(Kuala Lumpur, Sunday): Two weeks ago, I had asked the Education Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in Parliament how many primary and secondary schools in Malaysia have Internet connections and have homepages on the Internet.
In his answer, the Education Minister gave a list 14 secondary schools which come under the Munsyi Network Pilot Project which are hooked to the Internet and have their homepages, with one school in each state.
I find the Education Ministerís answer most disappointing, as his list of 14 schools was most pathetic when we consider that there were 1,476 secondary schools with 1.73 million students as of 1.1.1996 under the national education system.
It was also extremely disappointing that the Education Minister was unable to name a single primary school in the country which has a homepage on the Internet although there were 7,049 primary schools with 2.84 million students in the country as of 1.1.96.
In contrast, Singapore has 19 primary schools with websites on the Internet and 45 secondary schools with homepages.
There was a howl of protest in the Malaysian newsgroups on the Internet at the answer given by the Education Minister, for the Education Ministry which prepared the answer for the Education Minister either did not track the number of schools with homepages or do not wish to recognise the efforts which had been made by schools which have put up homepages on their own as a result of the initiative and co-operation of the school, teachers, parents and students.
This is because the Jaringís list of schools with homepages number 55 - and this is clearly not a full and exhaustive list. It does not speak well about the seriousness of the Education Ministry in getting schools to be connected to the Internet when it is unable to to have a correct and up-to-date information about schools having their own homepages.
One young netizen, Eugene Kang, sent a posting to the Malaysian newsgroups saying that from his personal experience and information from his schools friends around Malaysia, many schools in Malaysia have the hardware necessary for an Internet hookup. Unfortunately, not all of them are being utilised as some of the teachers in those schools are "too worried" that the hardware would get damaged if the students are allowed to touch it.
In the ensuing newsgroup discussion where the fear of exposing students to pornography on the net was raised, this young netizen made the valid comment that teachers who seek to build "seven-feet walls" by denying students access to the Internet are uninformed teachers, who only see the bad parts of the net or do not know that there are ways to get around it as installing filter-capable web browsers to filter out the porn sites.
He said: "They still think that our students will get corrupted if they get onto the net. Perhaps they could learn from the K-12 projects going on in the States where schools have full internet access (on a minimum 56k line at that). Closed minds donít help at all."
The views of this young netizen should be food for thought for the Education Ministry and all school administrators so that they do not approach the problem of encouraging students to go on net in school with a closed mind.
I had suggested that the Education Ministry should give this matter urgent attention and should set a target to have 10 per cent of the 8,500 primary and secondary schools in the country to put up their own homepages by the end of this year, as such a target will send out a clear message to the 250,000 teachers and 4.5 million students in the 8,500 schools in the country that the government is serious about information technology in education.
I would even suggest that the Education Ministry should announce an annual competition for the three best school homepage sites each year to encourage schools to get boldly onto the Internet and to remove the fear of teachers that students would get corrupted by Internet.