Computer camp to bridge communities

A cyber camp for children in Kota Kinabalu makes computer knowledge fun, interesting and easy to digest, reports HARIATI AZIZAN. 

SQUEALS of laughter and shouts of excitement rang through the air at the swimming pool of the Beringgis Beach Resort in the outskirts of Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.  

As dusk sets in, the children are summoned to change for dinner by their teachers, while a few trot down to the beach to catch a glimpse of the sunset.  

Although the KTKM-Maxis Cyberkids Software Camp is not a holiday camp, for 100 pupils from the district of Tawau, it was a fun-filled week. 

LIKE SPONGES:Most of the KTKM-Maxis Cyberkids Software Camp participants have already had some exposure to IT,and were thus able to absorbthe knowledge and skills imparted by the camp trainers all the more easily.

The unplanned “holiday” at the computer camp was the silver lining in the predicament running up to the big week. 

Says Yohani Yusof, a consultant with Maxis’ corporate affairs division: “We were going to hold the camp in Tawau, but then things did not work out and we had to move it to Kota Kinabalu. Can you imagine trying to get flights for 100 pupils and more than 20 teachers within less than a week?”  

Moving the VSAT (very small aperture terminal), or the satellite dish in layman’s terms, was no walk in the park either; but all’s well that ends well for the event held in Papar. Parents were reassured that their children would be well taken care of, and it was all systems go from there. 

Launched early this week, the Cyberkids Camp is the first of nine camps to be conducted for some 900 pupils and teachers from remote rural areas.  

It is the brainchild of the Ministry of Energy, Communications and Multimedia (KTKM) and Maxis, and falls under the Maxis Bridging Communities programme which aims to help communities use technology to improve the quality of life for themselves and others. Its main thrust is empowering and connecting the community, particularly the youth, through education and communications technology. 

Says Maxis chairman Tun Mohammed Hanif Omar: “Our objectives are simple – to help bridge the digital divide between urban and rural communities, to familiarise pupils with ICT, specifically with PCs and the Internet, and to encourage them to share their knowledge. We hope that by doing this, the quality of life for them, their families and communities will improve,”  

Maxis chief executive officer Datuk Jamaludin Ibrahim says the initiative will help expose rural children to the world of IT which might otherwise be inaccessible to them. 

“About a year or so ago, when we decided to give back to the community more than before, one of the many programmes that was suggested was bridging the digital divide. So we met up with the ministry (KTKM) to tell them what we were interested in and they suggested the camp idea,” he says. 

Under the KTKM programme to bridge the digital divide, the ministry has provided schools with hardware, but many have no idea how to use the technology, much less maximise the opportunity. 

Hence, the Cyberkids Camp is in line with the Government’s aim to narrow the gap – by providing training and promoting the use of wireless connectivity with equipment such as the VSAT and PCs. 

“It complements the Government’s initiative. We have allocated RM2mil for this and hope to develop it further as time goes on,” says Mohd Hanif. 

Eight more camps are in the works – another in Sabah, three in Sarawak and four in Perlis. 

A pilot camp held in Kota Kinabalu last December saw 60 pupils from rural schools in Sabah learn all about computers, the Internet and more. A few of these schools have since set up computer clubs and are conducting their own IT workshops.  

“The success of the pilot camp encouraged us to extend the IT training to 900 pupils and teachers from about 100 schools. Our hope is that these participants, like the campers in the pilot project, will continue to utilise the skills learnt, as well as share the information with their peers and members of their communities,” says Mohd Hanif. 

Hence, the pupils who take part in the camp are specially selected for their academic ability and leadership quality.  

“They not only have to teach their schoolmates when they get back, but also set up computer clubs,” says Mohd Hanif. 

Despite their “heavy responsibility”, the pupils show much enthusiasm and are eager to learn. 

“I know a bit about computers but I still have a lot to learn. This place looks like fun, so I am quite excited,” says Siti Madiah, 11, from SK Sri Pantai, Tawau.  

To the 100 pupils and their teachers, a bit of hard work and discipline is a small price to pay for the knowledge they gain from the seven-day camp. 

Working in a “train the trainer” model, the camp is designed so that teachers and children can pass all that they learn to their friends when they return to school. Hence knowledge and skill are disseminated for the benefit of many. 

The camp at Beringgis Beach Resort had pupils aged 10 and 11, and their teachers from 17 schools, all eager to learn basic computer skills, the basic functions of Microsoft Word and PowerPoint programmes, Internet navigation, and the use of Internet for educational purposes.  

Mostly, they learnt not to be afraid of the computer. 

Says teacher Zuraidah Ismail, of SK Bukit Balacan, Lahad Datu, the lack of infrastructure is only part of the problem in rural areas. 

“Most students don’t have enough exposure to IT and do not know how to use computers to help themselves. They can play games but are not sure how to use it for learning and research,” she says. 

According to her, the Internet penetration rate in her school is less than 50%, but the pupils who have been selected to participate in the camp are those familiar with IT. 

Her colleague, Siti Rubiah Samad, says that while most of those who attend the camp have at least minimal experience in IT (some have computers at home), there is so much for them to learn. 

“Many only know how to play games. After the camp, I think they will be able to use their computer knowledge to improve their studies as well as help their friends who do not have access to computers or have no IT experience,” she says. 

Teacher Harris Majis of SK Pulau Bait, Semporna, shares Siti Rubiah’s enthusiasm. 

“We have just received our computers from the ministry and they created such a buzz. The training will come in handy when we go back to school and set up the lab and look into training,” he says. 

For continuity, the schools are given the opportunity to create their own websites, which will be hosted by Maxis. The websites will link them to other schools and communities.  

The pupils will also be given access to Maxis’ learning programmes through its community website which offers online tutorials for subjects such as English, Science and Mathematics, as well as self-development programmes.  

The cyber camp might not produce IT whiz kids overnight, but it will certainly empower school children to face the challenges of the k-economy, says Maxis CEO Jamaludin. 

“We believe that the camps will be effective in achieving our aims to bridge the rural-urban digital divide. By adopting schools, we can help one, two, or, at the most, 10 schools. This way, we can help 100 schools a year. At the end of the day, more will benefit.” 

For the children, the camp opens up a whole new world to them. 

Mohd Zulfikar Ambotang, Mohd Syukri Zaharudin and Mohd Haniff Basa say excitedly the cyber camp is an experience of a lifetime. They might be having a lot of fun in the games, outdoor activities and making friends, they say, but nothing beats exploring the computer and the Internet. 

“We never knew that there is so much to see and do on the computer. We are having a great time and we are so glad that we came,” says Mohd Zulfikar, speaking for the trio.

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