KUCHING: Since last year, students at Kampung Kuala Nyalau in Bintulu have been walking daily to a nearby beach in search of the best internet coverage in order to take part in the home-based teaching and learning (PdPR) sessions.
The weak and sometimes zero internet connection in their village fail to dampen their spirit to study. They persevere despite the blazing sun which they have to endure for hours to attend online classes.
It has been heart-rending for many of the parents to see their children facing such challenges.
Zurani Suut, a 32-year-old mother, shared how both of her daughters — Nur Qalisha Mazlanin, a Year One pupil and her elder sister Nurzulaikha Mazlan, a Form Two student — had to struggle after their physical lessons were temporarily stopped due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“My daughters and other students in the village have to look for better internet coverage, which happens to be at the beach.
“Since the start of the online lessons, they go to the beach to study Monday to Friday,” she said.
She agreed that in light of the pandemic, such lessons were appropriate, but the bad internet connection often cause the videos to freeze or there is no connection at all.
“Depending on Nurzulaikha’s class schedule, she would be at the beach at least three to four hours.
“As a mother, I feel very sad. For the sake of her studies, she is willing to carry her books, pack her food and bring a mat to sit on the sand.
“When it rains, she can’t go to the beach, which means she can’t study with her friends or teachers,” she said.
For Nur Qalisha, who studies in SK Kuala Nyalau, her teacher would send videos online and Nurzulaikha would download it, or she would follow her elder sister to the beach to study.
“When the online lessons started, we had to buy a new smartphone for Nurzulaikha to study with.
“But the problem is the bad internet connection. This issue has been going on for a long time ago,” Zurani said, hoping that the authorities would solve the problem soon.
Nurzulaikha, who is a student of SMK Kemena, said that studying on the beach was uncomfortable due to the heat of the day.
“But I have no choice as the beach is the only place I can get good internet coverage,” she said.
Acknowledging the limited internet access for rural students, Sarawak Teachers’ Union president Adam Prakash Abdullah said the union has spoken about the issue repeatedly.
“The situation has not changed much in terms of internet connectivity and the ability to acquire learning devices such as tablets or laptops for the underprivileged students.
“As long as there is no connection, this situation will continue and our school children will have to endure the hardship,” he said.
Having said this, he noted that the state government is doing its best to improve connectivity. In this, he thought that now is a good time for the people’s representative to look into their constituencies and the needs of their schools.
He also urged teachers to use their creativity and innovative skills to make sure students continue to study under all circumstances.
“The students only have this one chance to get educated, so we must help them to succeed,” he said.
Adam urged the students not to use the pandemic as an excuse for not studying or for not getting good grades or to quit school.
“There was a time when there was no internet, television, but we had many successful students.
“Students must realise that education is the key to a better future. The government will try to upgrade facilities to ease our hardship but until then we have to decide what we want in life and do whatever we can to chase our dreams,” he said.
He said that parents too must continue to motivate and support their children and make sure that they attend all their online lessons sessions.
“Apart from that, STU also applaud all teachers who have shown high commitment to their work despite the challenges.
“We know there are unsung heroes out there who travelled on foot, motorcycles and even boats to take learning materials to their students,” he said.
He, therefore, urged all teachers to never give up on their students and pray that success be on their side.