Ensure school closure have no impact on children’s education

Ministry of Education Malaysia should introduce comprehensive education measures to ensure all children are able to follow up education syllabus despite learning barriers during school closure.

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Published by Focus Malaysia & The Sun Daily, image from Focus Malaysia.

THE school closure since the middle of November had raised concern, particularly among the low-income families who are still struggling to make ends meet. Not only they had to meet the livelihood expectations, but they also had to meet the learning expectations of their children.

Even though most of the economic activities are allowed during the recovery movement control order (RMCO) period, the anxieties among the low-income families remain – 80% of respondents worried about the quality of education received by their children due to the new norm of relying on online education, based on EMIR Research’s latest poll for the third quarter of this year.

As there is no sign of recovery from the continuous four-digit COVID-19 daily infections in Malaysia, there is an increasing fear that more children are disinterested in studying, which might imply a higher school dropout rate compared to the MCO period.

According to the recent study from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), it shows 1 in 5 children based in low-cost flats in Kuala Lumpur had lost interest in their studies since the implementation of the MCO.

When more children are no longer attending school, this would adversely affect their prospects in earning a living when growing up, resulting in social unrest.

Even though the government has taken measures under Budget 2021, including promising free credit for B40 communities who are accessing telecommunications services and also getting government-linked companies (GLCs) to sponsor 150,000 laptops, and providing extra 1GB of mobile data daily, majority of the children are not disciplined – utilising data connection for entertainment instead for learning purpose.

This is obviously seen among students from low-income families. Low-income parents are either not literate enough to teach their children due to lower educational attainment or not able to monitor the learning progress of their children due to longer working hours.

Teachers also found it challenging to have close contact with their students as either the students have limited access in digital devices or choose to skip online lessons.

This can be seen from the 2015 OECD PISA study where students from higher socio-economic backgrounds were more likely to surf the internet to access useful information or read the news. Lower-income peers, on the other hand, tended to spend their time chatting online and playing games.

Thus, there is no clear indication on whether the provision of data credit and laptops by the government, corporates and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) would effectively address the issue of education access among the children from low-income families.

Therefore, EMIR Research suggests the Ministry of Education to modify the education responses from other countries – a mix of low-tech and high-tech interventions to ensure learning continuity during the COVID-19 crisis.

According to the survey done by OECD and Harvard Graduate School of Education during the COVID-19 pandemic this year, the following are some of the education responses from other countries to ensure continuity in education:

  • New South Wales and Australia lent laptops to students.
  • Great Britain and Japan relied on more traditional practices by printing and delivering additional work booklets.
  • Education ministries from Japan and the Republic of Korea partnered with private providers of educational content and Edtechs to provide students with free access to a rich catalogue of online learning resources.
  • Austria, Australia, Brazil, Estonia and Portugal allowed free online reading of their material.
  • Universities in the UK, Norway and Estonia collaborated with schools by sharing online virtual learning environments and offering a large catalogue of online activities.
  • Aside from establishing a co-operation committee, the Ministry of Education Iceland also organised online meetings with community leaders, head teachers and principals, all member organisations of the Icelandic Teachers’ Union, local educational authorities and government institutions to formulate the strategy for school closure and remote learning.

Even though 25-30% of students had limited or no access to remote learning devices, the Education Department in Gujarat, India managed to overcome the barriers by providing learning support at the local levels (ie villages, hamlets and habitats); pairing students with and without devices; promoting peer learning; creating a mobile bank; offline learning; home-visits by teachers and field staff; providing access to online classes at citizen service centres or village offices; as well as mobile learning vehicles.

Although the government promised to strengthen the functions of the Community Internet Centres (PIK) and extend the broadcasting hours of TV Pendidikan, former Education Minister Maszlee Malik warned continuous school closures could put the future generation at risk if the government and stakeholders fail to make the efforts to prevent disruption to the education system.

Therefore, the Ministry of Education should take a lead in introducing comprehensive education measures by modifying the education responses from other countries – encouraging teachers to have close contact with their students from underprivileged families by distributing physical learning materials and organising regular home visits.

This would ensure all children in Malaysia are able to follow up the education syllabus despite learning barriers during school closure.

Amanda Yeo is Research Analyst at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

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