Malaysia ramps up school lessons on TV amid pandemic

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 owing 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 this year.

The scramble to reach a wider student populace comes as most of Malaysia is under a strict four-week lockdown, called movement control order (MCO), until Feb 4 to curb Covid-19 infections.

Only students sitting four key examinations next month, including the SPM, Malaysia's equivalent of the O-level exam, have been allowed back into classes. For the rest of Malaysian students, numbering some 4.7 million in primary and secondary schools, lessons have been taught virtually since Jan 20.

During the first MCO spanning some two months from last March, "we held home classes in two sessions: two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon using TV Okey channel", Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said recently when announcing the new channel. "RTM is now ready and has conducted tests on the channel."

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

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, 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 Covid-19 still raging in Malaysia, schools could be expected to remain shut for some time yet. Parents have raised their concerns 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."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 31, 2021, with the headline 'Malaysia ramps up school lessons on TV amid pandemic'. Subscribe