Instead of complaining, Veveonah decided to climb the tallest tree in her village just to be able to take her exams with uninterrupted internet connection. Her course of action, whilst admirable, cannot be expected of other children intending to acquire their education.
We speak of young minds shaping a whole new future for Malaysia. But that was before they were made to stay at home, cut off from their regular daily interactions with fellow peers and teachers alike. Recently, the Malaysian government allowed 2020 and 2021 SPM candidates to return to school to continue their studies for the exam looming in March. Nevertheless plans for the other students remain the same, with online distance learning (ODL) being the primary form of delivering lessons.
Whilst it is a commendable effort to transfer lessons online, this solution is temporary because it comes with its own set of challenges. The digital divide between students has grown more than ever. Basic facilities needed to administer online lessons such as a stable internet connection and a tablet or computer may not come as easily especially to the underprivileged. A survey from the Ministry of Education involving close to 900,000 students indicates 37% do not have the appropriate devices and national fixed broadband penetration rate- which provides reliable and faster internet connectivity is only 8%.
These disparities will lead to many other dire consequences that we may not even foresee – gaps in education quality, growth, physical and mental health issues. Indeed the vaccine is coming, yet schools will still remain closed or at least not fully operational for a while. Should this happen, we must search for a long term and equal solution for these students. They need someone to fight for them and to not be put on the backburner.
It may have taken a global catastrophe for all of us to realise that we need to address these realities. These students need us, desperately.
Tasnim Md Zabar Noor
Special Projects Associate
PUTRA Centre for Social Studies