By Sara Anne Lee and Tan Yew Kit (BAC Apprentices)
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic took Malaysia by storm, part of our nation’s children were living in a state of digital poverty, with no access to digital devices and the internet.
Many of us live in a privileged bubble, and some entitled children are oblivious to the digital divide that is marring the country’s education system. We have our smartphones, laptops and even tablets to keep us connected 24/7. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, the privileged ones were not left behind when classes transitioned online. However, the same cannot be said for millions of children from vulnerable communities in Malaysia – those from families under the B40 category, Orang Asli children, refugees and also persons with disabilities (PWDs).
As of November 2020, approximately 1.7 million students nationwide had no access to digital devices to participate in their online classes, and this figure is expected to have increased over the last year with more families falling into the B40 category.
When speaking to parents in this category over the last few weeks, we from Team UPLIFT learned that many of these children were participating in their online classes, using their parent’s smartphones. These smartphones tend to overheat easily and the size of it makes it difficult for them to properly follow their lessons. To make matters worse, these children would sometimes have to share the smartphones with their siblings resulting in them missing out on their own classes, setting them back from their peers. Using data connection as opposed to Wi-Fi, also resulted in unstable internet connection.
At the end of the day, these children were not getting adequate access to their online classes. The lack of proper devices to help them study, and good access to internet connection has put them at a disadvantage, and this will negatively impact their future.
There have been several initiatives launched by the government and other corporations during the pandemic. However, these hardly scratched the surface of the real problem. Thus far, none have actually achieved these targets.
We are still far from battling digital poverty, as many students especially from vulnerable communities are still at a disadvantage and easily forgotten. With that, UPLIFT has launched 1Million Devices to help bridge this gap to ensure that no child is left behind. 1Million Devices aims to equip every school-going child from B40 families, marginalised and rural communities with a digital device, to enable them access to quality education online.
We hope that with the public’s generosity and kindness, and with inclusive collaborative partnerships of private and government companies, we will be able to provide children in need with the necessary tools needed to access their right to education.