Outcry in Malaysia over returning to colleges amid Covid-19 pandemic

Students from Kolej Matrikulasi Selangor were instructed to return to college from Dec 28 until Jan 3, 2021.
Students from Kolej Matrikulasi Selangor were instructed to return to college from Dec 28 until Jan 3, 2021.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM GOOGLE MAPS

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A directive issued for Malaysian matriculation students to return to their colleges for face-to-face classes and examinations has caused an outcry among parents and students.

An online petition was launched two weeks ago, requesting that the Education Ministry look at alternative methods, as Covid-19 cases have risen to four digits daily over the last two months.

Malaysia logged a new daily infection record of 2,335 last Saturday (Dec 26).

The petition called the ministry's directive "unreasonable", as students from different states would be congregating at the campus, thus putting them at a high risk of contracting the virus.

The petition garnered 11,600 signatures at press time.

An officer from the ministry's Matriculation Department, which offers one- or two-year pre-university preparatory programme before entry into universities, told The Star that a decision was made to conduct the examinations face to face after conducting checks on students.

The examinations, the person said on condition of anonymity, would be held from Jan 6 to 13 next year.

"According to the instructions we received, the examinations must be done in person instead of online. This is because upon doing a check, we realised that too many of our students do not have access to the Internet," he said.

"We must be fair to everyone; many students live in rural areas with poor connectivity," the officer said.

He added that the colleges would reopen on Jan 4 and preparations were done according to the Health Ministry's Covid-19 health protocols.

Apart from the petition, several students and parents have written to The Star to air their grouses.

A student who only wants to be known as Chan, said the decision was dangerous due to the spike in Covid-19 cases.

"It feels like there are no practical and safe SOP in place at hostels and cafes.

"This is because of a few reasons. Firstly, four students share a single hostel room that is 250 sq ft in size, so there is little to no proper physical distancing.

"Each floor has about 100 students who have to share a single washroom. And the campus cafes are always packed with students during lunchtime," said Chan.

In another e-mail, a parent who identified herself only as Ooi, said she and her husband were "extremely worried" for their daughter's safety.

"We are appalled. Are face-to-face studies and examinations more important than the safety and lives of our children?

"What baffles me is that if other colleges and universities can conduct their examinations online, why can't our matriculation colleges do the same?" she wrote.

Ooi said her daughter, who studies in Kolej Matrikulasi Selangor, along with the other students were instructed to return to college from Monday until Sunday.

Nurul, a student from Penang Matriculation College, said there were close to 3,000 students in her college.

"All of our classes were done online. It is dangerous and illogical for us to go back to college just to answer the Matrikulasi Programme Semester Examination face to face.

"Some of my lecturers had also informed us that we would be kept in our colleges for six months until the end of Semester Two.

"This will surely cause mental health issues among students, " she said.

Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said that the ministry must embrace the new normal.

Insisting that students be physically present does not bode well, she said.

Melaka Action Group for Parents in Education chairman Mak Chee Kin said that while he understood the anxiety students and parents were feeling, he said it could possibly be the ministry's only option.

"The issues of lack of access to gadgets and an Internet connection are yet to be solved," he said, "which puts the onus on the colleges to ensure that SOP is followed strictly.

"Another option these colleges have is to conduct hybrid lessons, whereby only students who do not have online access then return to college for face-to-face lessons, while those who have gadgets and Internet access can study from their homes," he said.

Malaysia's primary and secondary schools nationwide will be reopened on Jan 20, instead of the usual Jan 2.