Time to address learning loss

It may not be easy, and I am not saying it will be, but now is the time for us to get it right

pic by TMR FILE

A 15-YEAR-OLD had decided to quit his studies last week, simply because “it does not make any sense” to go to school anymore.

The Form Three student, born and bred in Kuala Lumpur (KL), feels that he has gotten all the necessary life skills to at least earn a daily wage in the city.

After all, according to him, his 18-year-old sister is already working at a food court in a mall.

The boy said he is too young to be a food delivery rider, so the best next thing for him to do is to follow his sister’s footsteps, until he reaches the legal age for employment in three years.

There have been attempts by the school and his teachers to dissuade him from quitting, but the boy is adamant that making ends’ meet is his priority.

Before the reopening of school last July, he admitted that he had missed some of the e-learning programmes due to limited accessibility to all the necessary devices.

He had to share his mother’s handphone with his 11-year-old younger sister at night to catch up on daily lessons.

More often than not, he said he would just let his sister finish the school work, as he was already exhausted from getting some “upah” by running errands for his elderly neighbours all day.

His motivation: To help his family. It is hard to rely on the mother, a 37-year-old single parent, whom he believes is already stretched thin to look after the family of four.

“Asalkan jadi orang”, was his stoic response when he was asked about his ambition. To have one, at this rate, would remain idealistic for him.

Unfortunately, the boy’s predicament is not exclusive to him and his family. A recent study from Unicef and United Nations Population Fund reveals that low-income families in KL have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic crisis.

The agencies also concluded that there should be future studies on the impact of Covid-19 crisis on the educational outcomes of children in low-income households.

Students with e-learning access and equipment would find online learning hassle-free, but it is obvious that for poor students, they are at risk of being left behind academically.

The access to e-learning is very limited, especially among the lower income households.

Connectivity may not be the main issue for city dwellers, but the lack of gadgets or computers has hindered these children from optimising e-learning throughout the Movement Control Order.

Still, credit should be given to teachers for their persistence in the last six months, adapting and engaging in e-learning to ensure that the pupils’ education is not severely affected.

For a short-term approach, the government should look into offering incentives for schools, teachers and even parents to ensure that these less privileged pupils are not lagging too far behind, by introducing special classes or programmes for them.

They should not be made guilty or alienated for missing out some of the past lessons simply due to the predicaments they are in.

A study by McKinsey & Co in the US last June also revealed that learning loss will probably be the greatest among low-income, black and Hispanic students.

The study stated that more students from these groups are at risk of opting out of schools and it may translate into long-term harm for individuals and society.

It is evident that Malaysia shares similar issues stemming from lower income households, and we need to look at addressing it urgently due to the socio-economic implications it brings.

Most importantly, it is time for us to acknowledge that the education field is not even between the privileged and the poor, and Covid-19 has accelerated the disparity even further now.

If we believe that education is the way for every pupil to have a better future, now is perhaps the time when we should start formulating a system that benefits all.

It may not be easy, and I am not saying it will be, but now is the time for us to get it right.

Azreen Hani is the online news editor of The Malaysian Reserve.