Sarawak Government Should Step Up In Helping Local Students With Their Online Learning

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Press Statement By Irene Chang:

Our State Ministry of Education, Science and Technology should take serious note on the news of the teacher from SMK Sibu Jaya who had gone to her students’ homes to mark their assignments as well as the earlier news on 1 st November 2020 of the teacher from SJK Sacred Heart Chinese who had, out of his own resources and ability, bought and collected 2 nd hand smartphones for 29 of his students. These are very committed teachers who have taken the initiatives to help their students by making sure that none of them is left behind. While these teachers’ actions are highly commendable, the state government should realize that these teachers’ acts point to the lack of assistance by the Ministry of Education in providing and ensuring that all our students are suitably equipped to keep up with their education in these challenging pandemic time.

During last week’s DUN sitting, I had brought up the issue on the need of our State Government to provide urgent assistance to our school children with the necessary facilities and gadgets for online teachings. In spite of the huge budget of RM9.832 billion for next year, the GPS government has failed to allocate any funds to equip our students with at least an internet-connected device like a smartphone or computer in order for them to keep up with their education online.

While education is strictly a federal issue, the GPS government should not turn a blind eye to the dilemma faced by the teachers and students in our state during this time. The Covid-19 pandemic has created the largest disruption of the education system in history, and if the government does not urgently find ways to help our teachers and students, this disruption will continue to have a lasting effect on the lives of our children.

The government should therefore immediately carry out a survey to find out how many students households in Sarawak do not have either a smartphone or a computer. Funds should then be allocated to each student’s household to enable them to acquire at least one smartphone or computer for the purpose of online teaching. While these can be done for town schools, the state government should also find other ways to assist these teachers and students in rural schools.

The news on the teacher from SMK Lubok Antu who took his group of primary and secondary students on a jungle trek just to get internet connectivity has highlighted the lack of internet access in our rural areas. While this problem has been known to exist for years, this pandemic has shown the need that internet connectivity can no longer wait in our rural schools. The government has to step up in equipping our students and schools with all the necessary facilities to ensure that education does not stop in times of crisis like now. They should not wait for all these lacks to be highlighted in the media before they take action.

And in the meantime, the Sarawak Disaster Management Committee should also work something out with the federal counterpart to avoid a blanket order of closure of schools across the whole country, especially in areas where they are green zones. Schools in these green zones should be allowed to operate with strict SOP in place to ensure minimal disruption in the lives of our students.