Back to basics

No study table: The TIMSS 2019 showed that a worryingly significant percentage of students, higher than those without a computer, study without a study desk. - File photo

FORGET technology! Many students do not even have a proper study desk at home.

While it is crucial to look into making digital devices and Internet connectivity accessible to underprivileged students, it is equally important that they have a conducive learning space to study.

According to the recently released Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2019, there are more students without a desk (what more a computer) and this has impacted student performance globally.

“Nearly half the students in Morocco (48%), 45% in Saudi Arabia and 43% in South Africa do not have study desks.

“Internationally, on average, 17% of students were without a study desk, compared to 11% without a computer, and even more students were without a separate room at 25%.

“Significant differences appear when analysing student achievement, according to the TIMSS Low and Advanced International Benchmarks, alongside home resources data.

“On (a global) average, 3% of students are without a computer at the highest benchmark, compared to 18% at the lowest, ” the May 19 press relesae read.

This gap is much higher in some countries, with just 2% of South African students without a computer at the highest level, compared to 60% at the lowest.

It said that the differences in having a study desk were even more pronounced between students of different abilities.

In Saudia Arabia, only 8% of students who did not have a study desk were at the highest benchmark, compared to 47% at the lowest benchmark.

“Internationally, on average, 7% of students were without a desk at the highest achievement level, compared to 26% at the lowest.

“These results support the concern that students performing at a lower level could be impacted more strongly by having to study at home during the pandemic.

“While it is obvious that, without a computer, students are unable to access online resources and this digital divide has been a feature of news and policymaker debates, the effect of not having a suitable space to study is less apparent, ” the statement read.

The TIMSS 2019 is the seventh assessment cycle and was administered to students in 64 countries and eight benchmarking systems in total.

There are four points of scales TIMSS describes as achievemement as International Benchmarks; Advanced International Benchmark; High International Benchmark; Intermediate International Benchmark; and Low International Benchmark.

With Education Minister Datuk Dr Radzi Jidin announcing that home-based teaching and learning (PdPR) is set to continue until the National Security Council decides otherwise, it is important to ensure that students have access to a proper learning space, if not at home then at least at a community centre, even as we strive to narrow the digital divide between urban and rural students.

A good conducive study space, said MyKasih Foundation chairman and co-founder Tan Sri Dr Ngau Boon Keat, is critical to the students’ ability to learn well.

“A proper study space free of distractions helps with focus, sharpens the mind, and improves concentration.

“Without distractions, students will be more productive.”

United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) Malaysia education specialist Azlina Kamal stressed on the importance of helping disadvantaged children attain a more equal start in schooling in the earliest years of their lives.

“Inclusive and equitable early childhood learning is an opportunity to close the achievement gap that separates these children from those in more fortunate families and communities, ” she added.

The government’s current emphasis is on healing the country’s economy and ensuring the population is vaccinated in our fight against the virus but our students’ well-being – particularly those from less privileged backgrounds – should not be neglected.

More needs to be done to equip them with all the tools needed, including suitable learning conditions, for the continuation of their education while schools remain shut.

Learning at home can never be the same as studying in a school environment especially for households struggling to make ends meet.

In it especially important then that the community steps in to help level the playing field for these underprivileged students. – By SANDHYA MENON

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