Thursday 20 Jun 2024
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This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on June 14, 2021 - June 20, 2021

We often hear about the failures of our education system, that it is broken and no matter what we say and do to push for improvements, it often falls on deaf ears. And that there is really no willpower to fix the root cause of the problem because it is too difficult.

It also poses a political challenge because 420,000 teachers are an assured fixed deposit vote bank. Perhaps that presumption could just be an excuse because the last general election (GE14) proved otherwise. But, with those reasons, things just stay the way they are, with the flaws and defects perpetuated even more.

People learn to live with the faults and accept them as the norm. But such failings can no longer be tolerated. There must be accountability, and we must seek out those who are responsible for their actions, or lack thereof. However, the matter of accountability as well as better performance is still being pursued from the ground up.

In the case of the #MakeSchoolASaferPlace campaign, despite the public outcry, there still seems to be no action taken nor any acknowledgement from the authorities. Sexual harassment, rape jokes and violation of children’s rights within school grounds remain a problem to this day.

It really isn’t difficult to issue a blanket stern warning for schools to stop such abuses. All it takes is a ministry circular, just like how a circular was once issued to prohibit any party from forcing and making it compulsory for girls to wear the hijab or mini telekung in school. That circular was dated March 14, 1992, and is still being quoted to this day. No investigation is needed in these cases as the circular is done as a pre-emptive warning to stop such overzealous enforcement, misconduct, and turning a blind eye to crime.

The Tiada Guru movement, in the case of Siti Nafirah versus the teacher, the Ministry of Education and the government culminated in court proceedings because no action was taken at the earlier stages despite many complaints and reports about a serial absent teacher. It has been almost three years, and the court case is still ongoing.

Our current predicament is understandably the continuation of home-based learning (Pengajaran dan Pembelajaran di Rumah or PdPR), which has been extended until further notice as announced by the minister of education on June 6. Schools remain closed. While we believe that it is an apt decision at this juncture considering the high numbers of Covid-19 cases in the community, we are, however, concerned about the effectiveness and usage of this method.

We applaud the teachers who continue to improve their ways and methods through their own initiative to reach out to their students and keep the learning going. For the students and teachers who are equipped with devices and connectivity, and are accustomed to remote learning, it has become second nature.

But on the other hand, what is the plan to resolve the problem of those students who are less fortunate, at risk of being left behind in their learning and dropping out? And what are the plans for the teachers who are still struggling with online teaching? It was mentioned that there would be support and training given to teachers, but no specific strategy or details have been shared.

It has been more than a year of PdPR. Surely there would be enough data and statistics to serve as a basis to establish a plan of action. The minister could have given us feedback on the effectiveness of remote learning as well as Didik TV during his speech so we know how it can be improved, what works and what doesn’t.

We call upon the minister of education to set up an emergency education council to draft a long-term remote learning blueprint. Feedback and advice from teachers on the ground, students, parents and various stakeholders must be taken into account.

In the case of devices for remote learning, an allocation of 150,000 learning devices was approved to be distributed to schools and students as of November last year. However, less than 10% has been distributed to date. It doesn’t make sense, whatever the reasons that caused the delay, because remote learning remained the main source of learning and was made a priority.

The matter of devices should have been a non-issue, and the focus should have been on better delivery logistics. The long-term plan for internet connectivity in isolated areas should have also been made a priority. How much progress has been made on connectivity and reach into these remote places should be made known.

It is apparent that the government is stepping up its action plans to prop up the economy as a response to manage the Covid-19 pandemic better. We need to act just as tenaciously and fast to ensure that remote learning will be effective, and will go on smoothly and continuously for all to benefit.

Serious and immediate action is needed to mitigate the risk of dropouts and learning deficiency, which will eventually develop into social problems. This needs to be arrested before it manifests into a lost generation.

The government cannot afford to ignore the problem of loss of learning. The right to education is being breached right now for those who are not able to follow remote learning. It is time to ramp up connectivity and availability of devices and continue with learning so no one gets left behind.

Tunku Munawirah Putra is honorary secretary of Page Malaysia

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