Will lesser-privileged able to catch up?

Pupils learning in a classroom. Photo: Bernama

KUALA LUMPUR: Many say that reopening schools for face-to-face learning will allow those who struggle with online learning to catch up, but is this really the case?

Lesser-privileged families will inevitably face more difficulty obtaining necessities to facilitate online learning.

Devices and data plans come at a cost that is beyond what many of them earn monthly.

Nevertheless, these families try the hardest to ensure that their children’s studies do not suffer during the pandemic.

“During the movement control order (MCO), I’ve seen with my own eyes how parents came to my shop, taking out and counting multiple RM1 bills to pay for secondhand smartphones to aid their children’s learning.

They’ve been saving up whatever they can, going hungry for the sake of their children’s education.

“They’ve scrimped and saved to buy tabs, to buy Chromebooks, headphones and other equipment for the purpose. So when the Education Ministry announced that school would be reopened (for physical classes), they were staggered,” wrote Mohd Fadhli Salleh, a public school teacher.

Mohd Fadhli, who also runs a smartphone shop on a part-time basis, shared his observation on Facebook.

His entry, dated Feb 21, received overwhelming response from Facebook users who concurred with his view and shared similar experiences. Many also expressed concern over the number of daily COVID-19 cases that are still high.

At the time of writing, the post has garnered over 32,000 reactions and 4,100 comments.

He said it was not that the parents were not happy that their children would finally be able to go back to a classroom setting that is ideal for learning. It was that going back to school can be a costly affair, particularly for parents from middle to lower-income groups with several schoolgoing children.

Just one pair of school uniform and shoes can easily run up to RM100. Then there are also sports uniforms, stationery, school bus fees — and in the new normal — facemasks and sanitisers.

In the past, there have been reports of children from poorer families reusing disposable facemasks so that they can be admitted into school.

Thankfully, the Education Ministry has recently announced that it would relax the school uniform rule for all students between March 1 and March 26. However, other necessities needed to attend school during the pandemic can still be a burden for lesser-privileged families — especially those who have spent their savings on equipment for online learning.

Furthermore, a month would not be enough time for these families to save up and buy uniforms.

Many have lost their income during the pandemic. Some families that needed two sources of income to survive are now forced to rely only on one. The more unfortunate ones are struggling to earn enough for daily survival.

Cognisant of this, the National Association of Parents and Teachers Association (PIBGN) is calling out to the ministry to extend the allowance for another two months — at the very least.

“Many parents out there are still struggling to make ends meet, let alone fork out money for school necessities – including uniforms,” its president Assoc Prof Datuk Mohamad Ali Hasan told Bernama.

He also urged for NGOS and school alumni to come forward and extend aid to students in need through schools.

“This could be part of their corporate social responsibility programme. Employers can channel aid to their employees’ children’s schools. For alumni, this is the time to give back to their schools,” he proposed.

He agreed with the reopening of schools for face-to-face learning but hoped that all parties would come forward to ensure no child is left behind.

On Feb 19, the Education Ministry announced that schools would reopen for physical classes starting March 1. This would involve those in preschool, Standard 1 and 2. Those in Standard 3 to 6 would start school on March 8.

Those in secondary school would start physical classes on April 4 for Group A (Johor, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu) while Group B would start on April 5. – Bernama