Coronavirus isn’t just making people sick. It is disrupting industries and personal lives. The field of early childhood education—a symbol of joy, safety, and growth—is not exempt from this.
This article attempts to shine some light on the realities faced by Malaysian preschools as a result of the outbreak, with input from local early childhood institutions.
A Sudden Online Shift
The Movement Control Order (MCO) hit us all like a ton of bricks. Its announcement from the government came two days before it was implemented. Preschools had to react quickly and decide how (and if) learning would continue, since kids weren’t able to go to physical classes.
The decision for most was to switch to online learning.
Teachers are now planning for and carrying out virtual classes, via platforms like Zoom. This allows a medium for preschools to continue with instruction while maintaining positive rapport between teacher and students.
This, however, isn’t too straightforward. Curriculums for preschools include lots of hands on learning and face-to-face interaction. This means that parental involvement is often needed for lessons.
Little Acorns At Play, Kota Damansara, is one of many preschools sending learning materials—accompanied by teaching instructions—to parents. To keep tabs on student progress, parents would send teachers videos or pictures of their kids carrying out activities.
“We encourage a lot of bonding sessions and family time hence our materials are not taxing. We try to make it interesting both ways (teaching and learning)”
Preschools understand that parents stuck at home with their kids might find it challenging to take on the role of teacher, while juggling with their own jobs. This is why many preschools are also sharing online learning resources such as YouTube video links and independent activity ideas to help ease parents’ burdens.
Business Takes a Beating
Preschools are a business. And just like most other businesses, the pandemic has bruised it. Since kids aren’t allowed to go to school, parents are requesting for a reduction in monthly fees.
“Big Apple Kindergarten, for example, is reducing the April fee for parents.”
“It is a heavy burden for principals to sustain business because rentals and expenses still have to be paid. Some parents are not actually willing to support online teaching, even though a discount has been given during this MCO. The premise rentals for some schools can be very high and fees are hefty for schools that have large, well-equipped environments.”
Infant and daycare centres are especially suffering because they are i) unable to provide online teaching (as babies are too young), and ii) can’t carry out daycare services.
Parents are asking for refunds, and these centres have to submit, despite the financial blow.
Teacher salary is another big expense that schools have to maintain.
Ms. Mei Ling, the principal and founder of Rise N Shine Childcare Centre, shares, “We try to keep the teachers’ pay the same, as we are well aware that most of our teachers are either a mother or single lady staying away from home. Cutting their pay would just worsen their burden,” she says.
Preschools during this MCO are finding that parents do not fully understand their struggles, while parents do not understand why they have to pay for full fees when their kids aren’t going to school.
Many during this MCO are also losing jobs or receiving pay cuts, and surely there are parents who have been afflicted.
Perhaps the best solution is to seek for better understanding of all parties, and to work together in coming up with a viable agreement. Parents and principals are encouraged to talk openly to one another and find a way forward.
After all, this ultimately benefits the children and their education.
To aid Malaysians during the MCO, the government recently announced salary subsidies for SMEs under Pakej PRIHATIN PKS Tambahan. The allocation applies to local staff who are earning below Rm4,000. This might alleviate the financial strain for some preschools.
As for Islamic kindergartens in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan, a three-month fee waiver will be granted to parents, as decided by The Federal Territories Islamic Religious Council (MAIWP). Lasting from April until June, this exemption will amount to a financial impact of almost RM1milion.
Preschools are hoping for more assistance during this time from the government. Ms. Kalvinder suggests, “Perhaps there could be a way for them to subsidize education for the private sectors as well, so it’s not a burden to both parents and operators.”
Keeping Kids Safe
The MCO is carried out to keep as many citizens safe and healthy as possible. But once the order is lifted, parents may still be concerned sending their children back to school. Preschools are therefore planning to put in additional safety measures once authorities give the green light.
“We will still be doing their usual sanitizing and screening each morning, but will limit parents from coming into the school compound. Parents that have been travelling will not be allowed to send their kids to school.”
Doing What’s Possible
No one knows for sure when schools will reopen. In case of extended school closures, preschools are trying their best to continue with online learning. Once kids are allowed to attend school, replacement classes may be offered by some establishments.
For parents worried about the progress of their kids, Ms. Kalvinder offers her two cents: “In my opinion, not all learning is done in the classroom. I believe reading, writing and spelling are not all that is needed for one to prosper. With an excellent IQ one needs EQ as well. Hence this is the time for parents to expand this part, as the first step begins from home. “
She suggests that parents use this period to let kids explore their interests. It could be gardening, cooking, painting, or just engaging in open play. This helps children to freely express their creativity, while allowing them comfort and confidence building.
In times like these, we can all just do our parts and try to adjust to ‘the new normal,’ as Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin says.
This article has been republished with permission from Kiddy123.