Full support for  Abdullah’s decision not to build any more “smart schools” but instead to focus on making all the 10,000 schools “smart” with ICT facilities – a proposal  DAP had made  in Parliament eight years ago!

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Sunday): I welcome and fully support the announcement by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi that the Government will not build any more smart schools but will instead convert all 10,000 national schools into smart schools by equipping them with information and communications technology (ICT) facilities – a proposal which DAP had made in Parliament eight years ago! 

Abdullah said It costs RM20 million to RM30 million to build a smart school and that did not include the cost of equipping it.  Conversion of all 10,000 schools with ICT facilities would be quicker and more cost-effective. 

He said: “With that money, we can convert many schools into smart schools”, adding that the conversion of national schools into smart schools would be done in phases as it would take time to convert all the 10,000 national schools. 

As far back as eight year ago in Parliament in 1996, I had questioned the many conceptual fallacies of the “smart school” project as one of the seven flagship applications of the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC).  

In my speech on the Royal Address in Parliament in March 1997, I called  on the Cabinet to take the policy decision to drop the term “smart school” altogether.  There could be “smart” cards and even buildings could be “smart ready” to incorporate future “intelligent environments”, but it is most inappropriate to call schools using information technology education as “smart schools” - just as it would sound most odd to call books which are in electronic form “smart books”.

The term “smart school” will also create the unnecessary and misplaced sense of superiority or inferiority as the case may be between schools which are fortunate to be wired with the latest IT applications and those which are not so fortunate as well as between schools with different student-computer ratios.

The Education Ministry must be brave enough to admit that the “smart school” project had been a major and  dismal failure – ending in the  still-ongoing outrageous computer laboratory scandal of collapsing roofs, unsafe buildings and uncompleted laboratories, costing the taxpayers hundreds of millions of ringgit without a single person charged in court for criminal breach of trust or downright cheating!

Seven years ago in 1997, Parliament and the nation was told that the “smart school” project would start with the first pioneer intake of 4,000 students in January 1999, that it would be extended to 500 schools in 2,000 involving some 300,000 students. In July 1999, the then Education Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak dismissed delays in the full  implementation of the Smart School Project as “teething problems” (very much like the current  troube-plagued National Service Training Programme) and announced the new target for  all the 9,000 schools nationwide to attain “smart-school status” by the year 2,002.

We are now in 2004, and Malaysians have suddenly woken up with a thud  to find that “it will take time” to convert all the schools into smart schools – when this objective should have been achieved two years ago in 2002!

Parliament when it reconvenes tomorrow should conduct a wide-ranging debate on the lessons to be learnt in the failure of the smart school project as one of the seven MSC flagship applications, and why the many constructive suggestions made by the DAP in Parliament six to eight years ago to radically change the country’s educational outlook so as to  harness the full power of technology and intellectual capital to bring about sustained growth had not been given full and serious consideration.

For instance, when debating  the Education Ministry estimates in Parliament  in November 1996, I proposed that the government launch a three-point IT plan to ensure that the 250,000 teachers in the country were  computer-literate by the year 2,000 so that they could  guide the new generation of schoolchildren, viz:  

  • A special teacher-training programme to make every secondary and primary school teacher computer-literate by the year 2000;
  • A special loan scheme to encourage and provide an incentive to the 250,000 teachers to buy a personal computer; and
  • A special discount package to the 250,000 teachers to subscribe to the Internet.

Malaysia today would have been one of the world’s  pioneers in the field of technology in education instead of being a laggard if these proposals had been accepted and implemented.  As Parliament has been given notice by the Finance Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi that the government is seeking parliamentary approval for supplementary development estimates for this year to the tune of RM6.134 billion (as part of the RM10 billion additional Eighth Malaysia Plan development allocation announced by Abdullah last month), the debate on the second 2003 supplementary development estimates would be the right and proper occasion to debate the failure of the smart school MSC flag application application and project.


* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Member of Parliament for Ipoh Timor & DAP National Chairman