Teachers in rural area in Sabah helping kids learn from home amidst MCO

By Eve Bandusena | Writer for Parents Avenue

All images via Vivyan Rinusin

Impediments in adapting to e-learning for students in rural areas

Since the first MCO phase was implemented in March, many teachers allocated in rural areas have been attempting their best efforts in reaching their students through the use of online learning as instructed by the Malaysian Education Ministry and the District Education Office.

However, the move to make the jump from offline learning to online learning has not been without its logistical set of obstructions.

Among these are continual hurdles faced are the instability of internet access; lack of affordability to purchase smartphones; insufficient data allowances and poor coverage from mobile service providers.

“Teachers and students in the rural area struggle with unstable internet access such as in my place, Sook Keningau,” says Vivyan Rinusin who teaches English and Science at Sekolah Kebangsaan Kabatang Baru Sook Keningau, located 60km from Keningau Town.

“We have limitations to use some of the apps and the best app we can use is Whatsapp. The Internet Data allowance given by the Telcos throughout MCO is somewhat useless due to lack of internet access and we only have Digi and Celcom coverage here, no Unifi no Maxis and home broadband.”

“More so, most of my student’s parents are farmers. They can’t afford to have smartphones for their kids and there are only 1 or 2 smartphones in one family so siblings have to share the handphones to do their homework,” she shares.

With these challenges in mind, the hard-hitting reality is most students in rural areas are without smartphones and this makes it practically impossible to switch to e-learning under the MCO directive.

With approximately 30 students in Vivyan’s classroom, only about 10 to 15 of them can submit their homework while the rest of her class is unable to due to these reasons.

“For now, I cannot reach all my students via online classes, not even the ones who need guidance. The ability of most students in rural areas to switch to e-learning is limited.”

How teachers in rural areas are handling the challenges

At the start of the MCO, teachers in rural areas collectively understood that the majority of their students will find online learning with video conferencing apps such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, hence, they decided to use Whatsapp as their main mode of communication.

Teachers in rural areas are encouraged to make full use of the textbook given the problems of technological immobility faced by many students and so that the student’s reliance on the internet and phone will be minimal.

“My school has come up with a weekly schedule to help teachers conduct lessons for students, usually we will have 2 subjects in a day. I teach English twice a week to Level 2 students (Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6) and Science once a week to Year 1,” she says.

“Normally, I will send a voice note explaining the instructions of the task in the Class Whatsapp Group. For example, for an English subject, I focus on Listening and Speaking Skills. I ask my Year 4 Students to record a voice message introducing themselves and send it using Whatsapp.

They’re extremely excited by this activity!” Vivyan also relays that flexibility is an important part of her job since several of her students help their parents manage farms during the day and can only reply to her at a later time.

“I often advise them to take their time, and most of them send their homework in the evening or night or sometime during weekends. During this crucial time, I must encourage them to keep learning during MCO and not stressing them.”

Vivyan also reserves slight worries for her students that are unable to actively participate in e-learning. However, she maintains her confidence in knowing that parents will continually ensure learning for their kids at home.

“There are plenty of important skills students can learn that will improve their life along as helping to care for their siblings, cooking, and even cleaning the house. I believe knowledge is not just for examinations, these skills will apply to other aspects of life in the future.”

Further actions are taken to bridge the gap of accessibility for rural students

At a broader level, NGOs have recognized this significant threat posed by the COVID-19 outbreak and have reached out to rural school communities to improve their overall challenges.

“Oxford Fajar is endeavoring to support students, teachers, and parents with a range of free online resources. They are making free online teaching and learning resources accessible to support everyone impacted by school closures,” says Vivyan.

World Vision is a non-profit organization that frequents Sekolah Kebangsaan Kabatang Baru Sook Keningau for student’s activities before the MCO kicked in.

“During this time, they send positive messages to our PTA Group Whatsapp, encouraging all of us to stay safe at home.”

“The Education Department has also asked the telcos to continue upgrading towers or other infrastructure to improve connectivity in rural areas. Teachers are encouraged to use Project Based Learning as a method of teaching and learning instead of 100% using e-learning because everyone can participate,” she shares.

At an individual level, Vivyan imparts that the optimum way of helping students without internet is by leaving worksheets a grocery store at a kampung where parents can pick them up while buying their groceries.

“I have a list of students who don’t actively participate in e-learning and I will have to pay more attention to them when we’re all back in school after MCO. I don’t mind conducting extra classes or night classes for my students to recover the loss of my teaching hours, because students matter more,” she says.