The need to conserve data is especially important as facilities such as Internet Centres, an initiative by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to make Internet available in under-served areas, have been shut down during MCO in some states.
“We have 20 desktop computers at the centre. When the centre was open, we used to get a lot of students coming in to do their homework or browse YouTube,” said a former manager at an Internet Centre in Selangor who only wanted to be known as Noraini.
She said it was necessary to close the Internet Centres for safety reasons and to comply with the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act of 1988 and the Police Act of 1967.
In a Bernama report dated April 16, Sarawak state deputy chief minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah said Internet Centres will be allowed to operate in green zones in the state, as recommended by MCMC.
“The state disaster management committee agrees, as long as the centres don’t need workers from outside the green zone. If the Internet centre has workers from within the green zone, we will allow them to operate. They must also comply with all the rules, including social distancing and personal hygiene,” he said.
In Selangor, an initiative called the WiFi Smart Selangor was set up in early 2015 to offer free Internet access in areas mostly populated by students and low-income earners, and it’s being relooked to fit the needs of the users during and post MCO.
“There are more than 3,200 access points throughout Selangor but most of the current locations are not really accessible during MCO. For the access points that are located in public housing projects, parents or students participating in online learning have to get closer to the access points that are usually placed in common areas,” said Mohamad Suhaimi Mohamad Tahir, managing director of SMARTSEL Sdn Bhd, the company entrusted to manage the initiative.
“Due to different usage patterns during MCO, and in line with Selangor government’s policy of realigning all Inisiatif Peduli Rakyat (IPR), we will reduce and relocate many of the hotspots soon to more impactful areas, and prepare for a post-Covid19 environment.
“Over the last one year, we and our service partners have increased the speed to 4Mbps (megabits per second), which is good enough for users on most applications, including e-learning apps that don’t employ intensive live video streaming.”
“There are currently 85 hotspots in 33 residential buildings which include low-cost apartments and PPRs (People’s Housing Projects). While we are reducing the total number of hotspots, we aim to place them in more deserving areas such as PPR, and use innovative approaches and business models to bring more people in Selangor into the digital economy,” he said.
Individuals too can offer to share their home WiFi with neighbours who are less fortunate during MCO, suggested Mohamad Suhaimi.
When it comes to e-learning, students too have to be part of the solution, said teachers, who believe that they have to start by being aware of the amount of data they consume on a daily basis.
“During this period when students can’t go out, they tend to spend more time on their phones watching YouTube or Instagram Live, which I believe take up more data,” said Alina Amir, co-founder of social enterprise Arus Academy.
Students at Arus Academy based in Bukit Mertajam, Penang are learning programming as part of an after-school programme which includes a 40-minute video conferencing session on some days.
“Most of these students are sharing a data plan with their parents and other siblings. As students use online tools to study, I think what is missing here is that they are not learning how to manage their data consumption.”
As some get free 1GB Internet data daily during MCO from telcos through an initiative led by the government, it’s important for teachers to remind students to manage their data wisely, she said.
“Some students are running out of data faster than others. Whenever they run out of data for the day, they feel the need to immediately top up, which is something that we discourage,” she said.
Mohd Azuwan Samsulazli, who is back in Selangor and is teaching students in Sabah, agreed, saying “This is also why teachers mostly use services like WhatsApp, Telegram and Google Forms to help students learn during MCO. These apps don’t take up a lot of data and we don’t want students to feel the need to spend on additional data.”
For some, it’s not just the data that’s the problem, said Noorain Jangsi, a secondary school teacher in Kuching, Sarawak whose students are based in Lundu, about an hour away from the city.
“As teachers, we are giving them homework during MCO because we care for their education and we don’t want them to be left behind. However, I do understand that some students have difficulties going online as they are struggling to share one device with their siblings,” she said.
James Nayagam, the chairman of Suriana Welfare Society Malaysia, suggested that parents struggling with home-based learning should not limit themselves to the school syllabus.
“If parents don’t understand the lessons that teachers are giving, and feel there is limited means to reach out for more information, then move away from the current school syllabus. Focus on other useful topics and be more flexible,” he said.
Google has set up Teach From Home, a temporary online hub of information and tools for teachers during Covid-19.
A downloadable guide in different languages, including Bahasa Malaysia, shows how to reduce bandwidth usage, set up a work space and use closed captioning for videos.
A work space, for instance, should ideally be located in a location with strong WiFi, has plenty of natural light, and should have a clutter-free background when presenting via webcam.
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