Concerns are rising that kindergarten children across most of the country whose classes were interrupted by the closure of centres under the conditional movement control order (CMCO) may struggle to adjust to primary school if they have not learnt how to read, write, and count beforehand.
Malaysian Association of Kindergartens chairman Eveleen Ling said the process of illiteracy would take place slowly as some of the children would have learnt the basics before schools were closed.
But she said primary school teachers would need to work harder and show sympathy when these students begin Standard One next year.
“They must take several steps backwards to ensure that these children are able to follow their lessons,” she told MalaysiaNow.
In early childhood education, she said, the first three months – when the MCO was implemented in March – were when children adjusted to attending school and following a daily timetable.
Because the country’s education sector had been shut down until the end of the year as part of efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19, kindergarten children had learnt nothing, she said.
Poverty, illiterate parents
Ling acknowledged that schools had continued with classes in an online setting but said the success of this hinged on the ability of parents and guardians to monitor the children’s progress throughout the period.
“They must take several steps backwards to ensure that these children are able to follow their lessons.”
Adding that some parents themselves were illiterate to begin with, she said they would not be able to help their children with their lessons, thereby compounding the problem.
She also noted the lack of access for some students to internet facilities and the gadgets needed to follow online classes.
Ling suggested that the media play a role in helping to alleviate the problem by broadcasting story-telling sessions on the radio and television.
In August, the World Bank said several countries were facing trouble in their education sector even before Covid-19 hit, due to poverty and economic inequality.
Factors also included differences in access to lessons, the distance between teachers and students, and access to learning tools.
The World Bank said the closure of schools had an impact on already marginalised groups including students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, the disabled, and minorities.
Meanwhile, Pisa or the Programme for International Student Assessment reported that the development of students from backgrounds of poverty lagged a year behind that of their peers.
Those from the poorest groups trailed their peers by a good two and a half years.
Norhashimah Muhd Muneer, 29, told MalaysiaNow she was concerned that her child would not possess the basics in reading and counting before beginning school next year.
She said she and her husband do not have the time to help their six-year-old son with his lessons as they are both busy with work.
Most days, he stays with a babysitter until office hours are over.
“I cannot depend on the babysitter to teach him and monitor his progress as she has three children of her own who also need her attention,” she said.
As a result, her son still struggles to understand basic concepts like vowels.
Not the job of kindergartens
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia academic Teo Kok Seong however assured that basic skills in reading and counting are not the main focus at the kindergarten level.
“Kindergartens are not the place to develop learning skills.”
He said kindergartens should instead allow the early nurturing of social and emotional skills such as working together and interacting with other children.
“Kindergartens are not the place to develop learning skills,” he told MalaysiaNow.
“That is the job of schools. In the old days when we had no kindergartens, children still succeeded in their lessons when they started Standard One and also had good values.
“Parents don’t need to worry too much about warnings from educators and kindergarten operators.”
In fact, he said, parents unconsciously nurture social and emotional skills in their children at home.
Sending children to kindergarten and preschool only helps streamline education and makes it more systematic, he added.
“When they start Standard One, that’s when learning skills are instilled by trained teachers.”