Amid MCO’s classes disruption, parents call for more equal access to online learning, bookshops’ limited opening

Ida Lim
Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said the closure of schools during the MCO has resulted in a 'major' disruption to classes.― Malay Mail pic

KUALA LUMPUR, April 10 — Parents are backing the idea of overcoming the issue of disrupted school lessons due to the movement control order (MCO) by enabling more students to have access to internet or devices required for online learning, and to also allow bookstores to operate at a limited level. 

While online learning has been touted as an alternative to lessons in physical classrooms as all schools had to shut down to help curb the spread of Covid-19, parents noted that not every student has equal access to such an option.

Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) Malaysia chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said the closure of schools during the MCO has resulted in a “major” disruption to classes.

“We are not prepared for this crisis. While some urban students and their teachers enjoy fast internet access, most do not,” she told Malay Mail when contacted.

To avoid any disruption to students’ learning activities, she said that it is crucial for them to have good internet access and to have devices for online learning.

“But most homes only possess smartphones or those who have adequate internet access may have one laptop or desktop only which some parents may require for work,” she said.

As for the options of lessons as shown on television, she noted: “TV Pendidikan such as TV Tutor only focuses on UPSR, PT3 and SPM. TV Okey which began on Monday only offers two hours of learning per day which is grossly inadequate.”

The Education Ministry has listed various online options for learning such as video collections on EduwebTV and CikgooTube, Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, Kahoot, Quizizz, EdPuzzle and recently unrolled the use of RTM channel TV Okey, while the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation has published a list of online resources for ‘e-learning’.

Other than internet access, there is also the matter of language used in accessing lessons, with students who are given the option to study science and mathematics in schools in English via the Dual Language Programme (DLP) able to have a wider set of online resources from abroad.

“The DLP students have an advantage of e-learning via websites such as Khan Academy, etc, for example Newton’s law, calculus, algebra, etc are universal. Its delivery is good. 

“For this reason DLP is important to get right as it provides a faster route to benefit from e-learning which would be seamless despite the crisis. MOE should urgently and seriously plan for e-learning for the current crisis if the situation is prolonged and also for the future,” she said.

Noor Azimah said the Health Ministry should be the one that determines whether the MCO should be lifted, but said parents still 'have the last say' even if the Education Ministry decides to reopen schools. — Picture by Farhan Najib

Safety first

Noor Azimah said parents are “concerned” about whether the syllabus for the year could be completed due to the MCO and Covid-19 outbreak, but noted that parents are “more terrified for their children should schools open too soon”.

“However parents of STPM and SPM students are eager for classes to begin and get on with lessons ahead of such important examinations,” she said, referring to two major examinations for secondary school students.

As to whether SPM and STPM students would be able to catch up for their examinations after the MCO period, she said: “It is up to the school leadership and their creativity to ensure that students are not left behind.” 

Noor Azimah said the Health Ministry should be the one that determines whether the MCO should be lifted, but said parents still “have the last say” even if the Education Ministry decides to reopen schools.

“Even if schools open, parents on their own should decide if they want their children to attend. There should be some leeway. There should be steps taken to make schools safe,” she said.

Today, the government is expected to announce whether it would extend the current four-week MCO to go beyond April 14.

But if the MCO is further extended past April 14, Noor Azimah foresees “little change” in the current situation, believing that there will continue to be a decline of the quality of teaching and learning activities without adequate government support for such online methods.

“Until there is government support for free internet access, free sim cards, loans or leases for devices, and untrained teachers to teach online we will continue to be on a decline,” she said, suggesting that the sponsorship of free internet be made for both teachers and students.

With laptops and desktops being an expensive item for households to purchase, Noor Azimah said there could be moral suasion from the government for banks to provide facilities such as a soft loan as it is an investment after all, or moral suasion from the government for private companies to lease out equipments like laptops for use.

As for whether there would be a need to postpone major examinations like SPM, STPM and PT3, Noor Azimah said there PT3 may no need to be postponed as it is project-based after all, while for SPM and STPM it would depend on the timing of when the MCO is lifted.

“If too late, then have to postpone, otherwise do without scheduled holidays,” she said of SPM and STPM.

Keeping students and teachers safe first

Melaka Action Group for Parents in Education (Magpie) chairman Mak Chee Kin said that the school closures during the MCO has affected learning for students, but saw this as a vital step by the government for the common good of everyone as he saw no point in jeopardising students’ safety for the sake of completing their studies.

“What is of utmost importance here is the lives of the students and teachers. I would rather not risk our children’s lives for education,” he told Malay Mail when contacted.

But Mak also said that issues such as completing the school syllabus could be considered, only after it is considered safe to have classes again.

“However, if things return to normalcy and MOH and MOE can guarantee the safety of the students and teachers then we can think of the following: Parents are definitely concerned that teachers will not be able to complete teaching the syllabus for the year. And there’s actually no point in rushing and squeezing too much info and school work in such short and limited time. 

“It will only cause more stress to the teachers as well as the students. Replacement or extra classes will be needed to make up for lost time and the school term holidays in November and December could be used to do it. The MOE can consider reducing or rescheduling the school term holidays to cope with this,” he said.

Some school teachers had taken the initiative to teach their students online through the use of video recordings, Whatsapp or video conferencing app Zoom — AFP pic

Adjustments in the meantime

For now however, Mak noted that some school teachers had taken the initiative to teach their students online through the use of video recordings, Whatsapp or video conferencing app Zoom, but pointed out that not all students would have the same access: “Though this will only help those with internet access, smartphones, laptops and is definitely not equal.”

While acknowledging that some students who are taking the SPM and STPM exams this year may not be able to catch up for their exams, Mak said they should be taking the opportunity to study during the MCO period instead of idling around or watching movies or playing computer games.

“Though not everyone has internet access or computers/ laptops, the least they have is a textbook. In this time of difficulty, everyone needs to sacrifice,” he said.

“I know of many teachers providing students with their contacts so that students who have difficulties in understanding the textbook can contact them.

“Also I would propose that the government can consider allowing the bookshops to operate with limited days and time for parents who need some materials for their children,” he said.

Students sit for a Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) home science paper at Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Tengku Afzan in Kuantan October 14, 2019. — Bernama pic

Is there a need to postpone SPM, STPM?

Mak said there could be a need to defer SPM and STPM’s third semester exam to next year, depending on the situation.

“If things do not return to normal soonest, there is definitely a need to readjust yet again the SPM and STPM Semester 3 exams to next year, but allow the STPM students to take the Semester 2 exam as early as possible this year because they are at the end of it before the MCO,” he said.

On March 28, the Education Ministry announced a list of major examinations to be rescheduled to the MCO extension, including the SPM which was shifted from October 5 to November 19 to new dates of November 16 to December 7.

The ministry also postponed the STPM Semester 2 examination from May 6 to May 14 to the new dates of November 18 to November 24, but maintained the examination dates of STPM Semester 3 during November 3 to November 10.

Mak was previously reported saying by local daily The Star that the long postponement of the STPM Semester 2 exams would be demoralising as students would have to recall what they learnt six months ago, also noting that most if not all of the syllabus would have been completed before the MCO and that the students would have been ready for their trial exams in April.

Mak was also reported to urge for a review of the STPM Semester 2 examination dates.

Related Articles MCO: Treat all types of beverages, alcoholic or not, fairly — Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall Ismail Sabri vows stern action against those obstructing civil servants on duty Agriculture Ministry to buy produce from vegetable growers affected by MCO