25 August 2003
Kerpan, a rural area in the northern part of Malaysia where paddy farming is the main source of income for most households, recognised that it was important for its community -- especially its youth -- to embrace information and communications technology.
It wanted to equip its youth with ICT knowledge for sustainable community development, and provide a platform for them to contribute to local social and economic development.
Ultimately, it wanted to create a new generation of tech-savvy farmers.
However, according to the Farmer's Organisation Area C-2 Kerpan, only youths who furthered their studies in the city had the opportunity to gain ICT skills. Adding salt to the community's wound, many of them choose to remain in the city after they finish their studies.
The organisation is taking pre-emptive measures before the digital divide amongst the Kerpan community widens any further. It has joined forces with non-governmental organisation (NGO) K-DOT Force (www.kdotforce.net.my) to establish a "K-Youth" programme to address this issue.
The Farmer's Organisation Area C-2 Kerpan hopes to cultivate youth's spirit of volunteerism, partnership and technopreneurship through the use of ICT knowledge, said K-Dot programme leader Adeline Chee.
The initial intake kicked off in July, and now the second intake will involve 45 Kerpan youths aged 13- to 18-years-old, she said.
Divided into several phases, the project will introduce the students to the basic world of computing, covering areas like the Windows operating system, open source applications, and surfing the Internet, she said.
The K-Youth programme was one of two local projects that won the recent Samsung DigitAll Hope 2003 award. The other went to the Federation of Family Planning Associations Malaysia (FFPAM) for its Online Youth Entrepreneurship Series (O-Yes).
The projects received a RM164,200 grant each.
K-Dot's Chee said the RM164,200 fund gives the K-Youth project the opportunity to upgrade its computer lab by purchasing extra PCs so that more youths -- and also older villagers -- will have the chance to learn about ICT.
To date, the project's lab has eight PCs and a Jaring connection, donated by Mimos Bhd for the purpose.
FFPAM, established in 1958, is a federation of 13 Family Planning Associations representing all the states in Malaysia. The O-Yes project aims to inspire its beneficiaries, namely students aged 17-24, to look at entrepreneurship as a possible career path.
Launched three months ago, the Samsung DigitAll Hope 2003 award -- comprising RM2.28mil in cash and a host of Samsung hardware -- went out to 15 organisations in eight Asia Pacific countries: Australia, Singapore, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Themed Live Your Dream, the award aims to bridge the digital divide and raise awareness of youth and technology development.
Overall, Samsung received over 200 entries for consideration.
These projects were evaluated by an independent judging committee, based on their relevance to social and technological issues currently prevalent in each country, said Kim Jeong-Wook, chief representative of Samsung Electronics Co Ltd.
Projects funded by the DigitAll Hope also included a “hope incubator” in India that will set up 10 educational and IT vocational training centres to be run by young entrepreneurs in rural areas.
In Thailand, an e-learning and children’s health project will use ICT to enhance teaching methods about disease prevention at secondary schools, he said.
Bridging the divide
The digital divide, an issue that was raised by the world leaders at the United Nations Millennium Summit, is affecting youth that make up nearly 20% of the region's population.
According to 2002 International Telecommunication Union (ITU) data, only about 5.5% of Asians are Internet users, compared to 24.4% in America and 20.79% in Europe.
Also, only about 4% of Asians own PCs as compared to 27.5% in America and 20% in Europe.
This relatively low level of IT use and penetration places these countries at a disadvantage in a rapidly networked world, according to the report.
A research study carried out by the Centre for International Development, on the readiness of a community to join the networked world, found that five out of the eight countries involved in the Samsung DigitAll Hope programme ranked in the lower half of a total of 75 countries.
The research also showed that 12% of Malaysians own a computer and the number of Internet users in the country is approximately 27% of the total population.
According to Malaysian Youth Council (MYC) vice-president Loka Ng Sai Kai, bridging the digital divide between different youth groups in the country was one of the issues confronting the country's policy makers and also those working with youth groups.
MYC is the coordinating body for all youth organisations in Malaysia.
In a recent pilot survey on ICT awareness among rural youth carried out by the National Information Technology Council (NITC) and MYC, the results showed that while 50% of youths use computers in their daily lives, only 28% had a computer at home, said Ng.
"This means 72% of them do not have a computer at home," he said.
More effort was needed to increase computer ownership at home. "NGOs -- especially youth organisations in Malaysia -- can play a big role in channelling resources to the 'have-nots' with the support and cooperation of government bodies and private sectors such as this DigitAll Hope programme," he added.
By ZAM KARIM