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Clear confusion over reopening of schools...
Some parents, teachers and those who work in schools are confused and scared. They have asked why schools are set to open next week (Jan 20) despite the proclamation of emergency. Some businesses are allowed to continue as normal, some travel is permitted, but they have been informed that the overall aim of the emergency and MCO is to control the spread of the infection and to stop our hospitals from being overwhelmed.
But things are not so certain for schools, and the concern here is whether the resumption of classes will expose the students, teachers and staff members to the virus and add to the spike in Covid-19 cases. Like one staff member recently said, many families held kenduris and went on year-end holidays to visit friends and relatives. What will happen, the staff member asked, if one child or teacher who went on holiday brings the infection to school?
Another parent was more critical of the education ministry, questioning the need for two deputy ministers. The parent also asked what the education minister and his two deputies have said about protecting school children and the teaching staff.
“My elderly parent lives with me and I worry that my child might be infected at school and spread it to my mother. My husband is diabetic. He is vulnerable,” the parent was reported to have said. “We are told that the healthcare system is under a lot of strain. Is it wise to open schools now? The information for parents is sketchy. I do not feel safe sending my children to school.”
The quality of the online lessons provided by the ministry has also been questioned by the students and their parents. One person, who pities his younger sister who has to study online, said she is not enjoying her lessons, misses the social interaction and engagement with her teacher, and is depressed. More importantly, he said, they live in an area where the internet connection is bad at the best of times.
Likewise, a social observer said even if students have the best tablets affordable, the technological advantage is rendered useless if they live in an area which has dodgy internet connection. Parents, understandably, are wondering if the government will have a change of heart next week, and make a U-turn about opening schools.
“I wish they would decide quickly, instead of deciding at the last minute and making an announcement late at night,” one parent said. “Many parents either have to work from home, or have jobs which are allowed under the present rules. This means that if schools are shut, we have to arrange for babysitting or childcare services.
“We can’t just leave our children at home unsupervised. Even if we work from home, we still need to make arrangements to accommodate the children’s educational needs, and buy extra food. “Another of my friends has three school-going children. All three have to share one tablet. Just imagine the inadequacy of online learning for them.”
So, will the education ministry close schools next week and force all students, except for those taking exams, to study online? Are teachers happy with the extra precautions, such as physical distancing and provision of PPE? Have public transport and school buses been modified for social distancing?
What has the teachers’ union said about next week’s school opening? Is it satisfied with the precautionary measures taken to protect the teachers, students and staff members, including ancillary employees like cleaners and caterers? All parties would appreciate ample warning if schools are going to be shut again, so that they can prepare. - Mariam Mokhtar
Where are the 150,000 laptops for students?...
What is the latest planning for home-based learning and when will 150,000 laptops promised in Budget be ready for students? The Education Ministry has further postponed the school opening. As at January 18, there is only one green zone in the whole peninsula – Cameron Highlands. At the same time, the whole of Melaka, Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Selangor, Perlis and Penang are red zones. In contrast, when the ministry made the decision to close all schools in November, there were 16 red zones in the peninsula. It is obvious that home-based learning is inevitable and we can predict that many students will be ordered not to return to school for the foreseeable future. Therefore, it is crucial for us to know what are the ministry's latest plan for home-based learning. It was announced in the Budget 2021 speech that GLCs and GLICs would contribute RM150 million into Tabung Cerdik to provide laptops to 150,000 students in 500 schools as a pilot project. The ministry conducted a survey involving 670,000 parents of 900,000 pupils between March and April last year and found that 6% of students have their own computers, 5.67% their own tablets, 9% their own laptops and 46% have smartphones. However, there were also 36.9% of students who did not possess any device with which to follow online lessons. Therefore, to ensure that home-based learning can be carried out effectively, the ministry should explain to the parents, especially those from the B40, when these 150,000 laptops will be ready and distributed to the students. At the same times, students are asked to download digital textbooks when they resume their school sessions. When the digital textbook project was started, it was not meant to replace the hardcopy immediately, but to be used as an alternative. During Pakatan Harapan's time, digital textbooks were available for download while hardcopies were still given to students.
I appreciate the efforts of the current ministry to introduce digital textbooks to parents and students, but hardcopies should also be made available before school sessions resume because, as found out by the survey, nearly 37% of the students do not possess any digital device. Even for those with a digital device, prolonged usage of digital devices is not advisable for young children. Therefore, parents and students should be given the option to collect textbooks from school for their home-based learning. The ministry should know by now that a "one size fits all" approach that does not take into account variances in Covid-19 cases, income level and the digital gap across districts and states is not going to be helpful or successful. – Teo Nie Ching, MP Kulai
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