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

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

A school system is in confinement; teaching and learning is forced online without having 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 developing a richer repertoire of online pedagogies; unprecedented collaboration between school, parents and child; some students revel in a less difficult online environment; agentic 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 and “do” educational leadership, COVID or not COVID.

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

A recent online forum hosted by the Monash Faculty of Education, “Educational Leadership and COVID-19: What Are We Learning?” Invited education officials from across the 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 the Philippine Normal University (PNU), the National Teacher Training Center, the pandemic has posed three national challenges: health and safety from COVID; continuity of learning in all sectors of education; and the continuous flow of products and services.

Dr Tuga explained that education in the Philippines was strongly affected by institutional closures and blockages, inequalities in student access to distance learning technology, and potentially lagging policies and systems.

The pandemic has raised 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. .


As the Philippines, like Indonesia, faced a new wave of cases, Brunei and Vietnam were grateful to be COVID-free for some time.

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

Significantly, Dr Roslan’s institution in Brunei had introduced a major policy change in the first week of COVID-19 cases reported in that 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 online teaching workshops for immediate colleagues and wider teacher networks 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 rooted in what Professor Tuan Huynh of the National University of Vietnam described as unified “national beliefs”, “tenacity” and “patriotism”. Political and educational leaders have worked hand in hand, he said, in what the Vietnamese government and people have called a “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 community” approach has inspired philanthropists, social organizations and business groups to provide resources and support to teachers, students and families.

The tenacity in the face of the pandemic has produced innovations such as rice vending machines and face mask vending machines emerged in response to community needs.

This was also evident 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 hut on the face of a mountain that allowed him to connect to 4G and complete his school education online.


For Roger Schultz, principal of the 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 children. 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 a great support at home with online learning, supporting the efforts of teachers and encouraging both their children and teachers on this difficult journey. “


In Australia, the journey felt more like individual states battling COVID than a galvanized nation, as the waves were handled separately.

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

Read more: Leading Schools for the Future: Lessons Learned from COVID Lockdown

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

In a year without the nationally mandated NAPLAN tests, school leaders seized the opportunity to step back from promoting standardized approaches to education and instead focused on relationship work. education, meeting 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, Head of Branch 8, Bureau of Education, Central Java, Indonesia, also acknowledged this shift towards 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 school leaders 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 to and out of the lockdown.

What are the lessons of ASEAN?

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

1. First and foremost, those responsible for education have prioritized attempts to ensure the 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 lagging policies of national decision-makers.

3. Education officials have tended to respond to the trust of society with compassion. Sometimes compassion hides behind solid challenges of inequity. Sometimes it favors the provision of resources for 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 struggle to overcome escalating COVID cases or fight 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 some core values ​​of our common humanity with each other must endure.

Professor Tuan Huynh is Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, University of Languages ​​and International Studies (Ulis), 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 Teacher Training Center. Dr Nikmah Nurbaity is head of branch 8 of the education office, Central Java, Indonesia, with the supervision of 200 high schools in the region. Roger schultz is principal of Alice Smith School, a British international school on two campuses in Kuala Lumpur, with more than 1,500 students from over 40 different nations.

Janice G. Ball