Post MCO: School dropout rate likely to rise

Picture from The Star

By John Isaac

THE school dropout rate is likely to rise post-movement control order (MCO) due to an unequal learning environment caused by the disruption in formal classroom learning in light of Covid-19, says the National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP).

Its secretary-general Harry Tan said underprivileged and disabled students who did not have sufficient access to online lessons throughout the MCO were most likely to give up on education.

“Lack of facilities could cause them to be left behind in the syllabus and eventually grow disinterested when they can’t cope with the workload even when they try to.

“This will make them feel inferior and reinforce the notion that since they are poor, they will always be frowned upon, ” he said.

The socio-economic gap will ultimately widen in the long run when education is only accessible to the higher strata of society, he added.

To prevent this, Tan urged the government to galvanise aid from various parties across the nation to upgrade and provide Internet connectivity between students and teachers as soon as possible.

“Teachers should be retrained to master techniques of distance and online learning, ” he said in response to Khazanah Research Institute’s (KRI) report on how school closures since mid-March had disrupted formal learning for an estimated 4.9 million students in pre, primary and secondary schools nationwide.

KRI noted that closure of schools and gaps in teaching and learning activities during the health crisis had affected children unevenly.

The looming economic downturn following the lockdown will hit those from disadvantaged backgrounds especially harder with longer term consequences.

“Apart from strengthening broadband penetration, more needs to be done to ensure all children have access to the needed devices, including making devices more affordable and accessible.

“It is especially urgent to develop high-quality digital content, perhaps even translating appropriate foreign materials, and to equip teachers with the skills to more effectively use e-learning technologies, ” the report added.

Melaka Action Group for Parents in Education (Magpie) chairman Mak Chee Kin said unequal education opportunities could create a sense of urgency for the ministry to perform upgrades to Internet connectivity and raise awareness among parents to brush up on their children’s digital skills.

“Those in need should be identified and subsidised for devices and Internet access. The ministry could also embark on an e-awareness campaign on learning and education that highlights this priority and how it can break the vicious cycle of poverty, ” he said.

He added that teachers who were digital natives should be recognised by the ministry to encourage and train other teachers who were not yet digitally literate.