|Issue:||Asia-Pacific I 1999|
|Topic:||Engendering Technological Advancement In Malaysia: Pros and Cons|
|Author:||Dr Rashila Raml|
|Organisation:||Dept of Political Science, University Kebangsaan|
Prior to the inset of the economic crisis in October 1997, Malaysia was experiencing tremendous economic growth, averaging 7-8%. This growth was achieved under the aegis of Malaysian industrialising policies which emphasised the expansion of the manufacturing sector. In order to support such a growth, the government concentrated on technological advancements both at a policy level and in the development of technologically skilled personnel. This emphasis had an impact on t the education sector in numerous ways, such as retooling physical facilities, retraining teaching staff and changing the mindset of educators and students. This article attempts to highlight the pros and cons of technological advancement especially in relation to achieving universal access in two sectors: telecommunications and education. These two sectors are interrelated, human resources having developed through the education sector and fed into the telecommunications industry.
New Technology in Schools Education has been identified as one of the main thrusts of development especially with the inception of the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1972. The main objectives of this policy is to eradicate poverty and and restructure the socio-economic status of the multi-ethnic population. In order to achieve these objectives, billions of ringgit(?0 have been invested into the sector resulting in new schools, and universities. Some of the investment has also been spent on scholarships enabling Malaysian students to study abroad and on the design of a curriculum in order to meet the needs of a developing nation. Money has also been invested in the training of teachers and lecturers who are responsible for the education and supervision of the young and old illiterates of the country. These efforts have paid off and proof can be found in documantation, illustrating that the literacy rate has risen form 30% in 1980 to 85% in 1990 (Malaysia, 1996). Furthermore, the number of students graduating with a first degree have increased substantially over the years. A New Era for Women Within this realm women have benefited substantially. The higher level of education has opened doors to fields generally exclusive to the male population , such as engineering, architecture, physical sciences and other technology based subjects. According to Maimunah (1995), the number of women entering technology oriented courses have increased, though still lagging behind the men. For educators, the availability of computers have allowed them to build upon their creativity in presenting teaching material to their students. In my own experience, I was able to use the internet to access a simulation program which was conducted at the University of Maryland. The International Comunications and Negotiation Simulation (ICONS) project allows students from many countries to interact with each other for up to three weeks, during which they are able to ascertain each countrys position on certain issues. During this particular negotiation program, Malaysian students interacted with students from China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines. The students gained different perspectives while conducting negotiation based on a simultaneous interaction. Such an experience could not have taken place without the internet in a normal classroom situation. In another project 25 students from UKM (?)were connected with 25 other students from Pennsylvania State University via e-mail. In this case, students exchanged questions and answers in order to acquire first hand knowledge on the American political system, gender issues, and relevant foreign policy position. Once again, the ultimate benefit is the exposure to a different culture through the usage of telecommunications. Potential Drawbacks Technological advances brings a number of benefits to the education sector but simoultanesly there are also some drawbacks.. First, the public education sector has not been able to keep up with the private sector because there are not enough computers in the schools or the universities. At present, the policy is to provide computer support to the administrative staff, leaving out the needs of the students If the support is not made available, it can be very costly for the students. In the two cases mentioned above, the main problem was the inadequacy of the hardware support system. The problem became greater when the software happened to be of archival material. This situation caused a lot of unnecessary frustration for both teachers and students. Access for all Second, the governments policy to encourage a computer for each house is also recommendable. However, the implementation of such an act is difficult to achieve especially in the present economic situation. . Family priorities have changed; people are more concerned with ensuring that their basic needs are met. In other words, money allocated to the purchase of a computer may be shifted to other more pressing areas such as payment for school books and rent. Third, in engendering this field, one have noticed that male students tend to be more versatile in the handling of the hardware of a computer component compared to girls. However, the girls tend to posses a higher level of tolerance when faced with problems relating to the software program. From another dimension, Chinese students tend to have higher computer proficiency compared to students from other ethnic groups. Yet, another viewpoint is that, the aforementioned is a summary of various responses to the introduction of information technology. Telecommunications technology such as the internet has developed into an industry which have created job opportunities. In a study conducted by Cecilia Ng in 1995, it was documented that there has been a 45% t increase in womens share of direct high-skilled jobs such as systems analysts and computer programmers. However, the study also indicates that there has been a decline in womens share of the low-skilled data processing operator, i.e., from 91% to 62% in 1990 (Ng. 1998: 16). The Home Office The introduction of efficient telecommunications in the country has allowed for the implementation of a flexible work environment policy, and the establishment of Small Office Home Office (SOHO). In the first case, some companies allow their staff to operate from his/her house. For women, this policy has made it possible for them to combine effective childcare while still holding their current positions in their companies. A flexible work environment creates a healthy atmosphere for people. It can be argued that a work friendly environment will enhance productivity thus increasing the revenue of a company. In the second case, due the present economic crisis, a retrenchment has taken place in the sectors of property and manufacturing. Such hardship for many workers has led to greater creativity. Here, the concept of SOHO? is gaining wider acceptance by individuals who prefer to be their own bosses. Many small businesses have been set-up in private homes since it is becoming more expensive to rent offices. Through an initial investment in telecommunications equipment, one is able to conduct a commercially successful venture. In one case, the small maritime company moved its office from a commercial shop lot to the house, and is able to operate in the usual manner. Many direct selling ventures also operate from the homes of stockists who accept sales orders through telephones or faxes. Delivery could then be made by a courier or by other means. In the era of globalisation, telematics will help to increase productivity through a faster performance of tasks while eliminating unnecessary manual jobs. Health Risks The Malaysian telecommunications industry has already been privatised and the government owned TELECOM is now a private company. Private management pays more attention to the bottom line – right sizing and down sizing have occurred in many companies. Women are likely to loose out in these cases because they would be the first to be retrenched since a majority holds the low-skill jobs. Another phenomena one has observed is the increase in health related problems. Due to tight deadlines or target data entry objectives, many workers, men and women had to spend long hours in front of the computer screen. Thus, there has been an increase in number of complaints of eye strain and backaches. In the long run, such health problems, if allowed to go unchecked, will lead to a decrease in productivity, hampering the governments objectives of achieving the developed status in 2020. Wider Choices – More Freedom Telecommunications has broadened the minds of Malaysians. By surfing the internet, information and news which are considered undesirable by the government can still be obtained by the general public. In the present political crisis, people are using the internet widely to obtain and disseminate information which are not available through ordinary media channels. While one could argue that such information may be false, a different point of view is that at least some information must be accurate and suitable for ones needs. In other words, the world of space age telecommunications has provided an alternative way towards freedom of expression. Both government mechanism and private organisations/individuals are engaged in a cyber space dialogue. Conclusion Universal access via telematics has its advantages and disadvantages. In the fields of education and telecommunications, men and women engage in a conversation which is based on an uneven relationship. Such conversation has led to a re-negotiation of work environments and personal achievements Therefore, while technology has the ability to empower humankind, women in particular need to utilise this agent in order achieve a balanced parity, may it be in the work place, the public space or in the private sphere.