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The Hidden Cost Of Students’ Learning Due To Covid-19

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted a historic nationwide shutdown of schools from March to July 2020[1]. Schools were subsequently closed again from November 2020 to March/April 2021 and once again in May 2021[2]. With a surge in new infections, students will likely be kept out of the classroom for most of 2021 as well.
Source: The Star

The response to school closures was the implementation of remote learning, or Pengajaran dan Pembelajaran di Rumah (PDPR). However, we have heard woes from students, parents and teachers who have been struggling to adapt[3] to this abrupt shift, which calls into question how effective remote learning has been.

What Is Learning Loss?

A major impact of this shift is learning lossstudents learned less during this period than what they would if schools did not close. In addition, the issue of learning inequality is worsened by the inequitable access to data and devices. 

Learning loss accumulates even after school reopens and can have long lasting impact on lifetime earnings

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Learning Loss May Go Beyond The Pandemic

Learning loss, if not remediated, tends to accumulate even after schools reopen – the amount of learning lost would end up far greater than the actual amount of time students missed school. This is especially true if schools move ahead with the curriculum without adjusting to the lower learning levels of students, hence the affected students fall further and further behind.

Source: The Star

Drawing From Past Crisis

From the experience of the devastating Pakistan earthquake of 2005, researchers found that four years after the earthquake, students were straggling behind at a learning equivalent of 1.5 years[4]even though they had missed only 3 months of school. This learning loss is estimated to reduce the children’s lifetime income by 15%[4]. In another study, The World Bank estimates that approximately $10 trillion in potential earnings could be lost by the current cohort of learners due to lower levels of learning and their higher likelihood of dropping out of school[5].

New, emerging gaps in education are created by the pandemic

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Lack Of Access To Data And Devices

Learning during the pandemic is not equitable. Effective remote learning is highly dependent on many factors, chief of all being access to data and devices. A research study by the Education Ministry in 2020 showed that only 6% of students owned personal computers, 5.7% owned tablets, 9% owned laptops and 46% had smartphones. In contrast, close to 37% of students do not own any personal devices and can only learn when their family members’ devices become available[6]

Besides that, synchronous learning through video conferencing requires good connectivity and consumes large amounts of data, which may not be affordable to the poor and those in rural areas even if they have devices.

Veveonah Mosibin – The girl who had to climb a tree to get internet connection

The limited access to technology means that live video conferences cannot be held. Therefore, students resort to less effective mediums such as Whatsapp, Telegram and DidikTV for their education. There are also reports of children from disadvantaged households that have had to share a single device belonging to their parents[7]

Source: DidikTV

In a survey by Project ID, Whatsapp and Telegram ranked in the top 3 learning platforms being used by students. These apps are possibly the most feasible option for most students as they do not require high speeds or large volumes of data. However, when asked which platform they prefer, students ranked Google Meet, which is synchronous and more interactive, higher[8].

Learning inequality has worsened, and those who came into the pandemic disadvantaged are at risk of falling behind

The Inability To Meet Schooling Expenses

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The pandemic has upended the livelihoods of many, especially those in low-income households. An unfortunate consequence of this is that struggling families are no longer able to meet schooling expenses. Schooling may be deprioritised for these children, increasing the risk of dropout.

In a recent study on the KL/Selangor urban poor by UNICEF, 44% of parents are worried about their financial situation and their ability to put food on the table while giving their children a proper education. At the same time, 1 in 4 parents reported that their children have lost interest in school. Alarmingly, 7% of upper secondary and 4% of lower secondary students in this demographic are already not planning on returning to school[9].

While wealthy students are paying for private tutoring to catch up on lost learning, 50 to 60% of B40 households face difficulties in paying additional tuition fees. The lack of a suitable space to study and the inability to supervise their children are cited by parents as the key challenges to remote learning. Many are not able to create a conducive environment for learning at home. This affects the poor disproportionately and many have felt that remote learning has been particularly challenging. This could be the reason why more than 80% of parents want their children to go back to school instead of learning online[10]

Here Are 2 Ways You Can Help Change A Life Through Education

#1: Volunteer with Rakan Tutor

Rakan Tutor is recruiting 250 volunteer tutors to conduct 1-1 tutoring with underprivileged SPM students (Apply here:

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#2: Join as Fellow with Teach For Malaysia

The TFM Fellowship trains fellows to teach in high-need schools and become changemakers in the lives of students (Join the fellowship:

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This article is written by Jay Yen Lim and based on desktop research done in a pro bono consulting project with Teach for Malaysia led by Kai Song Eer, Jay Yen Lim and Wen Wen Teh with the support from Kaveen Parthiban, Venecia Chai, Nicole Loh, Charlotte Lee, Louis Lai and Siddarth Jeyakuham. Edited by Wiki Impact team

Explore Our Sources:

  1. Vincent Tan. (2021). IN FOCUS: Prolonged school closure in Malaysia due to COVID-19 shakes up learning experience. Channel News Asia. Link. 
  2. Adib Povera. (2021). Covid-19: Return to online lessons after Raya hols for all schools. The New Straits Times. Link
  3. Ming Teoh. (2020). Barriers to Online Learning. The Star. Link.
  4. Andrabi, T., Daniels, B., Das, J. (2020). Human Capital Accumulation and Disasters: Evidence from the Pakistan Earthquake of 2005. RISE Working Paper Series. Link.
  5. Azevedo, J. P., Hasan, A., Goldemberg, D., Iqbal, S. A., & Geven, K. (2020). Simulating the Potential Impacts of COVID-19 School Closures on Schooling and Learning Outcomes: A Set of Global Estimates. The World Bank. Link
  6. Fareez Azman. (2020). 36.9 per cent of pupils do not have electronic devices – Radzi Jidin. Astro Awani. Link
  7. Free Malaysia Today. (2021). For poor families, online learning is a drag. Link. 
  8. Project ID. (2020). Student Voice Matters. Link. 
  9. UNICEF Malaysia and UNFPA. (2021). Families on the edge: Issue 4. Link. 
  10. UNICEF Malaysia and UNFPA. (2020). Families on the edge: Issue 2. Link.

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