June 13, 2021

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Malaysia: Union solidarity for remote education for marginalised students

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Education International has joined the National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) to support Malaysian students from poor and marginalised communities to access online classes crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NUTP’s Charity Centre provides students with tools and resources for remote teaching and learning. This is a vital service as over 30 per cent of students in Malaysia do not have access to tools such as computers, smartphones, or the Internet. This restricts their access to online classes during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the NUTP.

The NUTP Charity Centre was created to help bring relief to parents in obtaining tools for their children, allowing them to participate in teaching and learning sessions from home. 

Charity Centre helps to bridge the digital divide

“The COVID-19 crisis is not just a health or economic one, but a human and education crisis as well,” General Secretary Harry Tan explained. “Through this initiative, the NUTP aims to help students to study during the pandemic and prevent learning dropouts.” 

Since the launch of the initiative, the NUTP has been able to provide more than 50 students with laptops or desktop computers (equipped with at least Windows 7 applications), or smartphones with access to applications such as WhatsApp and Zoom Meeting. 

Education International: Dialogue with teachers’ unions needed to avoid education dropouts 

The Education International Asia-Pacific (EIAP) regional office joined the NUTP’s initiative and provided desktop computers, bags, and stationery to a school welcoming Orang Asli (Indigenous community) students. The school’s leader, Syed Zulkafli Syed, told the NUTP and Education International that more than 40 per cent of the students from the Orang Asli community in this school came from extremely poor backgrounds and could not access online classes due to a lack of computers and internet connections.

EIAP Chief Regional Coordinator Anand Singh stressed that, while the Malaysian Government is claiming to encourage the use of digital tools to ensure that teaching and learning are not affected, “the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the digital, rural-urban, and gender divides”. 

In most countries in the Asia-Pacific region, “the public education system has a poor Infrastructure, a lot of students lack the necessary tools to access online learning, such as computers or smartphones, and too many students, particularly from the marginalised sections of the society and in the rural areas, do not have access to the Internet in most cases” he added. 

The governments should find ways, in consultation with teachers and their unions, to reopen schools while ensuring the teachers’ and students’ health and safety. Otherwise, the number of out-of-school children will increase, along with child labour, gender disparity, and educational dropouts, Singh warned.

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