Press Statement By Julian Tan:
The state government urged to look into the welfare of students, especially those from the B40 families. If there are still no deliberate steps taken by the government the address the issue, they will be left behind academically. There is no way for them to catch up with their peers that are from a better family. The COVID19 poise to exacerbate inequality in education, especially students from preschool, primary, and secondary school levels. Those coming from a better family with access to gadgets and unlimited internet would want a blended approach in contrast to students from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds, stand to lose.
Online classes mean a steeper learning curve for both parents and children. Parents will need to learn how to utilise the online teaching tools, not to mention the time and commitment required to ensure their children follow through with the class properly. A luxury that most working parents from the B40 do not have.
A typical Zoom session with minimum acceptable enough quality of 720p requires around 1.08GB per hour of data usage, 1.6GB per hour for best quality. Good quality is a must for teachers that doing presentations. This would use up all the free daily 1GB data given by the government under the Penjana plan. With an average of three classes a day or 3 hours, students need at least 3.24GB of data usage daily. That’s only for one child.
Many from the B40 group also do not have the proper gadgets to go online. Most, at most, only have their smartphone with the minimum specification that is not suitable for attending the online class. Many need to work, and therefore their children will not have gadgets to access the online class. Even if the students were to playback the recorded classes, the Penjana free 1GB data also only available between 8 am to 6 pm daily. The time is challenging for most working parents from the B40 group. Things become even more impossible for a family with more than one child who needs to attend different online classes when there is only one phone available.
The federal government should revisit the Penjana free data plan and increase the data limit to at least 5GB per day per student. Essential government portals should also include access to educational materials and should grant users unlimited access.
It is also disappointing to many parents that the recently roll out BKSS 5.0 did not address the urgent need for B40. The state government should immediately address such shortcomings as the needs are real and overdue. The state government should improve their free Wi-fi programmes across the state. Some other suggestions include an immediate talk for possible collaboration with existing telecommunications companies. To give unlimited access to online platforms frequently used by educational institutions such as Zoom, Microsoft Team, and Google Meet.
The state government should also seriously consider the DAP Sarawak proposal of giving cash hand-out of RM200 per month for at least 3 months through e-wallet for those eligible. It can double down to push for e-wallet registration to enhance digitalization of Sarawak’s economy. This is the quickest way to put cash in the hand of those needed it the most. Those without e-wallet can opt for the standard way to receive the hand-out.
With already so much on the plate for the B40 group, the state government should immediately step in to ease their burden. Affordability and access to the internet are of utmost importance now, especially to the B40 community.