Education Minister, Najib Tun Razak should initiate a nation-wide discussion on connecting the 8,500 schools to the Information Superhighway

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): The Education Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, in launching the nation’s first Smart Lab at St. John’s Institution on Tuesday said that it would be a pilot project for urban schools for the “Smart School” concept while the Ministry was selecting a school for a rural Smart Lab as a pilot project for rural schools.

This RM200,000 Smart Lab pilot project, which is a collaborative effort between the Education Ministry and Cabaran Vista Sdn Bhd., is an education delivery system which gives students access to multimedia resources, a local area network (LAN) and the Internet.

The Smart Lab at St. John Institution is equipped with 30 JavaStation network computers (NCs) and two Netra Internet Servers and the “Smart Lab students” would be among the first to be exposed to multimedia courseware developed by the Education Ministry’s Curriculum Department and Education Technology Division in subjects such as Bahasa Malaysia, English, Mathematics and Science.

Malaysia has not become a pioneer in the field of technogy in education in the world just with the introduction of one or two “Smart Labs”.

Research in other countries have shown that for students to learn higher-order skills such as comprehension and composition using technology, the technology must be present in the classroom and integrated into the curriculum. In addition to learning computer skills, students need to be comfortable with technology as a tool to accomplish other goals such as improved literacy and math skills. It is not necessary for every child to have a computer. They can often work in small groups and not every activity requires a computer. As a minimum guideline, schools should have one computer for every five students and a computer for the teacher in each classroom.

This means that if we are really to have “Smart Schools”, it is not enough to have a Smart Lab in each school, we will need to have Smart Classrooms as well.

It should also be clear that one or two “Smart Labs” cannot be satisfactory pilot projects for the Smart School concept for 8,500 schools. If the Education Ministry is serious in wanting to use the Smart Labs as pilot projects for the Smart Schools programme for 8,500 schools, at least 20 urban and 20 rural areas should be selected for this purpose.

Otherwise, the Education Ministry will give the public the impression that its programme to introduce Information Technology to the schools is a very ad hoc affair - depending on the commercial interests and offers of private companies.

The Education Minister should initiate a nation-wide discussion on the important issue of connecting the 8,500 schools to the Information Superhighway as how Malaysia goes about connecting the schools to the Information Superhighway would be a major test of whether we can build a communications system that serves public needs and democratic values.

The public must be actively involved in the debate over school networking and its role in preparing students for the 21st century, addressing issues such as:

  • The objective to connect the schools must be part of a broader discussion about what skills students will need and how classrooms should function in the new Information Age.
  • The need to invest more in training and other aspects of human infrastructure so that schools can make good use of computer networks once they are in place.
  • How to sustain public support for networking in education by demonstrating its educational value.
  • How to ensure that all students share in access to the information superhighway so that computer-based communications promote equal opportunity in the classroom rather than exacerbating social divisions among schools and students.

    Such a nation-wide discussion on connecting the 8,500 schools to the Information Highway should be an important part of a national campaign to popularise Information Technology in the country, under the motto of “IT For All, All For IT”.


    *Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong