Coronavirus Opening up

Parents in Malaysia unhappy over decision to reopen schools

Some have already made sacrifices for kids' online classes; others wonder about reopening amid dire virus situation

To ensure her son was equipped for home-based learning, Madam Mazalina Ishak pawned some of her jewellery last month so she could buy a tablet for the Primary 2 pupil.

But she now feels her sacrifice - her wedding ring is one of two pieces of jewellery at the pawnshop - has been in vain, after the government's announcement last Friday 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.

"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 house cleaner, 43, told The Straits Times.

"I could've used the money for groceries and maybe my son's school uniform... 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$131) for the tablet.

Madam Mazalina is not alone - parents have been going the distance to ensure 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. It said the Kedah Consumers Association has received nine such reports so far.

There has been unhappiness among parents over the decision to reopen pre-schools and primary schools from March 1, and secondary schools from April.

The announcement 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 participate in online classes. Students have been learning virtually since Jan 20. In many rural areas, reports said Internet service is so poor that students are climbing trees and hills to get better 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 to hold face-to-face classes.

Malaysia's Education Ministry said yesterday it will be asking for teachers to be in the first phase of the country's immunisation programme, which is scheduled to begin tomorrow.

Many are questioning the government's rationale in reopening schools amid the dire pandemic situation. Yesterday, Malaysia registered 2,192 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," housewife Josephin Lee, 34, 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?"

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2021, with the headline Parents in Malaysia unhappy over decision to reopen schools. Subscribe