“I Just Want An Education!” More Real-Life Stories On The Digital Divide

As schools across Malaysia have reopened for the new year, classes have largely been online due to the current Movement Control Order (MCO) restrictions. Students are working harder than ever and those in rural areas are literally going the extra mile to keep up with their education. 

Standard four student, Muhammad Amru Umair, from Sandakan Sabah, has to travel to an oil palm estate for internet coverage just to participate in online classes[1].

Source: Malay Mail / Wide TV

Internet coverage at his home in Kampung Sinar Baru Batu 12, remains to be problematic resulting in the need to travel more than one kilometre to reach a hill high enough for a good internet connection.

Source: Mashable SEA

The story of Veveonah Mosibin, who had to climb a tree just to take her online exams, is still fresh in the minds of many[2], and there are many more who are struggling as a result of this digital divide. In 2020, it was identified that unstable or non-existent internet connection is an urgent problem affecting those in rural areas and it needs urgent solutions[3].

Despite Sandakan being known as the second largest city in Sabah, most of the network lines are channelled towards the city area. The rural regions of Sandakan make up a big part of the district (773 square miles) and it is covered by oil palm plantations and pockets of forest reserve[4].

Source: Mongabay

The area that Muhammad Amru Umair lives has close to no internet coverage. Where there is internet coverage, it only goes up to 2G data service that is insufficient for video calls or downloading large files[5].

Mother Of Four Hikes 5km, For Her Children’s Education

Another family shares the same struggles and they happen to be in the same state of Sabah. This time it is the northernmost district of Kudat. Sharifah Sharizah, a mother of four, wakes up every day and takes all of her children to the top of a hill nearly 5km from their home. This is a necessary sacrifice that the whole family needs to bear so that the children can attend online classes[6].

Source: Free Malaysia Today

The village of Kampung Panikuan, Kudat, can only be accessed through a dirt road that cuts through several oil plantations and rubber estates. With her husband working in the neighbouring district, Sharifah has no choice but to bring her youngest two-year-old daughter along with the rest of the brood, who are 8, 10 and 12 years old.

At the wake of dawn, the family marches up the hill in time to make it for their first class at 7:20am. There are days when the family enjoys the luxury of using the family car when no one is in need of it – however, the weather can put a damper on things when the road gets too muddy and unsafe for vehicles to travel on. Situations like these would render them back on their feet, marching up the hill again.

Source: Borneo News

Another problem that families like Sharifah face is that there aren’t enough devices to go around. Sharifah has only one mobile phone and all three children share the same device while trying to get the most of school. Fortunately, teachers in these rural schools understand this problem too well and they have provided alternatives and more lax rules when submitting school work.  

Unfortunately, we are not the only ones facing this problem in our area. Other families come to the same hill to get an internet connection, but we come here most often[6].

Source: Free Malaysia Today

Sharifah, like any mother, hopes and wants the best for her children. She tries to make the whole experience a bit more bearable by bringing home-cooked meals and guiding her children to the best of her abilities – but she sincerely hopes that internet connection and infrastructure can be improved for her and communities in Kudat.

We all know that parents will go above and beyond to help their children. But in an age where the entire nation is working towards becoming a ‘developed nation’, stories like these beg the questions, “Why are there still so many left behind? Why must entire families have to walk several kilometres, risking their safety, in order to get an education? Isn’t education a basic human right?”

Explore Our Sources:

  1. M. Chalil. (2021). Standard Four student in Sabah endures hot sun, mosquitoes at oil palm plantation for better internet connection. Malay Mail. Link.
  2. Wiki Impact. (2020). This Girl from Sabah Who Put A Spotlight on Malaysia’s Digital Divide. Link.
  3. Wiki Impact. (2020). Can The Students Of Malaysia Keep Up with E-Learning. Link.
  4. Sandakan Municipal Council. Sandakan Profile. Link.
  5. NPERF. Cellular Data Coverage Networks in Sandakan Sabah. Link.
  6. D. R. Fong. (2021). Sabah family’s daily uphill struggle to go online. Free Malaysia Today. Link.

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