TOUGH times call for strong characters, especially if you are a teacher trying to educate students living in hard-to-reach areas during a pandemic.
Though schools had to close when the movement control order (MCO) began, education was not brought to a halt.
It is easy for a teacher to teach when the conditions are ideal - the classroom is comfortable, there are enough tables and chairs, every student has a book, stationery and can they see the board clearly.
But in rural schools, more often than not, the situation is far from ideal. Little, if at all, is readily available.
The National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) secretary-general Harry Tan said it was passion and responsibility that drove these teachers to do everything within their power to carry out their duty.
With the closure of schools, teachers had to get creative and find novel ways to deliver their lesson modules to their students, he told The Star.
Some of those who taught in the interiors would travel by jeep, boat and foot to reach their students at their homes to give modules and learning packs.
Others would brave bad weather to personally hand deliver assignments to their charges.
Click on the icon on the pictures below to view each teacher's story
Even though these were not as effective to teach compared to face-to-face learning, these teachers believed that this would be enough to keep the students from missing out.
Sabah Teachers' Union (STU Sabah) vice-president Susan Atau said online learning was a “huge challenge” for her and her rural students last year.
She said her students did not have any digital devices and, coupled with an “extremely hopeless” Internet connection, she could not finish the syllabus in time.
To help those without any means of learning virtually, Susan printed notes and modules that was distributed to her students.
“Tender loving care is what drives me and all other teachers to do this for our students, ” she added.
Educationist Datuk N. Siva Subramaniam said these teachers deserved to be honoured for the great lengths they went through.
“While we recognise the sacrifices and contribution of these teachers, we must never forget that they too have families to take care of, ” added the former NUTP secretary-general, Cuepacs president and human rights commissioner.
He said the nation owes its development to the dedication of these teachers who would be based in schools miles away from their families.
Some, he added, would even be placed in schools without basic amenities.
Based on data from the Education Ministry, there are 671 schools located in rural areas in Malaysia. The majority being in Sabah (285) and Sarawak (330).
This is out of more than 10,000 schools in the country.
Unsurprisingly there are no rural schools in the federal territories - Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan.
Though nothing much can be done about the locality of these schools, there is concern that the students here are once again going to be badly affected when home-based teaching and learning (PdPR) makes a comeback after the Hari Raya holidays.
“I think that urban schools would be fine conducting PdPR but the rural schools will have problems, ” said Subramaniam.
However, he pointed out that all teachers faced problems implementing PdPR as they were not trained to teach in that manner.
He added that the government should quickly provide proper laptops and a mobile data plan to these teachers to enable them to conduct, not just PdPR, but also prepare modules to be sent to their students again.
Universiti Utara Malaysia School of Education senior lecturer Dr Muhammad Noor Abdul Aziz said teachers are struggling to make learning happen for their charges.
"Given that Malaysian learners are divided into two categories - urban and rural – issues like Internet connection, possession of gadgets, and continuous learning support seem to be a major hindrance among learners in rural areas while their counterparts in the urban area are burdened with homework."
Interactive graphics by Diyana Pfordten.