Like most other sectors, and many other countries, Covid-19 has exposed the inequalities underlying internet access in this country particularly in Sarawak, and has affected schooling activities tremendously. Not only do rural students and urban students find themselves on the opposite sides of the digital divide, the gap also exists among urban students of different economic backgrounds. The authorities have been hyping on online lectures as a viable substitute but the unequal and intermittent access has meant the experience is vastly different depending on location and household affordability. This is particularly important from the standpoint of the student whose quality of experience in doing online lectures hinges on the mobile versus the laptop or personal computer, as well as good home support to handle online education.
For those who don’t have home Wi-Fi, they rely on the mobile phone’s 4G signal at best which is not equally reachable nor reliable for all, leaving some studying in unimaginable places and deprived conditions in order to join classes online. For most in the rural areas, erratic electricity supply is another major problem and this can affect not only observing and listening to their teachers, but also watching videos, downloading or even keeping the phone charged. The student’s ability to partake and engage with their teachers and peers depends on the number of devices the household has, the quality of the device, the connectivity and the timing of the lectures.
Other issues that may crop up include whether teaching excellence is more important than how lessons are delivered? Will the absence of peer interaction deprive motivation and retard learning outcomes? Will not different approaches to online learning be necessary to meet different types of content and pupils? The question therefore has moved from whether a student can access the internet to how does the student do it; from a question of whether the teacher alleviates the education divide or inadvertently deepens it; which begs the final question of whether online education is a fair option at all.