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By Rohana Nasrah
This second of a series of four articles on the implementation of home-based teaching and learning in Sabah relates the experiences of a group of conscientious teachers from a remote school who go the extra mile to ensure students without Internet facilities and gadgets are not left behind in their studies.
KOTA KINABALU (Bernama) – It was Jan 29 and the 2021 school year had just kicked off a week ago. At 7 am sharp, teacher Mohd Mahdzir Mahzan was all set to go to work.
It was not his school he was heading to but a remote village to deliver home-based teaching and learning (PdPR) modules to students.
Mohd Mahdzir, 35, who teaches science and English at Sekolah Kebangsaan (SK) Sangau in Kinabatangan – about 370 kilometres from here – met his headmaster Mazari Kapar and seven other colleagues at the jetty near their remote primary school which is located on the banks of the mighty Kinabatangan River.
From the jetty, it was a 10-minute boat ride across the crocodile-infested river to their destination Kampung Kulu-Kulu where 15 pupils from their school live. Another 45 pupils dwell in nearby villages and plantations.
It was the first time Mohd Mahdzir and his colleagues were heading to the village to hand over the PdPR materials to their Year One to Year Six students, most of whom do not have smartphones, tablets or laptops.
Last year when schools were shut following the enforcement of the Movement Control Order in March, they sent the materials regularly to the pupils through a representative but the children’s response had been dismal.
This year, the teachers decided to take on the task of delivering the modules to their pupils, hoping that the interaction between them would spur the children to take a more active interest in their studies.
During their recent visit to Kampung Kulu-Kulu, the teachers took enough PdPR modules to keep their pupils busy for two weeks.
“As far as we teachers are concerned, the lack of Internet access and electronic gadgets among our students who come from poor families should not be an excuse for them to drop out of school just because they cannot follow the online PdPR sessions,” remarked Mohd Mahdzir, who is from Kuala Lumpur and has been teaching in Sabah for 11 years. He currently holds the post of senior assistant 1 at SK Sangau.
EAGER TO LEARN
Recalling their “adventurous” trip to Kampung Kulu-Kulu on Jan 29, Mohd Mahdzir, who is a graduate of a Teachers Training Institute in Kuala Terengganu, said his group travelled across the Kinabatangan – Malaysia’s second-largest river – on three boats.
Knowing fully well the river was home to many man-eating crocodiles, he said he felt sorry for his pupils who would have to brave the perils of the river daily to get to school.
“But they are willing to do it… all for the sake of getting an education so that they can dream of a better future,” he told Bernama, adding that these children have a thirst for knowledge and want to master the three Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic).
“Some of them have yet to master it (three Rs) which was why we decided to deliver the (PdPR) modules to them ourselves so that they can continue learning and be on a par with their peers who own smartphones and laptops and have access to Internet services.”
A pleasant surprise awaited Mohd Mahdzir and his group when they reached their pupils’ dwelling area, which is a 20-minute walk from the Kampung Kulu-Kulu jetty.
“Our trip there on that particular day was a surprise visit but imagine how we felt when we visited several houses and saw our pupils in the midst of studying and revising the schoolwork given to them earlier,” he said, adding they were touched by what they saw as the children were studying in an environment that was barely conducive to learning.
Internet access is available in Kampung Kulu-Kulu but it is unstable and erratic most of the time. Most of the pupils staying there, however, do not possess smartphones, tablets or laptaps to enable them to access the Internet and participate in online learning sessions.
“In some cases, our pupils have to share their gadget, if they have one, with their siblings who also need it for PdPR. Then, there are some children who have to wait for their parents to return from work so that they can use their smartphones,” said Mohd Mahdzir, explaining why it was difficult for his school to conduct online PdPR for its pupils last year.
Another issue was mobile Internet data which many of the families could not afford to purchase as online PdPR required their children to use up a substantial amount of data.
This left the school with no other choice but to conduct the PdPR sessions offline. To do this, the teachers prepare printed versions of the PdPR modules, with each set covering a two-week period and complete with instructions to make it easier for their pupils to complete their schoolwork.
“We also call their parents to guide them on how to handle the modules,” said Mohd Mahdzir.
Last year, the PdPR modules were sent to the pupils’ homes through their parents or representatives. However, this approach did not seem to work as most of the time the instructions were not delivered properly to the children concerned.
“This is the reason why our school decided that for this year’s PdPR, the teachers themselves would send the teaching materials to their pupils,” added Mohd Mahdzir.
He said the teachers will remain committed to improving the PdPR delivery system, whether online or offline, as it is important for the development of their pupils and also to maintain the school’s performance.
They also plan to start off-site classes at Kampung Kulu-Kulu to conduct the PdP sessions to enable their pupils to continue with their studies without having to worry about issues such as lack of Internet service, mobile data or electronic gadgets.
“We think this would be the best alternative for them as many children from this village have over the years dropped out of school and have yet to master the 3Rs.
“But they can’t be blamed because they have to go to school by boat. Sometimes the boat is there but there’s no fuel. Or there are not enough boats to take them all to school,” he said, adding that the authorities should consider building a hostel for them near the school.
Commenting on the efforts being taken to improve the online PdPR delivery system in rural and interior areas in Sabah, Mohd Mahdzir said a comprehensive solution is needed to meet the needs of digital education state-wide. This would include providing Internet access, mobile data facilities, and smartphones, tablets or laptops to all students to enable online PdPR sessions to be conducted more effectively.
“The government must improve the Internet infrastructure and also look into providing mobile data to students who come from poor families,” he said.
He also suggested that the state government look into collaborating with Sabah-based private companies to provide tablets and laptops to students living in rural and interior regions as part of their corporate social responsibility initiative.
“To meet the needs of digital education, students must have Internet access as well as the necessary gadgets. Only then can PdPR be conducted smoothly,” he added.
Translated by Rema Nambiar