As schools stay closed another year, parents fear widening gap in children’s education

·6-min read
A significant number of parents have said they do not have access to multiple devices or lack access to a reliable internet line, or both. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
A significant number of parents have said they do not have access to multiple devices or lack access to a reliable internet line, or both. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

KUALA LUMPUR, July 5 — With another year of home-based learning for Malaysian children in the Covid era, a number of parents are wondering if their young ones will ever be able to catch up with their peers academically and socially when schools open again.

Another worry they expressed is the impact of too-fluid classes on their children’s physical and mental growth.

Muhammad Fauzi Ahmad from Selangor has found that his younger boys are struggling to cope with learning at home due to the lack of a proper timetable that keeps them awake at night.

The father of three, whose children attend a vernacular school in Subang Jaya, said his eldest son in Form Four is managing well, but the middle child who is in Form Two and the youngest who is in pre-school both need frequent supervision which he and his wife, as working parents, are unable to give.

“These past two years when the fasting month came after sahur they would sleep all day then have classes at 2pm. Then at night they can’t sleep. Their biological clock is upside down.

“Since my wife and I are working, it’s hard to keep an eye on them all the time. Which is why I hope we can get schools to reopen soon.

“Besides vaccinating the teachers, we’ve got to try and get the kids vaccinated too. For now kids who have been to school before should be able to assimilate back easily, but what about the pre-schoolers who have missed two years?

“They would struggle to catch up to the syllabus while trying to fit in a school environment,” he told Malay Mail.

Under the government’s three-phase National Recovery Plan, schools will reopen only in the third phase when daily Covid-19 cases drop below the 2,000 mark, ICU capacity is at a “comfortable” level, and at least 40 per cent of the population is inoculated. The government projects this to happen in either September or October

In the meantime, lessons are to continue at home. However, a significant number of parents have said they do not have access to multiple devices or lack access to a reliable internet line, or both.

Karmini Kuganeswari said her 15-year-old daughter has been coping relatively well with virtual learning. However, she related that many of her daughter’s schoolmates do not have a smartphone.

Those who do have siblings and only one parent with a device that can connect to the internet, which is used for work and cannot be spared or their family will have no income.

“Then there’s kids who do not know how to use Zoom even after a year, and no one can help them because their households are not tech-savvy.

“At one point, we found out several kids had no phones, we bought some, but then had difficulty registering the numbers as you need to register one person to each number,” she told Malay Mail.

She observed a growing disparity within each class in the same grade after home learning was imposed.

“Some are faster than the others, but they have to wait for the kids who aren’t as fast learners to catch up. So if this continues, most of the poorer kids will have a hard time,” she said.

Ravinder Singh expressed similar sentiments to Karmini. However, he said he has found ways to keep his two daughters, aged 12 and eight, occupied during school days.

On top of engaging an online tutor to teach them privately, Ravinder said he bought plenty of revision books from a local publisher and board games so they could develop critical thinking skills.

“They’re spending too much time on screen so I bought games like monopoly, chess, tic tac toe and scrabble and we started playing.

“The Sasbadi package has a lot of good learning tools and lessons so that also keeps them occupied. I feel this is something parents need to look into,” he said.

Ravinder said the current one-hour-a-day lessons will not keep schoolchildren up to date, especially since the current syllabus is tough.

Like many parents, Ravinder worries that his children’s grades will drop when schools reopen.

He said they did well academically before the pandemic.

“My eldest was supposed to sit for UPSR before it was cancelled. I was afraid if they continued with the exam she would not score well when in normal circumstances she would do well.

“I’m not sure what we need to do or if I can exact changes but as a parent, I hope other parents look into trying to get their kids to be educated more now or they’ll struggle later.”

Mark Fernandez was supposed to check his son into Standard One last year but then Covid-19 broke out.

He feels anxious for his son who has not experienced a school environment, estimating that the boy, now eight, will be nine when he finally enters a classroom for the first time.

“Weird situation. He loves being at home with us but sooner or later he’s got to go. I’m trying to prepare him for that and we follow the syllabus with a tutor at hand to keep abreast of what they are teaching.

“But I feel once he gets to school physically, he will need to catch up. Luckily he’s still in primary school and in secondary school I feel they will be missing out a lot, especially on practical subjects and its application,” Fernandez said.

Perhaps the only parent who seems to have taken the school challenges in his stride is Bruce Wong.

But even the father of three boys who runs a home-based food business admitted that his eldest who is 10 misses school and his friends.

He related that his second son aged eight loves being at home. His youngest is just a few months old.

Wong believes that having a schedule to follow is important for schooling children.

He has observed that some teachers have a hard time managing the students. As such, he and his wife make sure to supervise their two older boys when they are having virtual lessons, and also teach them things outside of the Malaysian school syllabus.

“The most important thing is to have a schedule, they love it. Make sure they stick to it, do their homework, have game time, and also do not limit them to what they learn.

“I teach my kids Singapore maths, buy them exercise books and other things. In the end, we must remember that kids are resilient. They will be okay, no need to fuss so much as the current syllabus is harder than our time, which is good; harder means we’re catching up,” he said when contacted.

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