PETALING JAYA: A Sarawak assistant minister has urged Putrajaya to concentrate its efforts on developing internet infrastructure in rural areas, warning that inequality of access will widen rural-urban disparities.
Speaking to FMT, Dr Annuar Rapaee, who is the state’s assistant minister of education, science and technological research, said online learning had become part of the “new normal” brought into play by the Covid-19 crisis.
He referred to the plight of two sisters in Sabah whose access to the internet from their home is too poor for them to attend classes online.
The sisters, Rechellyna and Ryverra Rinus, now study under a shed they built on a hilltop 400 metres from their home.
“Access to the internet remains a big issue in many parts of the country,” Annuar said. “It’s not just about connectivity but also affordability.”
He said some people were too poor to pay for an internet connection or to buy smartphones.
“The government needs to look at this seriously so that we can have equality in education. The same goes for health. Everyone must have equal access or we will see widening disparities between urban and rural areas and between the rich and the poor.”
He said the government should aim at ensuring equal access to education through technology, adding that even the reopening of schools would not guarantee equality since some schools had more resources or more teachers trained in certain subjects than others.
“Equal access to quality education is an important aspect of human rights and the democratisation of education in our country,” he added.
Parent Action Group for Education secretary Tunku Munawirah Putra called for an emphasis on ensuring accessibility to learning through the internet, which she said was a better option than having lessons on television.
“It is impossible to air all lessons at the same time” on TV Pendidikan, she said.
“Online teaching can be customised to cater to specific levels and the students will have more control over what they want to learn. For example, if they are weak in a certain topic they can spend more time on that.”
Noting that internet connectivity remains an issue, she called for measures to allow offline learning through computing devices.
“Perhaps the students, especially those in the Bottom 40, can be provided with tablets preloaded with learning materials and exercises they can do even without an internet connection. They can take this to school once a week or once in two weeks to get new materials.”
Harry Tan, the secretary-general of the National Union of the Teaching Profession, said it had always been an immense task for teachers to ensure that students are not left behind.
But he also said many Malaysians were willing to help those who are disadvantaged.
“There is no shortage of people willing to help. However, the government must lead the way in bridging those who want to help with those in need.”
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