PETALING JAYA: The mishap that led to seven villagers falling off a bridge in Ranau, Sabah, in a bid to get Internet access has once again highlighted the difficulty faced by rural folk in seeking digital access.
Teach for Malaysia chief executive Chan Soon Seng said the case reflected the digital and physical connectivity gap between urban and rural areas.
“Now more than ever, connectivity is a basic need in order to fully participate in society. Connectivity should not be provided only when an issue occurs.
“Therefore, we urge the relevant authorities and private companies to facilitate a more rapid roll-out of connectivity infrastructure, targeting the remote areas that need it the most, ” he said when contacted.
On Nov 24, eight villagers – including three students – were on the bridge in Kampung Gusi when a cable snapped, causing seven people to fall off the bridge with one person hanging on.
The three students are believed to have gone to the bridge to follow online lessons.
One 16-year-old girl suffered a fractured femur while a 36-year-old man had an injured spine. The rest were given outpatient treatment.
Yesterday, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission announced that VSAT (very small aperture terminal) technology would be installed in the village to temporarily equip it with broadband services.
Melaka Action Group for Parents in Education chairman Mak Chee Kin said the incident was “tragic” and one that showed the barriers that rural students face in accessing online lessons.
“Internet connectivity should be our government’s immediate goal, ” he said.
He said funding must be immediately given to efforts to boost digital infrastructure in rural areas.
Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria, who is a former professor for public advocacy in the Institute of Ethnic Studies at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, also agreed that the digital divide was a major issue in Malaysia.
“The incident is a sad sign of under-investment in local development matters, which many in west Malaysia take for granted.
“Malaysia must address these concerns, especially to enable children and young people to access online education, ” he said.
He added that it was essential for government agencies on the district level and local authorities to be more proactive in reporting connectivity issues to facilitate digital access.
“A decentralised effort and partnership with local neighbourhood leaders is also essential.
“A feedback system must be available for grassroots development planning, especially in Sabah and Sarawak, to address many development issues arising from long-term neglect, ” he said.
Muhammad Nazmi Rosli, a teacher from Sarawak, said the lack of Internet connectivity in rural areas was an important issue to tackle.
“As a rural teacher, this has been a serious issue for a very long time.
“To handle this, we cannot say this is the responsibility of the Education Ministry only. We have to involve other ministries, such as the Rural Development Ministry.
“Everyone has to play their role, like NGOs and parents. Parents must also know their children’s schedules and the best location for their children to do their online classes.
“There’s a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. We must make sure that education is a human right and not a privilege, ” he said.
Earlier this year, Universiti Malaysia Sabah student Veveonah Mosibin inadvertently made headlines when she posted a video of herself climbing a tree to get better Internet access to sit for her exams.
Her video reflected Malaysia’s urgent need to eliminate barriers to online education, especially among rural students.