KUALA LUMPUR: Since the enforcement of the Movement Control Order (MCO) on March 18, online platforms like Google Classroom, Zoom and Google Meet have become popular teaching and learning tools.
While teachers and students in Peninsular Malaysia, as well as urban and sub-urban areas in Sabah and Sarawak, may enjoy access to Internet infrastructure, the same cannot be said of those living in remote villages.
But the staff of one primary school located deep inside a thick rainforest in Julau district in Sarawak’s Sarikei division has been going the extra mile to ensure their students do not lag behind in their studies, despite the lack of communications facilities.
The school in question is Sekolah Kebangsaan (SK) Nanga Ju, which is located in Kampung Nanga Ju in Ulu Sungai Mujok. It has 23 students, 10 teachers and six other staff members, with the children hailing from the Lepong Bilat and Nanga Ju longhouses.
Using ingenious ways devised by the teachers themselves, they have somehow been managing to “transmit” lessons to their homebound students to study and also exercises for them to do.
Kampung Nanga Ju, populated by the Iban community, lacks Internet and telecommunications facilities due to its location in the interior of Julau district.
Even the nearest town Pekan Julau is only accessible via a five- or six-hour journey by boat, depending on the river conditions. From the jetty at Nanga Entabai, it takes another 45 minutes by van to reach the town.
There is also a dirt road used by loggers connecting the village to Pekan Julau but which is only suitable for four-wheel-drive vehicles and hardy motorcycles and even then, the journey will take about four hours.
So how have the teachers of SK Nanga Ju been conducting their teaching and learning programme during the MCO?
To get the answer, Bernama contacted the school’s senior assistant teacher Julaihi Mahdi, 51, who is now staying with his family in Bintangor in Meradong district, Sarikei division, by phone recently.
“After the MCO was imposed and all schools were closed, we (teachers) realised that we couldn’t use the lack of communication facilities as an excuse to leave the children to their own devices.
“So we came up with own method of teaching them to ensure that they don’t get left behind,” he said, adding that there was no one staying at the school hostel now as all the students and teachers have returned to their respective homes.
According to Julaihi, who has been teaching at SK Nanga Ju for nearly seven years, the students knew about Google Classroom and Google Meet as the teachers explained these applications to them at the beginning of this year.
If truth be told, SK Nanga Ju is equipped with a parabola dish to provide connection to a satellite Internet signal but, unfortunately, it is not in working condition.
Explaining their modus operandi, SK Nanga Ju preschool teacher Muhamad Fadheruhisham Daud, 29, who is from Pasir Mas, Kelantan, told Bernama under arrangements made by the teachers and parents, one of them (parent) would make a weekly visit to Pekan Julau to buy essentials as well as make a telephone call to one of the teachers to get hold of assignments meant for the children.
The teacher will send soft copies or photographs of the lessons and exercises through WhatsApp to the parent concerned. Some of the exercises are based on textbooks which the students already have, hence they only need to be told what page or pages to refer to.
“When this parent returns to the village, the other parents will visit him to take photographs of the lessons and exercises using their own mobile phones. The soft copies cannot be sent to individual parents via WhatsApp as there’s no Internet connection in their settlement,” said Muhamad Fadheruhisham, who has been teaching at SK Nanga Ju for six years.
Another SK Nanga Ju teacher Apai Lovy, 38, who lives in Sarikei, helps out by sending printed copies of lessons and exercises to the students. He makes weekly visits to Pekan Julau at the appointed time and day, and hands over the printed papers to the visiting parent.
In the event he is not able to contact any parent for a period of two weeks, Apai himself would head to their longhouses in the Kg Nanga Ju area, although it is an arduous four-hour drive via the logging road from Sarikei.
Muhamad Fadheruhisham said many of the teachers, including him, are staying in Sarikei with their families, which made it easier for them to collect their teaching materials and pass them to Apai.
“We are doing our best to ensure our students don’t lag behind in their studies. As soon as schools reopen after the MCO, we will check the work we’ve given them to do,” he added.
According to Apai, if the students have any doubt about the exercises they are given to do, they would try to contact their teacher by phone.
“To do this (call their teacher), they would have to climb a hill (near their longhouse) where they can get a mobile phone signal but the line is usually not stable,” he said.
He said since most of the villagers in the Kg Nanga Ju area own television sets complete with Astro NJOI – which is Malaysia’s first subscription-free satellite television service – the children also have access to RTM’s TV Okey channel that broadcasts daily education programmes for schoolchildren from 9 am to 10 am and 1 pm to 2 pm.
“Those children may lack Internet facilities but I’ve noticed that they are very keen to learn. Their parents and longhouse headman are also aware of the value of education,” added Apai.