Children from low-income families or in rural areas are clearly disadvantaged compared to their well-endowed counterparts in most urban centres, Mustafa K Anuar writes.
Like many other Malaysians who have been instructed to work from home under the movement-control order (MCO), schoolchildren too are expected to make good use of their enforced social distancing by studying through online educational programmes.
The Ministry of Education released guidelines recently to help parents and teachers manage online lessons, called the implementation of teaching and learning.
Through virtual classes, lessons are offered to homebound pupils to ensure that in this extreme situation, they would still get a certain amount of structured education. It is hoped that this programme would not let them lag far behind their curriculum schedule and lesson expectations because of the movement control order.
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However, as reported by The Malaysian Insight recently, the well-intended e-learning initiative hit a snag, which has affected teachers as well as parents and their kids for various reasons.
While Malaysia can boast of having about 80% internet penetration, this doesn’t necessarily mean that getting connected online for educational purposes can be a breeze for most Malaysians. Obviously, there are areas in the country where the internet is not available or internet connection is weak, which becomes a stumbling block for effective communication, especially in the rural sector.
There is also a problem of some parents who insist they are not able to take on the role of teachers in their homes even though they are equipped with the necessary lessons. And, as the Malaysian Insight report revealed, teachers have to helplessly juggle between teaching online lessons to their students and ensuring their own kids do their lessons.
That said, class inequality also emerges as one factor that frustrates the effort to virtually connect with the schoolchildren. It is conceivable that financial constraints haunt poor families so that the question of getting food on the table sidesteps the necessity of having, for instance, a laptop for education.
Furthermore, getting a second mobile phone for school-going children of these families for educational purposes could be regarded as an extravagant proposal.
Also, a hungry child in such a family may not be able to perform well or satisfactorily in his or her studies, particularly one who normally depends on breakfast at school.
Even among the bottom 40% of families that can afford laptops at home, some may not necessarily acquire the expected educational gains for their children. These are families that have been leading a moderate – or less than moderate – lifestyle even before the onslaught of the scourge and who don’t dare dream of spending money just to dress up for, say, a fancy party.
They live in places that are cramped with big families or extended families, such as low-cost flats, which do not provide a conducive environment for effective learning. The dwellings are often packed with grandparents, and elder brothers or sisters who are left idle without work.
Pressed against such a social backdrop, these children are clearly disadvantaged compared to their well-endowed counterparts in most urban centres, where laptops, tablets and mobile phones are as common as their cereals and cappuccinos.
We are mindful that some of these pupils who are deprived of the luxuries of life, communications technology and the internet may well shine educationally if and when given the opportunity to excel in a conducive environment.
That is why the authorities concerned may want to consider – if they haven’t – taking appropriate measures to ensure that deprived schoolchildren are provided with materials, possibly in printed form, for them to work on during the movement control order period, especially if it is further extended.
These materials may be distributed by, say, district education offices via schools and/or made available at village internet centres, which would then pass the materials over to needy families that have schoolchildren who require them.
These kids – and their families – need not be further disadvantaged and marginalised.