KUALA LUMPUR, March 4 — While still adjusting to their children's ‘life back at school’, parents are facing the prospect of yet another period of home-based learning should Malaysia’s Covd-19 cases rise drastically.

The recent statement by the Education Ministry that primary and secondary schools will be given the option of conducting home-based learning and teaching (PdPR) has given Liliana Ismail, 35, cause for concern.

“I don't think my children can cope anymore if they have to go back to home-based learning.

“As it is, they are quite lost. My daughter is in Year Two now, but she can hardly speak any Mandarin because of the lack of communication with friends in school,” said Liliana, a mother of two who works in retail.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country, the education sector has been severely affected, with schools forced to shut due to the continuous rise in new infections on a daily basis.

Home-based learning was the only recourse for education then. Even so, it took awhile to get off the ground as it was still a fairly foreign method of educating children in the country.

Status quo

Almost two years have passed, and Liliana said there hasn't been much difference, and her second child will now be in Year One.

“Yet, I don't see any improvements in how classes are handled.

“My daughter still can't really speak the language (Mandarin) fluently because there is a lack of interaction and practice. She will start Year Two.

“This is something that needs attention but I still do not see the teachers addressing the matter,” she said.

Liliana said from her observations, teachers are still not equipped with the proper tools and guidelines to ensure lessons are delivered effectively for students.

Are employers ready?

As for Jonathan Tham, 40, when asked if he is ready to go through home-based learning again with his children, he instead posed the question of how ready his employer would be.

“Is my office ready for it? Jokes aside, Malaysian employers have yet to get the hang of not holding face-to-face conversations with their staff.

“Employers are still stuck in the old culture of wanting to see their staff in the office in order to believe that work gets done,” he said.

According to Tham, during the initial days of the first movement control order (MCO) in 2020, parents could stay at home with their children and this eased the process of monitoring their lessons.

“Later, some time in 2021, employers started to ask their staff to return to work. Initially, we took turns, and now, it is all back in full force for most workplaces.

“If our children were to go through home-based learning now, how are we supposed to accommodate that?

“We can't leave our children at home to do it on their own, especially primary school students. It is not possible,” said Tham, who is a senior marketing executive.

“This has been a challenge for me and many others I know, with some even on the brink of losing their job due to their request to work from home so that they can accompany their children for classes,” he said.

Voicing similar concerns, Mohd Hakim, 36, said as much as he wanted to keep his children at home safe from the virus, home-based learning does not work for those in primary school.

“Their attention span is short, and after a while, they end up focusing on what their friends are up to on-screen rather than paying attention to the teacher.

“For my child at least, he is distracted by his friends rather than wanting to listen to the teacher.

“It is different if they are present in school, because behind the screen, they know the teacher cannot reprimand them for not paying attention in class,” said Hakim, who is a graphic designer.

Supplementary lessons

For those who can afford it, like Thomas Low, 41, they have been sending their children for extra classes.

Low opted to do this as he noticed that his son and daughter have not been progressing well through the home-based learning classes.

“I got worried when they could not understand what their teachers wanted them to do with their homework.

“Even worse, I don't understand their homework because I didn't go to Chinese school.

“Without extra classes with a tutor, I don't think my kids would have been able to absorb much from their online classes,” he said.

Low manages a department in his company as a public relations manager and often has to attend meetings.

This also turned into a challenge for him, especially when he had to be there for his children.

“Both my wife and I work. We took turns during the MCO period, but now, we can't afford to be as flexible as before.

“At the same time, cases at one of my kid's schools are high. We have been forced to self- quarantine a few times.

“I am at a loss now as to what I should do,” he said.

Agreeing with this, Parent Teacher Association (PTA) chairman Loh Tian Hong said while some parents are comfortable with home-based learning, the question remained whether this could reduce Covid-19 infections among children.

“Yes, some parents are ready for this, but will this solve the problem?

“Most children, who were confirmed Covid-19 positive, got it from their parents, and not from school.

“How is home-based learning a solution?” he said when contacted.

He added that for parents who are working, they have to resort to sending their children to daycare.

But at the same time, he asked, who can guarantee that this is totally safe?

“The government needs to understand that this is a long-term problem and it will not go away anytime soon.

“They have to think about how to work around the virus, because home-based learning is not a solution for all students and parents across the board,” he said.