Digital divide among children needs to be erased

B40 children are currently facing various challenges including lack of devices, Internet access and supervision of parents to do online learning

pic by BERNAMA

THE digital divide among children of different socio-economic backgrounds must be eradicated to ensure every individual gets equal opportunity in education particularly amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ideas Social Policy Research manager Wan Ya Shin said the urban bottom 40% (B40) income group children are currently facing various challenges including lack of devices, Internet access and supervision of parents to do online learning.

“There is also a space constraint at home when schools are closed and if siblings need to share devices.

“Therefore, community centres will be a good step to ensure students have an alternative place to learn or access devices and the Internet for learning. Also, once schools reopen, this centre can be used as an after-school learning space,” she told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

On the other hand, Wan said it is also heartening to see government-linked companies and government-linked investment companies contributing RM150 million to the Tabung Cerdik to buy laptops for 150,000 students.

“There is a need to enhance online learning content and to train teachers to teach via online platforms to prepare them in the event schools are set to close longer.

“As we see now, when a new wave of Covid-19 cases hit, learning is heavily disrupted. Online learning platforms need to be able to deliver the teaching and learning, and students should get quality online learning content,” she said, responding to the recent Budget 2021 that was presented by Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz.

The education sector was the biggest recipient of the total RM64.8 billion budget with an allocation of RM50.4 billion, including RM800 million for school upgrades.

The National Union of the Teaching Profession secretary general Harry Tan said the allocation is welcomed, especially for the maintenance and repair of schools.

“It was always our request that more money be spent on maintaining the schools. It is commendable what the government has done, but the money must be disbursed quickly as some schools have endured these conditions for years,” he told TMR in an interview recently.

Tan added that all schools need small repairs and items replaced like chairs or lamps, but more importantly are toilet-related repairs.

“It is not huge repairs, but these ones often require immediate attention. For example, if a school needs RM50 to repair a bust pipe, the process needs to be quick and easy, so that the job is done and the plumber is paid off quickly too,” he said.

He said if the country can afford to have huge infrastructure projects, teachers should not be forced to raise funds on their own.

“Schools should not need to raise funds for repair works when they should be focusing undivided time for the students,” he said.

Tan, however, lamented the fact that teachers are not given any incentives to improve digital competencies and reach, particularly since the Covid-19 pandemic massively accelerated the need for online classes while schools were closed.

Tan also said he hopes childcare community centres can be set up quickly in bigger schools or educational institutions for teachers and staff that spend the majority of time at workplaces.

“About 70% of teachers today are women, so this will be able to support them greatly,” he said.