Malaysia brings back school lessons on TV amid Covid-19 challenges

Officials have decided that a cheaper way to bring education into homes is by airing lessons on public TV.
Officials have decided that a cheaper way to bring education into homes is by airing lessons on public TV.PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia will be airing more school lessons on public television as most schools remain shut due to Covid-19 and a plan to educate students online came up short due to weak Internet connection in rural areas.

With poor families struggling to buy laptops and tablets for their children to follow online classes, officials have decided that a cheaper way to bring education into homes is by airing lessons on public TV.

The new education channel on the government's Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) is expected to be ready by the first quarter of 2021.

The scramble to reach a wider student population comes as most of Malaysia is under a strict four-week lockdown, called movement control order (MCO), until Feb 4 to curb infections.

This is the second time the MCO has been imposed in the country, the first being in March last year, which lasted for some two months.

Only students sitting for four key examinations next month, including the SPM - Malaysia's equivalent of the O-level exam - have been allowed back into classrooms. Some subjects for the SPM students are also aired on the Internet.

For the rest of Malaysian students, numbering some 4.7 million in primary and secondary schools alone, lessons have been taught virtually since Jan 20.

"During the first movement control order, we held home classes in two sessions: two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon using TV Okey channel," Communications Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said last week when announcing the new channel.

"RTM is now ready and has conducted tests on the channel," he said.

RTM previously aired its own educational television service called TV Pendidikan (Education TV) from 1972 to 2008.

Some Malaysians recall watching TV Pendidikan before the advent of the Internet and YouTube.

"I used to enjoy watching it. It would come on air in the afternoons before normal TV programming came on. I don't know if kids nowadays will watch it though," said mother of five, Dia Razali, 50.

There are currently nine hours of educational content on Malaysian television channels, comprising TV Okey, and those on private station NTV7 and satellite TV channel Astro.

But these are not enough for all the school years and they do not cover all the subjects.

The director-general of education Habibah Abdul Rahim said the government is planning to increase TV Pendidikan's airtime as "more than 90 per cent of households in Malaysia have television so the access is definitely wider".

On Wednesday (Jan 27), Sirius TV, a satellite TV station yet to be launched, said it was offering two free channels to the Education Ministry for home-based teaching and learning.

With the virus still rampaging in Malaysia, averaging more than 3,000 new cases a day in January, schools could be expected to remain shut for some time yet.

Parents have raised their concern after 58 students tested positive for Covid-19 since some schools reopened on Jan 20.

"Returning to school would definitely be viable for students with limited access to online learning. But parents and students concerned about Covid-19 may prefer continuing online learning," said former deputy education minister Teo Nie Ching.

Writer Nadia Muhd, 41, said an adult would need to sit with the children to guide them through the TV lessons.

"I am open to it, though, and if the timing is right, and it is available on the terrestrial channels rather than just on Astro, which we don't subscribe to. I would definitely encourage my seven-year-old to watch this to learn."