Vaccination, education and the reopening of schools

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TUMISU/PIXABAY

As the pandemic continues to ravage our lives, we in the Malaysian Academic Movement (Gerak) write to express our ongoing concern about the wellbeing and future of the many school children who do not have the facilities and devices at home to accommodate online learning.

Online learning was touted right from the beginning by the PN government as the way forward for Malaysian education. But, of course, there has been a wide chasm between promise and delivery.

Little, for example, is now said about the 150,000 laptops that Education Minister Radzi Jidin promised last year to distribute to students in 500 schools nationwide by February this year.

What has now been revealed is that by April this year, only 13,000 (8.7%) of these laptops had been distributed.

Gerak is appalled at this outcome. The various movement control orders notwithstanding, the Ministry of Education should have assessed the situation and worked out a strategy to get the devices to needy students. If not the ministry, with its body of experts and departments, who else?

And what is happening now? Let us be clear about the consequences if this is treated lightly. Without the hardware and the supporting online connections, the extended lockdown will have extremely negative impacts on our children, especially the marginalised.

The current haphazard decisions being made to simply close schools with little reflection, planning and, most importantly, the implementation of these plans in a systematic way, expose these children to higher risks of being mentally, physically and educationally deprived.

School closures, while convenient for ministry officials in their air-conditioned offices in Putrajaya, put tremendous pressure on parents who are already struggling to put food on the table.

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School closures compromise the quality of learning and more than likely will negatively affect the education and possible future of poor urban and rural children who do not have the advantages of their middle-class cousins.

In this regard, and for education to be provided for in a planned, organised manner, Gerak urges the government to prioritise teachers and other educators for immediate Covid vaccination.

It is evident that the online education ‘plan’, such as it is, has been a failure. We need to re-examine the situation and enable the reopening of all schools and education-related institutions as soon as possible.

We must treat all teachers – all educators – as front-line personnel. At the international level, one in four teachers is prioritised in the first phase of national rollout plans in 139 countries globally. Malaysia is nowhere on this list.

The Perikatan Nasional government promised to include teachers as part of the priority groups in the second phase of the national Covid immunisation programme in April 2021 which, to us, is already rather late and rather tame.

Indeed, there is a lack of transparency in terms of the regime’s ‘priorities’ and execution of the national immunisation programme at the second phase.

Gerak is appalled to know that, up until today, not all the teachers and educators are prioritised to receive any of the Covid vaccines.

The government is reportedly going to distribute more than 14 million doses of vaccine to all states in July. This provides the perfect opportunity for this government to right a wrong by prioritising education workers in this programme.

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We believe that education institutions, teachers, educators and students must be viewed as a priority by the government. Vaccinating all of them now must be an essential strategy to combat unnecessary unilateral closure of all schools.

Not all Malaysians can afford the luxury of sending their children to study in boarding schools overseas. The longer we close all our schools, the higher the probability that our children, especially those in the bottom 40% of households, will not be able to return to formal education.

This would reflect the failure of this government to safeguard the future of the next generation in the time of a pandemic.

Hence, in line with the urging of Unesco, Gerak calls upon this government, first, to vaccinate all the teachers and educators immediately “to protect teachers and students in an effort to ensure the continuation of learning and a safe return to in-person teaching”.

Second, there must be a concrete, well-thought-out plan devised to open all educational institutions for face-to-face teaching and learning after all teachers and staff have been fully vaccinated.

There has been too much inertia and ill-planning at the highest levels already. So, this must be done now, not tomorrow, not next year. – Gerak

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