KUALA LUMPUR - To ensure her son is equipped for home-based learning, Madam Mazalina Ishak pawned some of her jewellery last month so she could buy a tablet for the primary school student.
But she now feels her sacrifice - her wedding ring is one of two pieces of jewellery now at the pawnshop - has been in vain, after the government's announcement last Friday (Feb 19) that students will be returning to school from next month.
The move is earlier than expected, especially as the country is still recording four-digit daily Covid-19 cases.
"I'm so distressed. If they weren't going to follow through with home-based teaching and learning, why make us go through the hassle of buying a gadget? It is not cheap," the 43-year-old, a house cleaner, told The Straits Times.
Her son is in Primary 2.
"I could've used the money for groceries and maybe my son's school uniform if it's still within my budget. My financial position doesn't allow me to splurge on a gadget in the first place," she said, adding that she had paid RM400 (S$130) for the tablet.
Madam Mazalina is not alone - parents have been going the distance to ensure that their children have the proper tools for online learning.
Some parents have even borrowed from loan sharks to do so, according to a report in the Malay tabloid Kosmo on Feb 16. The paper said the Kedah Consumers Association has received nine reports so far of parents turning to loan sharks for the money to buy electronic gadgets for their school-going children.
There has been unhappiness among parents over the government's decision to reopen pre-schools and primary schools from March 1, and secondary schools from April.
The announcement of the reopening of schools came after the launch on Feb 17 of Didik TV (Education TV), an all-day educational channel to help students with no access to online home-based teaching and learning.
The government's move to teach through TV came about as poor families struggle to buy laptops and tablets for their children to follow online classes. For the 2021 school session, students have been learning virtually since Jan 20.
But in many rural areas, Internet service is so poor that the media have carried reports of students climbing trees and hills to get better Internet reception to follow online classes.
It is unclear if the government will continue with Didik TV when schools reopen.
National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) secretary-general Harry Tan Huat Hock said the channel should be kept going, as it can be used as an additional teaching tool for students at home.
On the reopening of schools, he told the New Straits Times last Saturday that in a survey of 10,500 teachers carried out by NUTP last year, 93 per cent of them wanted face-to-face classes with their students.
Malaysia's Education Ministry on Monday said it will be asking for teachers to be in the first phase of the country's immunisation programme, which is scheduled to begin on Wednesday.
Many are questioning the government's rationale in reopening schools amid the dire pandemic situation. On Monday, Malaysia registered 2,192 cases of new Covid-19 cases - there were only 972 daily cases when all schools were ordered to close on Nov 9 last year.
"Are we just going to ignore the fact that our kids will be open to potential Covid-19 threats? We could be starting new clusters in school," Ms Josephine Lee, 34, a housewife, told ST.
Civil servant Ahmad Faizal Ahmad Zainol, 37, who has two children in primary school, said a clear plan needs to be put in place to ensure students' safety.
He said: "What are the assurances they can give if we decide to send our children to school, how are they going to make sure that thousands of kids observe social distancing?
"And what if parents decide to not send their kids to school yet - will the lessons for the day be uploaded online?"