LOKI: Important but poorly implemented

“Local undergraduates are often timid, immature, passive, and lack of hands-on experience,” say employers. So, what’s the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) to do? Enter LOKI, an odd acronym because it is a mishmash of English and Malay words. LOKI stands for “Learning Outcome and Kemahiran Insaniah,” where “Kemahiran Insaniah” means “Soft Skills” in English.

LOKI is a teaching and learning strategy to mitigate the less-than-satisfying production of university graduates. LOKI focuses on two broad tactics: the change from teacher- to student-centred learning (SCL) and the inculcation of soft skills among university students. So, instead of the lecturer taking center stage in the class and students learning passively, the students are involved more actively through group discussions and working to analyze and solve real-world problems.

SCL is closely related to the inculcation of soft skills. Because the focus in class has shifted from the lecturer to the students, this will, in turn, lead to students who are more vocal, more proactive, more socially, politically, environmentally, and economically aware, more ethical, and more a team player. In other words, the soft skills of students would have been improved.

So what’s not to like about LOKI? Although no one refutes the importance of LOKI, I suspect there is an unspoken assessment among university lecturers that LOKI has so far been a failure.

My university is actively involved in LOKI. All courses have either been modified or revamped–even new courses introduced–so that they contain elements of SCL and soft skills. Lecturers are even expected to ensure that a certain minimum level of soft skills is achieved for each course they teach. So what you have at the end of all these enrichment activities is an implementation of LOKI that looks good on paper but hides its teething problems.

Mastery of a certain soft skill takes time, often longer than a single semester in a single course. A shy student cannot just be plucked out and placed in the front of the class every time and be expected to be an extrovert by the end of the semester. Yet, this is the expectation for every lecturer that, in a single semester, students must be able to master in certain soft skills.

Students have also been deeply entrenched in a learning environment since Year One in school whereby the teacher takes the center stage and the teaching is strictly one-way traffic: the teacher imparts knowledge and the student listens but do not ask questions. Suddenly, students are expected to analyze and solve some problem by themselves and be all, like, proactive. Moreover, students are often not ready to analyze and solve a given problem by themselves. There are two reasons for this: First, they often lack the necessary background knowledge and skills, and second, they also lack the motivation and ability to read up. Reading skills even among university students is very poor, and I think this is partly because of the students’ poor command in English (as most books here–the good ones at least–are written in English).

Also, most lecturers would be not ready or want to swap their more prominent role for what they think is a lesser role of a guide or facilitator for the students.

The last problem is the way LOKI’s success (or lack of it) is evaluated. I attended a talk by CADe (Centre for Academic Development, UPM) two days ago. The talk was about, among others, on evaluating the change in the soft skills among students. I learn two things from the talk: 1) that there was no significant change in the soft skills among students even after two years in UPM, and 2) this non-significant result might not even matter because of the non-scientific, almost haphazard way these evaluations were done.

So, although LOKI is an excellent and vital strategy, its implementation can be considered as a rush job. Universities and students are simply not ready for it. Lecturers are not committed and are not trained enough in SCL; students are uncomfortable with it and lack the motivation and skills to self-do and self-learn; and authorities do not know how to scientifically evaluate the success or failure of LOKI. Moreover, LOKI should not just be limited to universities, but implemented as early as in the primary school stage. Most importantly, inculcation of soft skills is most effective in extra-curricular activities in schools and universities rather than in the classrooms.

Nonetheless, LOKI is essential to change the attitude and to improve the soft skills of students. Rather than abandoning LOKI, we should embrace it and trudge on with it, but we need to amend it very badly.

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