuse to wake early but prefer to sleep during the morning classes. In the afternoon, they prefer playing online games than joining the online classes. The point is, they just do not care to learn and what worries ESL teachers, their number is not small. Moreover, no proper action is taken among those pupils.

So far, no actions are taken on the absentees because teachers’ hands are tight. Teachers are told not to force any pupils to attend their online classes. Teachers are also advised to continue conducting remote learning even if the attendance is poor. ESL teachers are indeed frustrated with this scenario as they have made numerous preparations for the remote learning to take place. Teachers have also invested their time and energy to modify the content and delivery so that the best remote session can take place effectively.

For sure, ESL teachers do not expect to get 100% attendance during their remote learning sessions. Teachers also understand and are always ready to excuse pupils who have genuine issues like they do not have the facilities or they have poor internet connection. However, what concerns many ESL teachers most is that some able pupils have been missing in action for months! Those able but poorly-disciplined pupils have been freely disconnecting themselves from any learning for months! That is what ESL teachers are concerned about.


Many ESL teachers have attempted the following tips in their remote learning sessions with the hope of making their pupils to be more engaged with the lessons:

  1. Keep the English online lesson simple. Do not cover too much in a lesson. Avoid being ambitious with the lesson objectives. Embrace less is more.

  2. Make the lesson as interactive as possible. Promote two-way communication. Encourage pupils to share and contribute ideas. Promote pupils’ engagement.

  3. Give options for pupils. They can attend the online class synchronously (with everyone attend the online class at the same time) or asynchronously(pupils can access the material or lesson any time they like if they miss the synchronous lesson)

  4. Conduct remote or online learning in small groups. Personal one-on-one coaching can be given especially to pupils who need guidance.

  5. Make ourselves available. ESL teachers should be prepared to offer assistance or guidance outside the scheduled teaching period. ESL teachers’ readiness to render this “extra service” will touch their pupils’ hearts; “high-touch is more important than high-tech”

  6. Provide ongoing feedback to the pupils. Giving immediate feedback is the best and it is an effective way of touching their heart.

No doubt the six tips shared above are practical and doable. However, those tips are meaningless when able but uncommitted pupils refuse to attend the online classes despite the fact that they do not have any serious problems to do so. None of the tips above can improve online class attendance when the tips only reach the same 10-30% of pupils who have been loyal to their classes.

Are ESL teachers going to get the same “comforting words” again? Are they going to hear these clichés from someone? “It is fine, it is all right if you only have 5/25 pupils during online classes. Just teach whom you have.”

The point is, after making much preparations for remote learning sessions, ESL teachers do not only want those five loyal pupils to benefit or gain knowledge but they want, if possible, more and more pupils to attend the class. Since teachers’ hands are tight, they appreciate if someone could help bringing back those pupils who have been missing in action to join the online classes.

No doubt, as government servants who embrace this motto; “Saya yang menjalankan amanah”, ESL teachers will still teach even though there are two loyal pupils in their online classes. However, ESL practitioners really hope positive changes can take place in term of pupils’ attendance and for that to happen, someone must immediately lend them a helping hand to them.


Ray, Kecia. (2020). What is Remote Learning? Retrieved from

Shisley, Steven. (2020). Emergency Remote Learning Compared to Online Learning. Retrieved from

Teaching Strategies for the Remote Classroom.

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page