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Asia Minute: Malaysia’s Debate on Returning to the Classroom

AP Photo/Vincent Thian
Students wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing at a classroom during the first day of school reopening at a high school in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Wednesday, June 24, 2020.

Many university students around the world are on break this week. But when classes resume, there is still a question about how much instruction can be done in person. And that's sparking a controversy in one Southeast Asian country.


Malaysia’s Education Ministry is eager to get students back in the classroom. But when it comes to students preparing for college, critics say ministry officials are a little too eager.

Malaysia’s federal government runs a “Matriculation Program” — a special one or two-year course preparing students who might not otherwise attend college.

These students are scheduled to return to campus for in-person instruction and tests starting a week from today.

The country’s largest circulation English language news outlet, The Star quotes an Education Ministry official as saying the original intent to do the exams online was abandoned because, in his words, “we realized that too many of our students do not have access to the internet.”

He added that “we must be fair to everyone; many students live in rural areas with poor connectivity.”

Students and parents say it’s dangerous, at a time when cases of COVID-19 are on the rise across Malaysia.

Other classes have been delayed, although in-person classes for primary and secondary schools were only pushed back by a couple of weeks to a late January start.

As for those already enrolled in standard universities, a precise date for a return to the classroom is still under discussion, but the Malay Mail quotes the Minister of Higher Education as saying it might happen in early March.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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