Former education minister Maszlee Malik rightly called children in preschool and years one and two a “lost generation” of at least one million pupils who have been deprived of physical classroom learning by the pandemic.
This means that the children miss out on face-to-face interactions with their teachers and among themselves at an impressionable age when they are supposed to be exposed to such basic skills as reading, writing and speaking. They also lose an opportunity to socialise and play physical games as a team.
There is a high likelihood that these children would experience an educational setback for at least the next few years for as long as physical distancing and the ravaging microbes become part of the new normal.
What initially looked like an educational aberration may turn out to be a long-haul problem for policymakers and schoolchildren, especially those who come from poor families and crowded homes.
Faced with these dark prospects, it is most crucial that a comprehensive strategy and new policies be instituted to prepare these children and others at the primary and secondary school levels, their parents and teachers for online and home-bound learning.
That is why Maszlee has urged the Ministry of Education to set up a national education action council, involving all stakeholders including representatives from the National Union of Teaching Profession, government and opposition MPs, NGOs and the ministry itself to address educational issues in the wake of the pandemic.
His concern is understandable given the new and worrying challenges that the pandemic presents to us all, especially in the realm of education. Ad hoc or eleventh-hour planning may prove unsuitable, if not disastrous, under the present circumstances.
The Amanah youth education bureau, for instance, rightly expressed concern about what appears to be a last-minute decision of the ministry to allow exam-bound secondary school students to return to school on 20 January, leaving students, parents and teachers aghast as they did not have enough time and resources to prepare for this unexpected turn of events.
By the same token, the ministry, as rightly reminded by former deputy education minister Teo Nie Ching, needs to quickly inform the public when the 150,000 laptops would be distributed to poor children for their online education.
This is a pilot project under Budget 2021 that targets 500 schools to address the burning issue of children who would be unfairly disadvantaged simply because they cannot afford to have communication devices.
Once again, it is obvious that parents need to know beforehand whether their kids are eligible for these laptops so that they can plan for possible alternatives to ensure uninterrupted education for the young ones.
As for the problem of internet connectivity, there is a need to beef up available educational television channels to cater to the educational needs of children so that some would have the choice to not have to climb trees or seek a hill to get connected.
At the same time, the ministry may want to consider providing counselling to schoolchildren who have mental health issues arising from long exposure to online learning.
Our young generation is indeed precious. Therefore we can’t let them be “lost” to the pandemic and poor planning. – The Malaysian Insight