Thursday, June 24, 2021

Govt told to address surge in laptop prices as online learning takes hold

Consumer pressure group CAP warns that the free tablets and laptops from the government will only cater for 3% of the student population.

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The Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) today called for urgent measures to control the retail price of laptops and tablet computers amid reports of a surge in prices of up to 25% as home-based learning replaces face-to-face classes under tight restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Noting one case in which a branded affordable tablet that cost RM399 before the movement control order (MCO) now retails for RM599, it said the reason given of a shortage in stock and an increase in logistic costs from the producing country was unacceptable.

“The manufacturers of these items, which are large corporations, should lower their profit margin as part of their social responsibility in these trying times,” CAP president Mohideen Abdul Kader said.

“Retailers should not take advantage of the temporary shortage to hike up the prices to make unjustified profits. The authorities should have forseen the problem and taken proactive measures to ensure enough supply, as it has been almost a year since MCO 1.0 was implemented.”

Tens of thousands of students returned to school on Jan 20 although only students in Form 5 and 6 were allowed to attend physical classes.

The rest are following their lessons through home-based teaching and learning, otherwise known as PdPR.

However, the online learning method still faces several problems, with lack of devices and adequate internet infrastructure cited as some of the biggest.

CAP acknowledged the announcement by Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz during the tabling of Budget 2021 in November last year that 150,000 students from 500 schools would be given laptops to aid in their studies.

However, it said the allocation of the promised RM150 million for this purpose would not solve the difficulties at hand.

A survey by the education ministry in March last year, involving 670,000 parents and some 900,000 students, found that 36.9% of the pupils polled had no devices at all.

CAP said with some 4.9 million students in schools nationwide, the 150,000 devices would only cater for 3% of the student population.

“This excludes those at tertiary levels whom we cannot assume are rich enough to afford such hardware,” it said.

CAP also criticised the country’s internet access, saying there are places where connection is intermittent or slow.

“If laptops and tablets are not easily available, then the government should not proceed with education online but consider alternative methods,” it said.

“Children who are in the vulnerable category can have home schooling. Retired teachers who are fit to work can be mobilised for this purpose.”

It also said that internet services must be improved and made available throughout the country.

“Where this is not possible, for example in the interior region, other arrangements must be made to educate the children.”

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