Connecting all schools to Internet will not be top national priority so long as country has a Tenaga Chairman who is not committed to supplying all schools with electricity immediately and wiring up all schools to Internet

Media statement
by Lim Kit Siang 

(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): I have full sympathy with the three-term UMNO Member of Parliament, Datuk Ruhanie Ahmad who threatened yesterday to walk out from the Dewan Rakyat if his request for clarification was rejected as it highlights the long-standing and unsatisfactory Ministerial replies to serious issues raised by Members of Parliament - whether by the government backbenchers or the Opposition.

In the case in question, MPs were dissatisfied with the inability of the parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Education, Datuk Mahadzir Mohd Khir to provide a  satisfactory reply on the bridging of the digital divide affecting rural students by coming out with a timeframe when the schools in remote areas would be equipped with IT facilities.

I fully agree with Ruhanie when he stood up and said:

I can sympathise with Ruhanie’s frustration because I had raised these same issues of the digital backwardness of the rural schools in the last Parliament and all I got was evasions and more evasions.

Five years ago in 1996, I had proposed in Parliament that Malaysia should proclaim the Knowledge Society as a national vision and strategic objective in response to the challenge of information technology.

It is only belatedly now that the Government is talking about a K-economy and taking what must be the longest time in the world for any country to draft a K-economy master plan.

Five years ago, on 20th December 1995, I moved an amendment to the Education Bill 1995 during the Committee stage in Parliament  to make "computer literacy" a core subject for the primary and  secondary school  curriculum, which would require all rural schools to be supplied with electricity and equipped with IT facilities,  but this amendment was rejected by Barisan Nasional MPs.

I had proposed that all the over 2000 rural schools in the country without electricity supply in 1996 should be supplied with electricity by the end of 1998 and that all the 8,500 primary and secondary schools in the country hooked up to the Internet by the end of 2000.

In retrospect, it might not be a coincidence that the only Barisan  MP who spoke and voted against my amendment to the new Education Bill to make computer literacy a core subject for the primary and secondary school curriculum was the UMNO MP for Rompin, Datuk Haji Jamaluddin Jarjis who is today the Chairman of Tenaga Nasional Bhd.

Connecting all schools to the Internet and equipping  all remote rural schools with IT facilities cannot be a  top national priority so long as the country has a Tenaga Chairman who is not committed to supplying all schools with electricity immediately and wiring up all schools to the Internet  - an attitude he manifested as far back as five years ago when he opposed and voted against making computer literancy a core subject for primary and secondary school curriculum.

It is very sad that the past five years have been wasted years as far as wiring up all schools for the information age is concerned and if we take into consideration that a human year is equated to five Internet years,  we have wasted 25 Internet years as far as the young generation is concerned.

I remember that after my speech on the Education Ministry during the committee stage debate of the 1997 Budget on November 26, 1996, where I called for a crash programme to make all the 250,000 primary and secondary school teachers computer-literate by the year 2000, the Education Ministry upped the ante a month later and the then Secretary-General of the Ministry, Tan Sri Datuk Dr. Mohd Wan Zahid Nordin announced that the education system was undergoing a radical transformation and that by the end of the decade, no school children would leave school without being computer-literate.

We have passed "the end of the decade" but has the Education Ministry delivered on this "radical transformation"?  In fact, would the Education Minister dare to claim that by the end of the first year of the first decade in the new millennium, more than half of the school children leaving school are computer-literate?


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman