The 2019 International Conference on Education (ICE 2019) kicked off on 10 April with an eye-opening keynote address by the former Rector of Indonesia’s Universitas Terbuka, Prof Ir Tian Belawati. The leading global expert in open and distance learning (ODL) spoke on access to education and lifelong learning to an audience which comprised participants from Malaysia as well as Ghana, Hong Kong, Mongolia, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

She touched on how lifelong learning is moving from fully face-to-face interactions towards a blended mode of classroom and online learning before culminating in fully online learning.

According to Prof Tian, social acceptance was far more important than formal accreditation status. Just as online shopping was initially negatively perceived but slowly gained acceptance, she said ODL needed to win over the public through consistent provision of high-quality programmes. “The quality of ODL graduates is no less than that of those who attended conventional universities,” she explained. “They have proven they are independent learners, capable of regulating themselves.”

Member of the OUM Board of Directors, Prof Dato’ Dr Mohammad Shatar Sabran, who is also the Vice-Chancellor of Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris, concurred with her, stating that OUM provides the same quality of education as conventional universities. “It is only public perception that is different,” he said.

The conference, which was opened by OUM Chancellor, Tun Jeanne Abdullah,was also graced by Datuk Ir Dr Abdul Rahim Hashim, who is a member of the METEOR Board of Directors. METEOR is OUM’s holding company.

Prof Dr Rozhan M Idrus from Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia spoke on the sub-theme of innovations and technology in education the following day. Through his lively presentation entitled “Leveraging on artificial intelligence in teaching and learning”, he brought home a pertinent point – instead of feeling threatened by the rise in automation, it is better for us to learn how to harness it for our own benefit.

“If you break your right arm, what do you do? You train your left arm to do the right arm’s work. So then you end up with two right arms,” he said.

Similarly, he said, when jobs are being taken over by automation, instead of crying, it is better for us to learn how to make use of automation in our jobs.

The audience also learnt to look at the Fourth Industrial Revolution differently. According to Prof Rozhan, it is about empowering people, not about the rise of machines. He said machines can take over tasks but the world will always need human brilliance, ingenuity and skills.

At the award presentation, R K Damith Chaturanga from the International Institute of Health Sciences in Sri Lanka and Dr Raemah Hashim of OUM won the best paper awards. The closing ceremony was graced by OUM Senior Advisor, Tan Sri Dato’ Ir Dr Ahmad Zaidee Laidin.