The future of disadvantaged children would be squandered if good education is not made universally accessible now, Mustafa K Anuar writes.
The coronavirus pandemic has obviously changed the way we do things, including teaching and learning.
The so-called new normal has been disruptive to physical classroom pedagogy, which until now has been the convention of most of the world’s educational systems.
In Venezuela, for instance, focus has already shifted to online teaching in order to circumvent the problem of physical contact among pupils and teachers.
Similarly, Malaysian educationists, particularly school heads and teachers’ unions, recently called on schools and teachers to be prepared to go online, given that the coronavirus is expected to linger awhile.
However, the Venezuelan situation should also remind Malaysian educationists of the many challenges faced by the poor and the disadvantaged in our society, especially if universal education is to be promoted.
The schoolchildren of the poor and the destitute deserve an equal playing field.
It is well and good that our schools and teachers are preparing to make the transition to online education, but they should also take cognisance of poor internet connectivity, which makes following online lessons a frustrating experience, as the disadvantaged in Venezuela have found out.
In our context, the problem is well illustrated by Sabahan girl Veveonah Mosibin, who had to climb to a treetop to get connected. There was also a case of village students who had to erect stick “towers” to get connectivity.
Like some Venezuelan poor, there are Malaysians who cannot afford to buy laptops or even mobile phones that are essential for online learning – never mind printers or scanners. The Orang Asli, who may not even have such essentials as electricity, come to mind.
Hence, the authorities should consider crafting long-term strategies to overcome this digital divide in a more comprehensive manner, which would require the pouring of more money and other resources into rural and other neglected areas – irrespective of the political leanings of the constituents.
To avoid further handicapping the already disadvantaged, logistical support must be put in place by the government, given that the battered economy has exacted a heavy toll on many Malaysians, particularly those in the bottom 40% of households.
It is envisaged that many more would sink into poverty as retrenchments and loan defaults become increasingly acute. For such folk, putting food on the table overrides other concerns.
To help less fortunate schoolchildren, the government should devise an educational package in which, say, certain printed educational materials related to classroom learning are distributed freely and periodically to poor households and those living in the interiors so they will not be left behind in their studies.
Schools may also want to consider making technical adjustments, such as recording teachers’ virtual classroom instructions so they can be downloaded when the learners in places where the service is intermittent can access the internet.
New school curriculums that take into consideration the new normal may also have to be crafted.
On the part of the telecoms companies, they may want to do ‘national service’ in the form of building more telecoms towers in strategic locations to ensure strong and steady electronic signals for the interior reaches the people, apart from providing cheaper internet packages for the disadvantaged.
The future of the disadvantaged children would be squandered if good education is not made universally accessible now. That would be an injustice.