I HAVE a grandson in Year Six, and a granddaughter in Year Two. Their education, like that of many others in the country, is being badly disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. For months now, they have not had proper schooling.
Their school in Ampang, Selangor, is not equipped to deliver online classes. Many schools in the country are in the same boat. What has become routine now is that they get homework delivered online every day via WhatsApp. This arrangement does not deliver effective learning, causing much dissatisfaction among parents. If this is the best that an urban school in Ampang can deliver, imagine what it is like in rural areas where Internet facilities are far worse.
We have been talking about digitalisation for some time now, and it is obvious that our nation’s Internet infrastructure is proving inadequate in coping with the surge in demand for online learning amidst the pandemic.
We need to invest more in broadband. The ICT (information and communication technology) group at the Academy of Sciences has long pushed for this. Unfor-tunately, our previous calls fell on deaf ears. Now, we are rushing with the National Digital Network (Jendela) to make up for lost time.
It is important that all sectors of society have access to high-speed Internet if we are serious about the digitalisation of the economy. With better quality and affordable broadband, the situation we are experiencing now in online learning should be much improved.
The announcement by the government to treat broadband as the third utility is welcome news but it should not just remain a plan. There should be close monitoring of the implementation phase if we are not to repeat mistakes made in all our earlier plans and blueprints, when nothing much happened after their launches. Internet connectivity is a key enabler now and deserves to be on an equal footing with water and electricity, which means coverage has to reach all corners of the nation.
The higher education sector has also been badly affected by poor quality broadband and lack of access. With the increasing demand to deliver teaching online, students with poor Internet access struggle to follow their lectures. Those in rural areas are the worst affected. However, students from poor families in rural urban areas also have problems such as not having a conducive space at home to follow online lessons.
Many universities in Australia that survive on their intake of international students are suffering from the drop in enrolment and, therefore, loss of revenue. Many have laid off staff in big numbers, and even their branch campuses in Malaysia have not been spared from staff reduction exercises. It is clear that education is under siege from the pandemic, hence it would be risky not to take the right actions to soften the pains suffered by this sector.
PROF DATUK DR AHMAD IBRAHIM
Fellow, Academy of Sciences Malaysia
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