Mind the Gap – Bridging the Digital Divide in Malaysia

By Irsyad Hamilin

The first wave of COVID-19 in Malaysia leads to the sudden closure of all learning institutions nationwide. As a result, education in Malaysia has changed drastically, with the distinctive rise of e-learning, whereby teaching is undertaken remotely and on digital platforms.

On 13June 2020, Veveonah Mosibin, a student of Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) make the headlines across Malaysia after posting an 11-minute video on YouTube entitled “24 Hours On Tree Challenge” featuring her climbing a tree where she spent the night just to get better internet access for her final exam. Unfortunately, whilst the treetop video challenge of hers opened many opportunities, it also highlights the huge gap of the digital divide in many parts of Malaysia. Veveonah’s case is not an isolated one – according to the Sabah State Education Department, at least 52% of Sabah students do not have easy access to smart devices or the internet at home.

In terms of access to education, the precondition to learn via the online platform would be to have internet and a digital device. In urban areas, complaints are usually regarding the refusal of children to share their devices with their other siblings or they could not fully take advantage of the online lessons due to slow internet connections. In contrast, rural areas such as the Orang Asal villages in Peninsular, Sabah and Sarawak, the coverage of the internet is limited to none. In fact, some villages do not even have access to electricity, or it is very limited for night-time usage. In order to help and provide guidance to the children, parents would need to be educated.

Children with parents who are less educated would be at a disadvantage and are left to figure out themselves on how to utilize and learn via the platforms. This crisis has shown that our education system is lacking in terms of digital preparedness. Now, the question arises is how to bridge this divide?

Firstly, education policies and response to COVID-19 must have a long-term perspective. Education policies must ensure that children in marginalized communities such as the poor, indigenous, and special needs are not left out of this learning process. Besides online learning, a plan post-COVID-19 on how schools would resume operation should be laid out. Therefore, more long-term planning is needed to ensure that education is not disrupted.

Secondly, re-evaluate the purpose of education and move beyond exams. The primary concerns on education that are highlighted focus mostly on learning to pass and excel in examinations. While it could not be denied that examinations are still a very important part of education, the purpose of education is beyond examinations. This COVID-19 crisis has shown us that digitization and globalization are very much embedded in our society. What differentiates our students from machines? It is the ability to think critically, creatively, and relate to other people. The traditional rote learning and cramming of knowledge for examinations would not prepare our students for the work of the future. This crisis is an opportunity for us to reflect and make changes to our education system.

It is a “new normal” for all of us, as such our education system needs to change with this “new normal”. Let us not lament on whether we are ill-prepared for this pandemic, but to look for creative solutions and collaborated efforts that are required to adapt and change with this “new normal”. This is an opportunity to reform our education system. Even if we have imperfect solutions and policies, we must do the best that we can for the sake of future generations.

This article written by Irsyad Hamilin, the APYouthS Ambassador of Malaysia, was submitted as a part of APYouthS’ Article Submission program. We are calling for enthusiastic and impassioned youths in Asia-Pacific who are willing to share their opinions on current situations of the world. Submit your article now through

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of Asia-Pacific Youth Service.

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