Internet is considered as wants and privilege to certain people in a society. However, the current Covid-19 pandemic has driven us to a new perspective of the internet where it is no longer a want, but it is now a necessity. It drives to the unique view since the main component of development, which is education has shifted towards online to prevent physical distancing. However, we are not ready to change education online as the internet is not a necessary item that everybody can afford it. Even a stable internet connection is not available to all, especially in the suburban and rural areas.
IIUM Student Union (2020) has surveyed with 12,452 respondent shows that 30% of them do not have sufficient internet connection to join the online class and 12% of them need to go to nearest cyber-café for internet and computer access. If we look at the overall Malaysia situation, only 8.6 out of 100 people have subscribed to the fixed-broadband line in 2017 (UNDP, 2020). This figure is a prominent figure as the most optimal internet connection for online education is through the fixed-broadband line as it gives unlimited quota for the users.
Let’s look into the expenditure approach of a household. By looking at the most affordable data plan provided by Hotlink, priced at RM 35 per month, someone below Poverty Line Income (PLI) need to spend 3.6% of its income for the internet. This package cannot be shared with other siblings as it does not come with any hotspot data. If four children need education, they need to spend 14.29% of their income only to make sure all of them can join online classes with the internet. This amount of money is a huge amount of expenditure for someone that is living below PLI. Even though it may only affect 0.4% of the Malaysian population, it is crucial as education is the only way for them to move out of poverty. Otherwise, they will be stuck in the Poverty Trap.
Impact on Human Development Index
Human Development Index (HDI) is predicted to decrease by 0.020 due to Covid-19 pandemic (UDNP, 2020). The decrease will be 2.5 times worst without internet access where it can decrease up to 0.05 points in HDI. Inequality in internet access will lead to out-of-school rate for primary education.
The Malaysian government has announced to give free 1GB data per day for all to be used each day up until 31st December 2020 (Ministry of Finance, 2020). However, an article by WhistleOut (2020) shows that Zoom data usage is 810MB per hour. It already uses 80% of the free data from government for only one class. If they are having three class per day, they need at least 2.4GB of internet data per day to make sure they are not left behind.
University Sultan Zainal Abidin (UniSZA) is giving internet allowance for B40 students RM 100 for two months. This practice is an excellent approach as I believe RM 50 per month is enough to get a fair amount of data for them to join online classes. Other education institution should follow this progressive approach taken by UniSZA.
First, the Malaysian government should revise the free data plan to make sure that it is sufficient for people to get access through online education. They can collaborate with all telecommunication companies to give unlimited access to video-meeting platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Team. It is possible as the current government can provide unlimited access to MySejahtera Apps and all government portals, which indicates that it is a viable solution. They also can increase the free data amount to at least 3GB per day for selected people, especially for students in B40 families.
Second, the state government should improve their free wi-fi programs such as wi-fi Smart Selangor, Johor Wi-fi, Terengganu Open wi-fi and Penang Free wi-fi. By expanding and enhancing all these programs to rural areas, it can benefit many people, especially related to education. This approach is a massive opportunity for the state government to expand the coverage, especially in rural areas. The state government also can control the usage of the internet to limit the usage only for education as each of the users need to register an account to use them.
Third, all universities need to give allowance for B40 families to help them to buy a proper internet plan to make sure they are not left behind. A good example has been shown before, where UniSZA gives RM 50 per month to their student for internet allowance. NGOs also can participate in this initiative as they can collect fund and redistribute back for needy students.
In conclusion, internet is no longer a luxury item as before. It has been shifted towards a necessity as the main component of human development has been shift towards online. If this issue is not being solved, we will see a massive decrease in HDI and indirectly shows that the poverty figure will increase as well as out-of-school rate will increase significantly.
IIUM Student Union, 2020. SURVEY’S REPORT ON THE IMPLEMENTATION OF EMERGENCY REMOTE TEACHING AND LEARNING (ERTL).
Ministry of Finance, 2020. Short-Term Economic Recovery Plan June – December 2020. Pelan Jana Semula Ekonomi Negara.
United Nation Development Programme, 2020. Assessing The Crisis, Envisioning The Recovery. COVID-19 AND HUMAN DEVELOPMENT. [online] pp.6-7. Available at: <http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/covid-19_and_human_development_0.pdf> [Accessed 7 June 2020].
United Nation Development Programme, 2020. Exploring Global Preparedness And Vulnerability. COVID-19 AND HUMAN DEVELOPMENT. [online] p.2. Available at: <http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/covid-19_and_human_development.pdf> [Accessed 7 June 2020].
Ahmad Yusri bin Mohd Yusoff
Sub-committee, Public Relation and Advocay, IIUM Student Union.