Thursday October 4, 2012
Cyberkids in the making at Sarawak IT camp
By S.S. YOGA
An IT camp in the interior of Sarawak turned out to be a hit among students and teachers alike.
THEY are a teacher’s dream class. The enthusiasm emanating from the students was almost palpable as we (the media and staff of Maxis) entered the classroom in SMK Belaga, Sarawak.
One of the facilitators present remarked: “You don’t see this level of enthusiasm and interest in urban schools.”
How true indeed. For where else could you find students asking for a 9am-5pm camp to be extended to 10pm?
Martin Dian, 34 , who teaches IT and English at the school, said the students assembled for the Maxis Cyberkids camp which was held recently, were between the ages of 14 and 17. They were selected based on their academic results and extra-curricular activities.
“We look at their leadership qualities. Many of them are not IT students. We could have offered this camp to our IT students but they chose to pass on the opportunity to other non-IT students to give them the exposure,” explained Martin.
He added that the two-day camp was for students; selected teachers get their training the third day. The camp was supposed to run from 9am to 5pm, but the students requested for it to be extended to 10pm, if not later!
And they came back on the third day to finish their assignments and present them to the teachers and trainer.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Maxis Cyberkids programme which kicked off in 2002. It was initiated by Maxis (in cooperation with the Education Ministry) to bridge the digital divide and take IT education and infrastructure into rural communities like Belaga.
Belaga is 182km from the coastal town of Bintulu (which is in the midpoint of Sarawak and 650km from Kuching). To get there you take a boat ride from Sibu or travel by road from Bintulu. The last 82km is a very dusty and bumpy logging track interspersed by short stretches of “good” road. To put it succinctly, getting there is very much a “rock and roll” journey.
Although Belaga is deep in the interior and the Internet connection is not so great, the students are not clueless about IT.
Sherine Sim, 14 , a Form 2 student, was happy to have been selected. She was delighted to pick up new skills to enhance the blog she started last year.
“We were divided into groups and each group had to make a video on Cyberkids and a typical day in our lives. This is all new to me and it’s so interesting. We were also taught how to create an application for the Android phone. That was great,” gushed Sherine.
Mohd Afiq Hisyam, 15, did not sign up for IT as a subject in school. However, he has a laptop and is familiar with IT for social networking purposes.
Many of the students in Belaga have a laptop in their households as a result of a government scheme to provide laptops to families in the interior.
“I learnt so many new things at the camp. Now I want to have my own blog and I love this Android application. I never thought I could do all this. We’re doing an application to promote tourism in the state of Sarawak for our assignment,” said the Form 3 student.
He added that the students asked for their camp time to be extended because they wanted to make the most of this rare opportunity.
Mohd Afiq is really excited about the camp, and he hopes to be a programmer or an application designer one day. Meanwhile, Sherine plans to use her newly acquired IT skills to teach the younger kids in the school.
One of the requirements of the Maxis Cyberkids camp is that the participating students and schools, should set up a Cyberkids Club. The students who attended camp could then pass on the skills they learnt to their fellow students.
Mohd Afiq also plans to teach the villagers in the community. He is unfazed by the fact that the elders might be put off by a young kid trying to teach them. “We want to share the knowledge, so I don’t think they will care about my age,” said Mohd Afiq.
The teachers selected for the experience were happy to be there, too. This is the first time the teachers were included in the camp; it used to be strictly for students.
“The connection here is quite unstable until Maxis came in recently. I had to pay for a broadband connection myself and source out information for the students. They can’t do research themselves as the line is bad,” said General Paper teacher Nora Julita Johar, 31, who hails from Perak. Nora Julita has been teaching Form Six classes in SMK Belaga for the past seven years. She is glad to be exposed to new techniques using open source software.
Physics and Mathematics teacher Wong Chiong Siong, 26, is all in support of using IT as an effective teaching tool.
“It makes lessons more interesting and it’s easier to capture the students’ attention,” said Wong who hails from Sibu.
“The Cyberkids Portal that was set up is an excellent site which gives the children access to free resources,” said English teacher Lee Mei Fon, 26. Lee, who is from Sarikei, Sarawak, has been teaching in Belaga for three years.
The Maxis Cyberkids camp was a resounding success as the participants – students and teachers alike – were happy with their newly acquired skills.
The students learnt to make videos, set up blogs and picked up Android applications, and the assignments they turned in, showed just how versatile and creative they can be when given an opportunity.
Bridging the digital divide