Educational leadership and COVID-19, through an ASEAN lens – Monash Lens

Educational leadership has never been more important than in these COVID times of acute disruption and precariousness. For over a year now, schools, universities and communities around the world have been devastated, sometimes overnight, by the latest COVID news.

A school system is immersed in lock; teaching and learning is forced online with no time to prepare; new COVID infection discovered in local community; students – or teachers – report critical well-being issues.

Sometimes the news has been inspiring. Teachers are developing a richer repertoire of online pedagogies; unprecedented collaboration between school, parent and child; some students reveling in a less online environment; agent leaders ignoring guidelines for standardized practice in favor of education that meets the needs of their particular student community.

It is important that we continue to share and reflect on the stories of education leaders in Australia responding to these situations. We can learn a lot from the dialogue about these experiences and how they shaped the way we think about and ‘do’ educational leadership, COVID or not COVID.

But what about our neighbors in the ASEAN region? How have their leaders and education systems behaved?

A recent online forum hosted by the Monash Faculty of Education, “Educational leadership and COVID-19: what do we learn?», Invited educational leaders from all over ASEAN region to share their experiences and ideas. Participants from Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Australia reflected on some of the challenges and triumphs of leading their particular educational communities, and identified some key lessons from their experiences. Here we share some highlights from those thoughts.

The Philippines

At the time of the forum, the Philippines was experiencing an alarming new wave of COVID cases. According to Dr Bert Tuga of Normal University of the Philippines (PNU), the National Teacher Training Center, the pandemic posed three national challenges: health and safety from COVID; learning continuity in all sectors of education; and the continuous flow of products and services.

Dr Tuga explained that education in the Philippines is deeply affected by school closures and lockdowns, inequalities in student access to distance learning technology, and potentially backward policies and systems.

The pandemic has drawn the curtain on inequalities, fragile systems and potentially limited executives as points of reference for leaders. Educational leadership in this context has become synonymous with flexibility, continuity and support in times of crisis.

Dr Tuga’s institution sought to model innovative leadership by developing flexible learning modalities and creating multiple online wellness forums for faculty, students, community and other stakeholder groups. stakeholders.


As the Philippines, like Indonesia, faced a new wave of cases, Brunei and Vietnam were thankful that they had been COVID-free for some time.

Dr Roslynn Roslan the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Education Institute (SHBIE), Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD), said she and her fellow leaders had attempted, during times of greater uncertainty, to maintain a balance between responding to local institutional needs, the needs of their own community and the implementation of government mandates. .

Significantly, Dr Roslan’s institution in Brunei had introduced a major policy change in the first week following notification of COVID-19 cases in this country, demonstrating what the literature describes as agile leadership in the face of COVID.

Active leadership support for collaborative projects has encouraged volunteer staff to organize workshops on online teaching, for immediate colleagues and for wider networks of teachers in schools.

Dr Roslan noted that this collaboration was underlined by “compassion and a process of continuous reflection”.


In Vietnam, the approach to the pandemic was strongly anchored in this Professor Tuan Huynh, of National University of Vietnam, described as unified ‘national beliefs’,’ tenacity ‘and’patriotism“. The political and educational leadership worked hand in hand, he said, in what the Vietnamese government and people called “war against the enemy of COVID-19“.

Professor Huynh spoke about the importance of collectivism in Vietnam in the war against COVID. The “joining hands for the community” approach has inspired philanthropists, social organizations and corporate groups to offer resources and support to teachers, students and families.

The tenacity in the face of the pandemic has produced innovations such as rice vending machinesand ATMs with face masks appeared in response to community needs.

It was evident, too, in the story of Lầu Mí Xá, a student from the H’Mong ethnic minority living in the northern mountainous province of Hà Giang. Unable to return to school and struggling with unstable connectivity, he built a cabin on the face of a mountain that allowed him to connect to 4G and complete his education online.


For Roger schultz, boss of Alice Smith School in Malaysia, the pandemic has reinforced what meaningful learning really is and the importance of the quality of relationships and personal connections between students, teachers, parents and families.

Schultz shared his gratitude for the common response across the school community. He noted that “teachers have dedicated their time and effort to inspire, understand, connect, guide and care for our students. Parents have been very supportive at home with online learning, supporting the efforts of teachers and encouraging both their children and their teachers during this difficult journey.


In Australia, the journey is more like individual states battling COVID than a galvanized nation, with the waves being handled separately.

In Victoria, as in ASEAN countries, schools have also been subject to lockdowns and distance learning throughout 2020, but the unprecedented nature of the pandemic has shifted the priorities of chiefs of from top to bottom to base, and from external modeling to internal problem solving. .

Read more: Leading the Schools of the Future: Lessons from the COVID Lockdown

These changes were visible in approaches to professional learning, where educators focused their work on the most pressing needs for student well-being and peer support for online teaching.

In a year without the mandatory NAPLAN tests at the national level, school leaders seized the opportunity to take a step back from promoting standardized approaches to education and instead focused on the relationship work of the school. education, supporting the individual needs of students and supporting families. School principals were seen both as reliable sources of local information and as leaders of a community that extended beyond the boundaries of the school.

Vietnamese girl sitting at her desk at home studying / distance learning


Dr Nikmah Nurbaity, Branch 8 Head of the Bureau of Education, Central Java, Indonesia, also acknowledged this shift to community leadership in his country.

While the Ministry of Education developed national policies, including technology initiatives, to promote student well-being and independent learning, it was often incumbent on principals to implement these policies in a way nuanced. In hundreds of islands in Indonesia, they have coordinated relationships with families and local communities to manage transitions in and out of containment.

What are the lessons of ASEAN?

What are we learning about educational leadership in the ASEAN region during COVID-19?

1. First and foremost, education officials have prioritized efforts to ensure continuity of learning for the young people in their care and the professionals who teach them.

2. These leaders needed tenacity and courage to lead and make decisions for their students and their community at large, often despite the backwardness of the policies of national decision-makers.

3. Educational leaders have tended to respond to society’s trust in them with compassion. Sometimes compassion is behind solid challenges of iniquity. Sometimes it prioritizes the provision of resources to teachers and their professional learning. Compassion seeks sustainable ways to support the well-being of young people and the teachers who teach them.

4. Finally, whatever the dominant policy or ideology of the different countries of the region, this focus on sustainability is supported by a form of collectivism, a valuation of social networks and professional communities.

Whether we are struggling to overcome escalating COVID cases or fighting to stay COVID-free, education officials in the ASEAN region continue to learn more about the village it takes to raise a child.

In a world marked forever by COVID, we now appreciate that the elements of education in this village can be transformed, but that some fundamental values ​​of our common humanity with each other must endure.

Professor Tuan Huynh is Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies at the University of Languages ​​and International Studies (Ulis) of the National University of Vietnam (VNU), Hanoi. Dr Roslinawati Mohd Roslan is Assistant Professor and Deputy Dean (Academic) at Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Institute of Education, Universiti Brunei Darussalam. Dr Bert J. Tuga is president of the Normal University of the Philippines, the National Center for Teacher Education. Dr Nikmah Nurbaity is Head of Branch 8 of the Bureau of Education, Central Java, Indonesia, and oversees 200 high schools in the region. Roger schultz is head of Alice Smith School, a British international school on two campuses in Kuala Lumpur, with more than 1,500 students from over 40 different countries.

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