Sunday, February 21, 2021

Many children, not enough phones: A family’s struggle with home-based learning

A couple living with their many children and grandchildren in a low-cost flat do their best to ensure that education remains a priority during the pandemic season.

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Shaifol Bahri Mustaffa Kamalluddin and his wife Norilla Mustafa Albakri are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that their children’s education is not disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic which has shut down schools and pushed most classrooms online under the various movement restrictions put in place by the government since the outbreak of the virus early last year.

When the government announced the implementation of home-based teaching and learning, or PdPR, to keep lessons going during the most recent instalment of the movement control order (MCO), they were all for it.

But the couple, who live in a low-cost flat or PPR in Seri Semarak, Kuala Lumpur, with 10 children and four grandchildren, face a hurdle of sizeable proportions: there are simply not enough devices to go around.

Of their 14 children and grandchildren, seven are of schoolgoing age – three of their children are in secondary school while two others and two grandchildren are in primary school.

Taking turns and sharing means that some of them are inevitably left behind in their lessons.

“The children in secondary school have their own phones but the kids in primary school have to share our phones and take turns,” Shaifol, 52, told MalaysiaNow.

“Sometimes they use my phone or my wife’s. If I’m at work, they use my wife’s phone as well as another that was donated to us for their studies.”

There is also a tablet, donated as well, which the children use to follow their classes.

But taking turns and sharing means that some of them are inevitably left behind in their lessons. Still, Shaifol and Norilla, 49, do their best.

“We divide the time for them, one or two hours each as all of their classes start at the same time.”

The internet bill is another headache. Shaifol earns about RM1,400 a month, RM500 of which he sets aside for internet and electricity.

He used to earn more at his job at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur but when his salary was slashed by 60%, it became much more difficult for him to provide for his family.

Now, the little he earns must stretch to feed and clothe all 16 of them.

Some of Shaifol Bahri Mustaffa Kamalluddin and Norilla Mustafa Albakri’s children and grandchildren lie on the floor in the living room, watching TV.

His wife Norilla is unemployed but she, too, pitches in by selling cakes and snacks to those in the neighbourhood.

“Every evening, children will come and buy keropok, drinks and sweets,” she said. “This helps a bit.

“My children’s friends will come and buy because my children promote these things to them. This lets me earn a bit more and also teaches them to be independent.”

There is no furniture in the living room of their modest home as that is where they sleep at night.

“As a parent, I am very concerned about family ties.”

But he has no plans to move elsewhere and doesn’t expect his older children to move out either.

“As a parent, I am very concerned about family ties,” he said. “If possible, I want to live with all of them in the same house because it brings joy. Even though they are grownups, they still want to live with us.”

Even if he wanted to move elsewhere, it would not be possible given his meagre income.

“Why would you want to have more debt?” he reasoned. “Let us just stay here.”

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