PETALING JAYA: The prolonged closure of schools nationwide is expected to widen the gap between students in urban and rural areas, say two parents’ groups, though the solution might not be to reopen schools just yet.
Parent Action Group for Education president Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said there would also be an education gap in developed areas between children from more well-off households and the urban poor, due to lack of adequate facilities for online classes.
She told FMT that children in preschool and primary school could struggle with fundamentals like reading and writing, which would be deeply troubling if not addressed.
She particularly expressed concern over children living in the interior.
“I think when the children do go back to school, they’re going to have difficulty reaching the levels expected of them, especially for those who have not enjoyed online classes.
“Those from the B40 are worse off, I’m sure. And more families are becoming single-parent units, while more children are becoming orphans. It’s such a tragedy,” she said.
Melaka Action Group for Parents in Education (Magpie) chairman Mak Chee Kin said some children’s education would be forced to take a back seat, replaced by the greater need to help their parents put food on the table.
He also told FMT the development of non-academic aspects of education, such as sports and arts, would be hard-hit as these were better nurtured in a school environment.
“Regionally, Malaysia will definitely lose out to our neighbours who are doing better pandemic-wise. Again, the weaker students will suffer the most,” he said.
Unesco’s Global Education Coalition reported that Malaysian schools have been closed for up to 41 weeks so far, much longer than regional neighbours like Singapore (14), Vietnam (19) and even Timor-Leste (11).
With Covid-19 cases hovering close to 20,000 still, Noor Azimah and Mak said many parents were still wary about sending their children back to school.
Noor Azimah said the education ministry should look towards closing the unavoidable and widening education gap as quickly and efficiently as possible when the pandemic improves.
“The question is, what are we going to do differently? How are we going to reboot the whole system so we are able to bridge that gap as quickly and effectively as possible?
“Whatever fat we have must be trimmed to make the education system lean. Whatever that was in the curriculum that is excess and waste, this is the time to cut it out,” she said.
One way to help close the gap is to engage in a more 21st-century style of learning, she said, where teachers become more of facilitators, while students nationwide are given access to the best tools.
“And not just allocating the best tools for urban areas while in rural areas it’s ‘second-hand’ teaching. Technology will help in this respect, though teachers must know how to use it effectively.”
While some have credited the impressive Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination results for the 2020 batch of students to the effectiveness of online learning, Noor Azimah had her doubts whether this was true.
Dubbing it as grade inflation, she pointed out that even A-level students in the UK were expected to be given better grades to compensate for the disruption to lessons.
“But grade inflation is not a good deed, it just gives students false hope. It’s teachers killing students with kindness.
“I think the education ministry needs to do a more detailed analysis as to why SPM results were so much better,” she said.