Digital access still wanting

WITH Malaysia transitioning to an endemic phase, Budget 2023 is expected to focus on post-Covid-19 recovery which, for the education sector, means making up for learning loss in schools, enhancing digital learning and welcoming back international students to our shores.

Educationist and former Universiti Malaya professor of education Tan Sri Dr T. Marimuthu said there have been many consequences from the pandemic that need to be addressed.

“The learning process has been disrupted. Students are still unable to catch up with their studies although they have returned to schools,” he told StarEdu.

On Sept 25, StarEdu reported that the pandemic had exacerbated the problem of education inequity, especially in the B40 and Orang Asli communities.

The most affected schools in Malaysia were closed for up to 62 school weeks, or approximately 1.44 school years, leading to a compounded learning loss of significant proportions for the longer term, Teach For Malaysia (TFM) chief executive officer Chan Soon Seng had said, sharing how learning loss models projected that school closures of six months for pupils in Year One may result in 2.2 years of learning loss.

Although schools had turned to home-based teaching and learning (PdPR) when they could not open for face-to-face classes, education remained out of reach for many students – particularly those in the rural areas, Marimuthu noted, as the lack of Internet connection and access to digital devices meant these students could not learn at all.

In an effort to bridge the inequality gap, government-linked companies and government-linked investment companies contributed RM150mil to a fund known as Tabung Cerdik, or Cerdik Fund, to provide laptops, tablets, and data connectivity to 150,000 students in 500 schools as a pilot project under Budget 2021. To ensure that no child is left behind, the pilot project must be extended in the upcoming budget as there are still many students who do not have access to digital learning.

Schools have reopened but online learning continues to play an important role globally as we embark on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Speaking at the “Digital Educational Learning Initiative Malaysia (DELIMa): Our Digital Agenda” launch on Aug 22, Education Minister Datuk Dr Radzi Jidin said the DELIMa portal, which was launched to support online teaching and learning, had been integrated with artificial intelligence and machine learning to ensure that our students are digitally competitive.

But if we are to ensure that every child benefits from initiatives such as this, then digital devices must be available to all.

Pledging that the ministry would do its best for students despite financial constraints, Radzi also said that there are “limits to what we can do”.

While acknowledging that the ministry receives a huge chunk of the annual budget, over 80% of the ministry’s allocation was for emoluments, he said during the Education Transformation Executive Talk on Aug 24.

The need for digital devices in higher education is equally critical if we are to produce globally competitive digital graduates.

In Budget 2022, a total of RM450mil was allocated under the PerantiSiswa Keluarga Malaysia programme to provide higher education students from B40 families with free tablets.

As of last month, nearly 60% of the 100,000 tablets allocated under Phase One had been approved.

Some 350,000 applications had been received under Phases One and Two, and the Communications and Multimedia Ministry aims to distribute at least 80% of the devices to the recipients by the end of next month, its minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa announced on Sept 21.

If more devices are needed, the government will have to decide on an additional allocation and procurement, he told the media.

This is something many tertiary education students are hoping to see in Budget 2023.

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