Sarawak students are missing out on school online classes

By S. Harrish

MORE than 50% of students in Sarawak have no internet access or electronic devices to follow online learning at home and the government needs to address this issue immediately.

Pending assemblywomen Violet Yong said this situation was causing many students, especially from B40 families, to be left out from online classes.

“It is very sad to see that many of the children from the poor families are left behind in their education and are helpless.

“The problem is not only in the interior parts of Sarawak but in Kuching areas as well, ” she said in a statement today.

Pending assemblywoman Violet Yong

She urged the Federal and Sarawak governments to immediately address this issue as parents’ financial constraints meant that they were not able to buy any computer or electronic devices with stable internet access for their children.

Last year, Sarawak Minister of Education, Science and Technological Research Datuk Seri Micheal Manyin Jawong had said that online learning or e-learning was not practical nor possible in Sarawak.

“E-learning is not applicable to Sarawak because more than 50% of our students do not have internet access,” he had said.

Manyin pointed out then that this issue was not only affecting rural students but also urban students who have no computers or tablets to benefit from online learning.

Yong said she visited a family in Jalan Stapok Utama area and saw three primary school children in the family who were unable to join the e-learning classes as their parents could not afford to buy a device for them.

“Their mothers said their household income was just enough to put food on the table and there is no extra money to buy computer or new smartphone and subscribe internet service for their kids to study online.

“I believe a majority of B40 families are facing the same predicament. I call on the government to fix the gap by providing free computer or compatible electronic gadget with stable internet access to children from B40 families to able them to receive proper education.

She said that due to the Covid-19 pandemic and looking at the alarming number of new daily cases, it was unlikely that students in the country could return to schools for normal classroom studies anytime soon and online classes has now become the new norm in education.

Yong said education issues must not be ignored by the government and they need to tackle it without delay.

Meanwhile, former Stampin MP Julian Tan said if this situation was not addressed, it would create inequality in education among students as some would lose out.

Julian Tan

“Online classes also mean a steeper learning curve for both parents and children. Parents will need to learn how to utilise the online teaching tools, not to mention the time and commitment required to ensure their children follow through with the class properly.”

He said parents needed to ensure students have a good data plan as it would use up all the free daily 1GB data given by the government under the Penjana plan.

“With an average of three classes a day or 3 hours, students need at least 3.24GB of data usage daily. That’s only for one child.

“Many from the B40 group need to work during the day, and therefore their children will also not have gadgets to access the online class.”

Tan, who is also special assistant to Sarawak DAP chief Chong Chieng Jen, said even if the students were to playback the recorded classes, the free data was only available between 8am and 6pm daily.

“The federal government should revisit the Penjana free data plan and increase the data limit to at least 5GB per day per student,” he added.