ABDVol.32 No.2

The Dawn of the Digital Age in Malaysia
Md Sidin Ahmad Ishak

Smart School Project

 Nadira is a Form Four student at a boarding secondary school in Negeri Sembilan, a small southern state of Malaysia. She comes to school early every Tuesday to update her school's homepage on the World Wide Web. She uploads several news reports she had received earlier through e-mail from Emira and Amar Abdullah, two of her regular contributors, who are in a different class. Nadira also has to reply to some students in Canada or New Zealand who asked about insects in the Malaysian tropical rainforest. At the same time, she sends a brief e-mail message to her parents in Kota Damansara in the suburb of Petaling Jaya asking their permission to participate in the coming study-tour programme to Singapore organised by the school's Editorial Board. Later in the morning, she learns the history of Melaka Sultanate using an e-book provided by a company who is currently testing its product at the school.
  Like many other students in the Malaysian Smart Schools, Nadira uses the Internet and the communication technology to facilitate her learning process. The Smart School concept, as part of the national IT (Information Technology) agenda, exposes students, teachers, administrators and parents to IT in every aspect of education at the administration and classroom level.
  At the pilot stage, 90 schools have been selected to take advantage of the programme which aims at providing equal access to learning and at increasing participation of all stakeholders. This concept also aims to systematically change the education system from an exam-oriented culture to a thinking and creative knowledge culture. School classrooms in this programme feature such technology-enablers as individual desktop PCs, multimedia computer labs, video conferencing systems and high-speed Internet connections.
  Thus, teaching materials are not only limited to printed books, but also include electronic books, multimedia software, courseware catalogues and databases which make the learning process more interactive, three-dimensional and exciting. Instead of learning in isolation, students now work in teams physically and virtually.
  The Smart School project is one of the seven flagship applications of the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), a bold initiative that is aimed at fast-tracking Malaysia into the information age. Launched on 27 June 1998, the MSC, which is a fifteen by fifty kilometer corridor to the south of Kuala Lumpur, is designed to provide a favourable environment for world class IT multinationals and talents to locate and operate globally. The MSC also envisages the harnessing of IT and multimedia to help spearhead the economic development of Malaysia to achieve developed nation status.
  Two "smart" cities have been developed within this corridor namely Putrajaya and Cyberjaya. Putrajaya is now the new administrative capital of Malaysia while Cyberjaya is an "intelligent city" with Research and Development centres and the Multimedia University.
  Spearheaded by the Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, the MSC is to transform the country into a knowledge-based nation-a landscape populated by "smart" homes, "smart" schools, "smart" cities, "smart" cards and "smart" partnerships-all linked together via a sophisticated telecommunications network. The MSC provides a strong ICT (information and communication technology) infrastructure and Malaysia has taken various initiatives to facilitate the greater adoption and diffusion of ICT to create the "smart" society. These measures include the provision of incentives for computerisation and automation, creation of venture capital funds, enhancement of education and training programmes and provision of an environment conducive to the development of ICT.

Networked Neighbourhood Centres

 For those without ICT access, Networked Neighbourhood Centres are being created in strategic meeting places such as schools, mosques and community halls. Besides, there are numerous cyber-cafes that offer Internet services at a reasonable fee. There is also the Mobile Internet Unit. Equipped with dozens of multimedia computers, this colourful cyber-coach took the Net to rural schools. Equipped with Internet-linked computers, these community centres, cyber-cafes and cyber-coach provide online access to a wealth of information and services.
  One popular service is e-learning or online learning. Already, several colleges and universities in Malaysia have embarked on the e-learning concept. Universiti Tun Abdul Razak, popularly known as UNITAR, is Malaysia's first virtual University which provides distance education using state-of-the-art technologies.
  Other institutions such as Universiti Malaya, the oldest and one of the best public universities in the country or Kolej Damansara Utama, one of the more established private colleges, encourage online learning amongst their students. The learning materials are specially prepared by lecturers of the respective courses who would then post the materials online for the students to view. These materials include lecture notes, tutorial questions, quizzes and question-and-answer sessions.


  Another flagship application under Malaysia's Multimedia Super Corridor is Telemedicine. This project, among others, is to realise the health vision of equity access to quality healthcare and to improve efficiency and productivity in the delivery of healthcare. Technically, Telemedicine is the provision of healthcare through a combination of telecommunication and multimedia technologies with medical expertise. This is possible due to the confluence of ongoing technical advances in multimedia, imaging, computers and information systems as well as in telecommunications. Several Malaysian hospitals are now equipped with the facilities to carry out Telemedicine programmes. However, the cost-effectiveness of Telemedicine has yet to be proven and also there are other unresolved technical and non-technical issues surrounding this advancement.

Smart Partnership

  Linking the society in a sophisticated telecommunications network is no easy job without sufficient funds and expertise. Effective implementation of MSC requires funding for the building of infrastructure, especially new schools or institutions with all their multimedia facilities, upgrading facilities in existing institutions and for the maintenance of new technology introduced. Another challenge lies in developing "Net-savvy" workers who can integrate the Net into the job and encourage collaboration.
  One of the strategic approaches to facing these challenges is to form "smart partnerships" with local and international parties. In a knowledge-based society, "smart partnership" means the willingness to share knowledge, talents and expertise among various sectors and parties in order to attain better quality of life for all citizens.
  Information technology and the Internet have definitely changed the way the people in Malaysia live. It has permeated every dimension of our society and every sector of the economy. The Internet has redefined ways of doing things and bestowed opportunities for the advancement of the society.
  But it is said that it has also created a digital divide and polarised the society into the connected and the secluded. Currently, Malaysia has 1.5 million subscribers, representing only about five percent of the total population. However, the figure is increasing rapidly and Malaysia is witnessing the dawn of the digital age without choice.

Md Sidin Ahmad Ishak
He has lectured at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur since 1986. Obtained his M.S from Ohio University (USA) in 1985 and PhD from University of Stirling (Scotland) in 1993. He is currently a member of the Malaysian Book Development Council, and executive committee member of the Malaysian Book Publishers Association. He has been managing the University of Malaya Press since 1994 while co-ordinating the Graduate Programme in Publishing Studies. He is also editor of several magazines namely the Malaysian edition of UNESCO Courier, MABOPA Bulletin, and MBKM Book News.
Md Sidin Ahmad Ishak
Head, Department of Publications, University of Malaya Press, 50603 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, fax: 60 3 7574473, e-mail: mdsidin@um.edu.my