Far too many of Malaysia’s businesses are being pulled under by the riptides lurking below the pounding Covid-19 waves.
Now private schools are feeling the currents, with cash-strapped parents hunting for more affordable educational alternatives for their children.
Several owners of private schools have told MalaysiaNow that many parents are transferring their children to public schools as they have suffered pay cuts or, in some cases, lost their jobs since the lockdown slammed into the economy in March.
For nearly four months classes were forced to move online, causing many parents with diminished incomes to feel they were no longer getting their money’s worth.
“Student numbers are tumbling,” the owner of a private Islamic primary school in Seri Kembangan, Selangor, told MalaysiaNow. “When schools reopened, parents were lining up to take their children out of private schools and enrol them in the public sector.”
The owner, who asked that his school remain anonymous for this report, said other private Islamic primary schools are suffering the same student exodus. “It’s so sad to see.”
Schools were allowed to reopen in stages under the recovery movement control order (RMCO), declared in June, but the current wave of infections is catapulting red zone students right back into virtual classrooms as the government struggles to contain the rising tide of the virus.
The owner of another school, who asked to be known only as Shahrel, said his centre, which has been operating for four years, would probably have to shut down soon given the number of students withdrawn by their parents.
“When schools reopened, parents were lining up to take their children out of private schools and enrol them in the public sector.”
At another school in Bangi, financial difficulties have become so dire that the school is unable to pay its staff.
The principal told MalaysiaNow that parents began asking for transfer letters as soon as the MCO ended, so that they could enrol their children in public schools. “During the MCO, as classes went online parents pressured us into lowering our school fees and giving refunds,” he said. “That put us under unbearable pressure as our teachers needed to be paid and we just couldn’t do it.”
He admits sadly that the school has now run out of options and he can see no way to save it.
Another educator who spoke to MalaysiaNow, also on condition of anonymity, said schools were briefly optimistic after the MCO entered the recovery phase. But their hopes have since been dashed as further Covid-19 waves lash the country and everyone frantically seeks ways to protect their children while making sure they still get some kind of education. “Our hopes could not be sustained as the situation deteriorated,” he said.
It is a tough situation for everyone, as the parents themselves are mired in financial difficulties and desperately trying to keep their heads above water. Many asked school administrators if their children’s fees could be deferred as they had either suffered pay cuts, been handed their pink slips, or just shown the door.
All the educators MalaysiaNow spoke to are completely sympathetic to the parents’ plight, but they also need to pay their teachers and all the other staff necessary to run an effective school.
Cempaka is a growing group of Malaysian international schools. Their curriculum is heavily reliant on the latest in education technology even while their students are in school. Founder Freida Pilus said private schools need to be prepared for any eventuality and to find ways of ensuring that they can continue delivering quality education to students even during such a huge disaster as the pandemic.
“At first, it was difficult for my teachers, but we persevered and always looked for ways to give the best possible education to the children in Cempaka,” she told MalaysiaNow.
Her advice for struggling schools is to make technology work for you. “Look for a virtual system that is easy to use for students, teachers and parents.”
Once you have your system, she said, administrators need to start being creative and innovative, always encouraging their teachers to use their imaginations, and never forgetting to involve parents every step of the way.
Time may be running out for even the best of these private schools, and the nation should beware of standing idly by as more of the best of them sink below the next wave.