Back to school with apprehension and mask


  • One Man's Meat
  • Wednesday, 15 Jul 2020

SJKC Kepong (1) Bahasa Malaysia teacher Lau Jin Yong rearranging tables and chairs in a classroom according to standard operating procedures, before the return of other students starting July 15.

This morning, I'm not sure who will be more stressed - my 12-year-old daughter or me? Today is the first day of school for Years Five and Six pupils.

It is easier to get US president Donald Trump to wear a face mask than to get Apsara to wake up at 6.30am and go to SK USJ13 in Subang Jaya. On Saturday, Trump wore a mask in public for the first time since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

After more than three months of e-learning, Apsara will be back to school with the new normal. In the time of Covid-19, school will be more challenging. From 7.30am until 1pm, Apsara digalakkan (encouraged) to wear a mask and face shield.

She doesn't like wearing a mask as it makes her look weird. "But it is ok to wear it as other students will also be looking weird," she said.

She also doesn't like it as it is uncomfortable to wear. "It makes my face hot," she said.

The school will practise social distancing. It is something that Apsara likes as students have to keep their distance from her.

"People won't be hitting me as no contact is allowed. I hope they won't throw things at me," she joked.

Apsara prefers e-learning at home probably because she can wake up late and watch anime and create animation on her android and watch YouTube on her iPad.

Schoolwork? She does do them, especially if it is her favourite subjects - English, English and English.

I've told Apsara that she is lucky that she can study at home. She owns an iPad and hand-me-down android tablet and iPhone 7. The Internet speed at home is from 60 Mbps to 200 Mbps.

On April 27, The Star reported that according to a study involving more than 670,000 parents and up to 900,000 students in Malaysia, 6% have a personal computer, 5.76% have a tablet, 9% have a laptop, and 46% have a smartphone. More than one third or 36.7% don't own a device.

In Sabah, which is Apsara's hometown, about 52% of students have limited or no Internet connection and smartphones.

Take the example of Ryverra Wiviani Rinus, a 15-year-old student from SMK Keningau.

Ryverra has limited Internet access (3G) in her home in Kampung Bomboi. She has to walk 600m to reach a makeshift "classroom" in the jungle to get a 4G connection.

Even teachers don't have Internet access.

Take the example of Edmond Goyong, a 32-year-old teacher from SK Lubang Buaya in Beluran.

There's no Internet signal in the school. He has to drive a 4WD for six kilometres to a hill where there's two bars of 4G connectivity.

Many of Edmond's students can't do e-learning. Their parents, mostly vegetable farmers and estate workers earning about RM250 to RM400 a month, don't own a smartphone.

The schoolchildren in Keningau and Beluran and many parts of Sabah are left out in the digital divide. Their predicament has prompted Beyond Pitas (a group that highlights the plight of the underprivileged) and social activists like Angie Chin-Tan, who's with HanaFundMe, to kickstart a crowdfunding campaign. Those wishing to support the campaign, using the hashtags #DigitalForAll and #DigitalUntukSemua, can go to https://bit.ly/2NmFBnK.

Today, to protect herself from Covid-19 infection, Apsara will be wearing a face shield for the first time in school.

She is lucky that she got a hybrid fog-free surgical mask which combines a face shield with a mask. A generous friend gave a box of the anti-glare wraparound visor to my two kids - Apsara and Sylverius Junior who is seven years old.

Curious to know about the students in Kampung Lubang Buaya, I whatsapp-ed Edmond to find out if the Years Five and Six students were well protected when they start school today.

Most of the students won't have a mask and a face shield. "Most of their parents don't have a fixed income. Not all of them can afford to buy a mask or a face shield," Edmond said.

Even if they could afford, the parents would have to travel one hour by car for a 14km road trip on a hilly road with red mud to Pekan Kecil Paitan. There are about 10 shops made of wood and cement.

"Only a few of the parents have a vehicle to travel to the town. And not many have a boat if they need to go there by the river," he said, referring to crocodile-infested Sungai Paitan.

The kind-hearted teachers of SK Lubang Buaya will provide a mask for each of the 26 students attending school today.

Edmond said the kids are raring to go to school as they want to catch up with studies which many of them missed out during the movement control order.

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