Although Malaysia seeks to become one of of the international IT hubs, Malaysia is still quite backward in developing the information infrastructure and expertise in the country.
Recently, Malaysia was placed No. 35 in the Information Imperative Index (III) , which ranks 55 countries on the basis on their ability to access, absorb and effectively utilize information. This Information Imperative Index is prepared annually by World Times Global Research and International Data Corporation. This is the second year the III had been prepared, and although Malaysia’s position on the III had improved from No. 37th place to 35th place this year, Malaysia is still too way behind too many countries for one which has the high ambition of becoming a international IT hub at the turn of the century with the MSC as the crown jewel of Malaysia’s information infrastructure.
The III groups the 55 countries into four categories. The first group, the "skaters", are "countries which are fully in tune with the fast pace and complicated procedures of the information age, reflecting an established infrastructure and computer literate poulation". This group has only two nations, namely the United States and Finland holding the top overall score of 4,987 and 3,591 respectively.
The second group, the "sprinters", are "nations which are moving purposefully along the information pathway, their citizens absorbing new technologies for personal and professional use with a mixture of caution and conviction". It has 18 countries, with overall scores ranging from 2,000 to 3,500, led by Sweden and followed by Denmark, Norway, Canada, Netherlands, Switzerland, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Germany, Austria, Israel, France, Belgium and Ireland.
The third group, the "Striders", are "countries progressing in a steady, if sometimes leisurely way, towards an information society, toying with new technologies while relying on many older ones", holding overall scores from 1,000 to 2,000.. Malaysia is in this category of 16 countries , but it is after Taiwan, Korea, Italy, Spain, Czech Republic, UAE, Portugal, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Argentina, Chile, Bulgaria and Russia. Malaysia has an overall score of 1,060, which is higher than South Africa with an overall score of 1,005, the last nation in this category.
The fourth group, the "Strollers", which are countries "wandering toward the revolution without any haste, deterred by infrastructure costs, limited consumer demands and cultural fears". There are are 19 countries in this category with overall scores of less than 1,000.
As Malaysia wants to leapfrog into the digital society, we must also dare to aim for a leapfrog in our national capability to access, absorb and effectively utilize information, and be grouped in the second category of "Sprinter" nations in the information Imperative Index in a matter of from three to five years.
Although the government has announced a National IT Agenda as a national framework for all sectors in the economy to work together in realising the national aspiration of creating an information society, very few know what this National IT Agenda is all about.
What is worse, the few Malaysians who think they know are probably under the impression that the National IT Agenda is the Multimedia Super Corridor, when the MSC can only be part and not the whole of the National IT Agenda.
The National IT Agenda cannot be a success and Malaysia cannot leapfrog into the Information Age unless it becomes the agenda of every Malaysian.
This is why the DAP has been pressing for a "IT For All" nation-wide campaign, which should be the centrepiece of any National IT Agenda to popularise IT among all Malaysians, educate the people that IT and computers are nothing to be afraid of and to remove the social, educational and psychological barriers to people who would like to know more about using the information technologies.
The National IT Agenda should in fact set the goal of "One Family, One Computer" by the year 2000 if Malaysia is to take the quantum leapfrog into the Digital Era in the 21st century.
Although Malaysia, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, is very aggressively promoting the Multimedia Super Corridor in international circles, we must nonetheless be conscious that the nation had lost many precious years to popularise IT among the people to make very individual – every adult and every child – to be confident inusing the latest technology to develop their potential and enhance the quality of their lives.
The National Information Technology Council (NITC) under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister was formed in May 1993 to plan and manage IT as a strategic tool for national socio-economic development, but it is most unfortunate that no nation-wide campaign to promote IT awareness, literacy and fluency had been launched in the past four years.
It has been said that a human year is about five Internet years, and this means that we have lot about two decades of Internet years in failing to launch a nation-wide "IT For All" nation-wide campaign.
There are even areas where there have been setbacks in popularising IT usage and literacy. For instance, MIMOS had made a forecast in April 1996 that there would be 150,000 Internet subscribers by the end of 1996 and 500,000 Internet subscribers by the end of 1997, but in actual fact, there had been a sharp shortfall in the Internet take-up rate in Malaysia largely because of the prohibitive telephone charges after the introduction of time-based service by Telekoms.
As a result, the present number of Internet subscribers for both Jaring and Tmnet is only about 120,000, which is less than that forecast to be achieved last December.
There is an urgent need for an overall review of policies and measures to provide greater incentives for a greater popularisation of IT among the people, whether in terms of a higher Internet take-up rate or the achievement of the goal of a "one family, one computer" by the year 2,000, or connecting all schools to the Internet by turn of the century.
In fact, I would call on the Government to introduce an annual IT plan and report to Parliament which should be the subject of an annual Parliamentary debate to make IT a personal agenda for every Malaysian and to make sure that there would be no new divide between the "information-rich" and the "information-poor" in our society, as well as to ensure that our children do not become the new handicapped of the Information Society because of the their computer illiteracy.