Imagine being an eight-year-old child receiving the news of school closures one evening. You find your mother confused, sweeping the bookshelf to see if there are enough workbooks and stationery to assist your learning for the next few weeks. The next morning, you wake up to find that the school life you’ve once known is gone. No more running past and greeting your friends in the school compound; no more blackboard and chalk for you to write on when the teacher calls you up. No more turning to your friends when you meet a question you can’t solve, and certainly, no more ‘Cikgus’ to physically be by your side guiding you through your homework. The familiarity you’ve had of school is lost, and this ‘new normal’ of not going to school might seem like a treat, but it also leaves a question mark as to what should happen next. A mix of feelings begin to cloud your mind, “Does this mean I have a holiday? Wait a minute, what about exams? Will I have online classes? Do I still have to submit my homework?” Confusion, reluctance, puzzlement; but there is no time to mull over the implications of these changes because no one seems to have any answers.
The story above brings a small glimpse of the impact that school closures have had on children—their learning is halted while teachers, educators, schools and other education institutions try to adapt and provide children with the necessary tools to continue learning.
It was in September 2020 that the All Party Parliament Group Malaysia (APPGM) awarded a grant of RM40,000 to three civil-society groups, namely Yayasan Generasi Gemilang (GG), Stop for the One and Yayasan Amal Asas to address issues that have emerged out of this “education crisis” within PPR Lembah Subang 1, Petaling Jaya (referred to as PPR Taman Putra Damai throughout the rest of this post).
Led by GG, the funds utilised aimed to promote continued learning, unity & harmony, and take a multi-stakeholder approach that supports education access for the children in PPR Taman Putra Damai. The grant’s objectives was also in line with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDG) goal #4 Quality Education, and #17 Partnerships for the Goals.
Variations of distanced learning solutions
With the school closures, we saw ourselves thinking outside the box by providing various forms of distance-learning solutions catered to children from different age groups and with different levels of accessibility—from guided learning to self-learning, we observed varying levels of success with these different distanced learning solutions.
KidzREAD Online Zoom Class
The first solution was where our team at Yayasan Generasi Gemilang (GG) conducted mostly guided learning initiatives. We pivoted physical classes in community halls to Zoom classes by providing data accessibility and devices to primary children in need from PPR Taman Putra Damai. 44GB of data was given for a duration of six months, and with the connectivity packs, 101 children were able to benefit from these guided online classes, with 58% of the children showing improvement in at least one reading level by the end of the grant period.
Additionally, many parents alluded briefly to the excitement and eagerness that their children felt in attending classes, crediting it to the engaging sessions conducted with the help of GG’s volunteer mentors. This brought such joy, as we saw how the children enjoyed learning & had shown improvement despite it being an online class.
A second solution we provided for the children in PPR Taman Putra Damai was self-learning through e-learning platforms for upper secondary students. Under Stop for the One, we identified eight children in the Form 4 and Form 5 category who received access to these e-learning platforms, clocking in a total of three to eight hours of usage over the course of six months.
The e-learning platform option allowed self-learning in preparation for SPM subjects like Mathematics & Science at any time, and students who took the platform’s tests for revision received an average score of 78%. However, we observed that the students only seemed to utilise the platform as revision for topics they were already familiar with, barely selecting new topics to learn. The low utilisation of the platform brought up the issue that we saw present – that ultimately, personalised guidance is still necessary to increase students' confidence in conquering unfamiliar topics.
The third solution we carried out was an offline option of distributing physical learning packs to children. This was conducted for children under Yayasan Amal Asas who indicated they either had insufficient or no materials for distanced learning and had no volunteers to support an online learning environment.
Having equipped 113 children with learning packs consisting of activity books, comic-based reading materials, stationeries, vitamin C tablets and card games; parents felt that they were able to better support their children’s distanced learning. Parental involvement was high for these group of children as they created schedules and ensured the children had learning activities involving materials from the learning packs. However, while they observed that their children did utilise the materials given, they were unable to determine if the materials had the intended outcome of helping their children learn, as most were not capable of assessing their children’s progress due to limited education.
Learning packs inclusive of activity books and abacus
Though the methods used for distanced learning was different and yielded varying results, we recognise that it is still possible to achieve positive learning outcomes in children. What is important is for us to ensure that someone is invested in the child’s learning.
Partnerships that worked in difficult times
For a large community like PPR Taman Putra Damai with over 3,000 households, we learned that it’s important to work together with other organisations to ensure a wider reach of beneficiaries and to avoid duplication of efforts.
This grant enabled three organisations to lend support to each other with cross-organisational trainings & knowledge sharing. For us at GG, we were able to share our learnings with what worked for online classes and support the other organisations in ensuring our shared goal of providing quality education to 222 children in the community was met.
To serve the needy is to have a vision to make the lives of the under-served better. Even if it means pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones, brainstorming, planning, learning, and re-learning; above all, it is understanding that acting on that vision and doing something is better than doing nothing at all. At the close of this six month project, we walk away knowing that children had increased education opportunities during this education crisis, and now that they are back in school, we will continue to do our part in supplementing their education to ensure no child gets left behind.