Digital Inclusion in Malaysia

In this age of rapid digital evolution, ensuring widespread access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) has become a serious goal for countries seeking economic modernization. And Malaysia is no exception. Efforts to increase digital inclusion in Malaysia are well underway.

Malaysia’s National Information Technology Council invests in building communications infrastructure in remote rural areas, including lands inhabited by peninsular Malaysia‘s Orang Asli indigenous people. The scope and expense of this task has raised questions regarding the practicability of installing effective communications infrastructure in outlying areas, and large segments of marginalized populations remain without digital access. However, Malaysia persists in its commitment to expanding ICT access and receives assistance in this regard from multinational conglomerates such as the Samsung Group.

Malaysia’s Orang Asli

Orang Asli, meaning “original people” in Malay, is an umbrella term encompassing the indigenous people of the Malay peninsula in modern-day Malaysia. These peoples comprise 18 distinct groups, together constituting half a percent of Malaysia‘s population. Such communities are more likely to live in remote rural regions.

As an impoverished minority, nearly 30.8 percent of Orang Asli are illiterate compared with only 8 percent of the total Malaysian population. Access of Malaysia’s Orang Asli to digital technology is more limited than in neighboring populations.

Digital Inclusion in Malaysia and Cultural Integrity

A study published in 2011 revealed that within the indigenous Semai population of Kampung Bukit Terang, only 5.2 percent were computer literate. This study’s outcome can be attributed to the remoteness and low educational and socioeconomic outcomes of these groups as compared with urban and non-indigenous populations within the country. The authors of the study recommend proactive policies, such as direct provisioning of technologies to remote communities, to expedite these communities’ integration into the digital economy.

Besides economic considerations, access to digital space has positive consequences for the preservation of indigenous culture. Digital technology facilitates spreading knowledge of the existence and cultures of indigenous groups and thus provides opportunities for cultural diffusion. An online presence may galvanize outside support for the preservation and appreciation of indigenous cultures.

Yet, access to modern technology may inadvertently corrupt centuries-old traditions, flattening uniqueness and disrupting continuity with the past. This threatens to irreversibly alter the identity of indigenous peoples, even to the extent of assimilation and loss of traditions. However, these potentially negative consequences do not necessarily outweigh the potentially positive consequences.

Promoting and Preserving the Culture

Through scientific polling, the Department of Social and Development Sciences of Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Faculty of Human Ecology uncovered that only 20.7 percent of Malaysia’s Orang Asli used ICT to spread cultural awareness to others and preserve their heritage. As of November 2015, two Facebook pages operated to promote indigenous culture, according to the nonprofit organization Gerai Orang Asli.

According to Dr. Sarjit Singh, particularly the young Orang Asli, as shown by their enjoyment of cyber cafes, are enthusiastic about the prospect of increased online access. The young are quick to master new technologies, and Dr. Singh suggests that authorities prioritize the installation of relevant technologies in schools wherever possible.

Increasing Digital Access

Programs initiated by the Samsung Group in Orang Asli regions have highlighted the adeptness and eagerness of Orang Asli youth in adapting to new technologies. For instance, in 2015 Samsung Malaysia Electronics sponsored a trip for Orang Asli children to a Malaysian amusement park, designing activities that required the youths to use smartphone technology. In affirmation of the possibility of coexistence between modern technology and the preservation of traditional lifestyles, a tree-planting followed these technology-centered activities.

In a separate initiative, Perak saw the establishment of a Samsung Smart Community Center in Perak providing improved digital access, products and an air-conditioned learning space to people in deprived areas. The Chief Minister of Perak expressed his hope that these investments will bolster the Malaysian government’s economic goals and lift these communities out of poverty.

Moving Forward

The government, in conjunction with multinational corporations such as the Samsung Group, has made progress in expanding digital inclusion in Malaysia. Obstacles remain because of the remoteness and relative poverty of these populations, but such impediments are overcome rather rapidly alongside the development of these technologies.

While the impact of digital technology on indigenous traditions and identity remains a concern, there is room to use digital technology in the preservation and promotion of these unique cultures. Though statistics gathered in prior studies confirm low rates of access to Malaysia’s Orang Asli to digital technology, if efforts persist, improvements will continue. As digital access and literacy continue to rise, poverty and marginalization will be conquered gradually, meaning that there is reason for optimism regarding the future of the Orang Asli in a modern economy.

– Philip Daniel Glass
Photo: Every Stock Photo

The Broadband Connectivity Gap: How the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development Is Closing the Connectivity Gap in Developing Nations.Broadband and the World Wide Web as we know it are over 20 years old. The ability to go online, search among multiple URLs (or Uniform Resource Locators) and hyperlinks and find information with a few clicks is a relatively new phenomenon that has changed the world. But still, according to the International Telecommunications Unit (ITU), some 52 percent of the world’s population does not have access to the internet. The broadband connectivity gap arises due to the lack of a broadband connection in developing nations.

In lacking broadband, developing nations are also lacking Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) which enable communities to engage with others around the world. ICTs provide ease of cross-national communication and transfer of information and have been successfully implemented by multiple industries including education and healthcare. A study by Ericsson found that social and economic indicators of a country’s sustainability are closely correlated with ICT maturity, suggesting that investing in ICTs can drive social and economic development worldwide.

In 2010, UNESCO and ITU established the Broadband Commission for Digital Development to “boost the importance of broadband on the international policy agenda”. In 2015, the commission evolved into the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development in response to the U.N.’s inception of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). In recognizing the importance of global broadband connection, the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development targets four of the seventeen SDGs (education, gender equality, infrastructure, and partnerships) with the objective to reach these goals by 2030.

The Broadband Commission met on September 17, 2017, in conjunction with the United Nations General Assembly. In the State of Broadband 2017 Report, the ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao recognized “that accessibility to broadband is increasing with more affordable prices worldwide (but that) by the end of 2017… 3.9 billion people will still not be online and only 17 percent of people in developing countries will be connected.”

While it is projected that 3.58 billion of the global population will be online by the end of 2017 (up from 3.4 billion at the end of 2016) the disparity between developed and developing countries is apparent. Global household connections, for example, display a disparity with “rates varying between 18 percent for Africa and 84.2 percent for Europe in 2017.” But closing the broadband connectivity gap can bring immense benefits to the world: the ITU’s 2017 annual report details that every additional $1 of ICT infrastructure investment could bring a return of $5 in global GDP by 2025.

The developing world accounts for 95 percent of the people facing this coverage gap. In order to address this, the Commission facilitates a discussion between UNESCO countries and leaders across multiple industries on how to achieve global broadband access by 2030. In response to technological advances, the Broadband Commission enforces policy implementation that allows technologies to bring broadband to the benefit of countries experiencing a connectivity gap. Major cities in developing nations are seeing the first effects of broadband because their infrastructure can support it. Of the people who are not currently connected, 1.25 billion live in an area without 3G or 4G mobile coverage. In rural areas with minimal access and insufficient infrastructure, the installation of broadband connectivity is necessary for developing technology to support further connectivity and finding solutions for future installations.

Mobile broadband networks, combined with the capabilities of smartphones, have enabled billions of people around the world to connect to voice and internet services. Now, nearly 50 percent of the world’s population has access to the technology needed to use these mobile networks. Leveraging this existing mobile infrastructure, according to the annual report, is the most cost-efficient way to bring more people online. Since 2010, mobile operators have invested $1.2 trillion in capital expenditure as they look to deploy mobile broadband networks and increase capacity. Much of these expenditures focus on developing the necessary infrastructure in remote areas to address the broadband connectivity gap. Digicel, for example, launched 4G services in Papua New Guinea in 2011 and now provides telecommunication services to nearly 500,000 previously unserved people.

The establishment of coverage in areas seeing a broadband connectivity gap is one thing, but bringing effective ICTs to the global community also requires the necessary speed and connection capabilities to encourage a sustainable user habit and contribute to affordability. Stronger connections to broadband networks support faster speeds and ease of access to the internet, which is where the fixed broadband networks come in. ITU’s annual report highlights two specific satellite technologies that are “challenging conventional assumptions about speed, capacity, and latency.” High-Throughput Satellites (HTS) and Non-Geostationary Orbit Satellites (NGSO) support increased broadband capacity, faster speeds and lower costs for rural, non-connected areas.

HTSs are small satellite devices like balloons or drones that “fly just around 20 to 50 kilometers off the ground and deliver ‘surgically precise’ connectivity to specific locations.” Many established satellite companies like Intelsat, Inmarsat and Eutelsat have already developed connections using HTS technology. NGSOs operate anywhere from 500 to 2,000 kilometers above the earth in clusters that deliver a steady stream of broadband.

Reaching the goal of complete global connectivity by 2030 needs a combination of complementary technologies and policies enforcing their implementation. Notable companies like Facebook and Google have partnered with satellite companies to provide connectivity to some of the hardest to reach areas on the globe. Each new development, partnership and plan of action advance access to broadband for developing countries. These capabilities go further than just providing access to the internet: broadband connections also lend towards developments in maritime research, aviation technologies and energy developments, to name a few. Global connections lead to breakthrough developments in other sectors and will bring developing nations into a new era of invention and close the broadband connectivity gap.

Eliza Gresh

Photo: Flickr

Education in NamibiaMultichoice Group is a prominent video entertainment and internet company in Africa. This past week, the corporation launched its Back-to-School campaign at the Jan Mohr Secondary School in Windhoek. The campaign aims to improve resources for education in Namibia.

The initiative was organized by Minister of Education, Arts and Culture Katrina Hanse-Himarwa in order to advocate for a more comprehensive Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) education.

The MultiChoice Resource Center Program was established to improve learning resources in remote areas across the continent. The organization is working directly with the ministry to meet the needs of education in Namibia. The program utilizes digital satellite technology in order to provide highly developed, updated educational materials to even the most rural communities.

MultiChoice is providing flatscreen televisions with Personal Video Recording (PVC) decoders, a mounting bracket and a satellite dish to various educational institutions across Namibia. The package will offer global educational content through channels such as Business Day TV, BBC World News, Mind-Set, NBC, History, BBC Knowledge, Animal Planet, Nat Geo Wild, National Geographic and Discovery Channel.

Since it began in 2004, MultiChoice’s partnership with the Ministry of Education in Namibia has outfitted over 300 schools. They have also provided all staff members at each of these MultiSource Resource Center schools with training on how to use the technology, as well as seminars on how to effectively incorporate the equipment into each school’s curriculum.

Over the past 15 years, MultiChoice has established more than 1,900 programs in 29 countries across Africa. The next step for MultiChoice, in conjunction with the Namibian government, is to focus on upgrading the existing MultiChoice Resource Center schools over the course of the next three years in order to promote the quality of education in Namibia.

Multiple studies conducted in the region have shown that ICT may be the most viable and cost-effective means of improving access to and quality of secondary education in Namibia. However, the Namibian government cannot afford to implement such regimes on its own, so collaborative partnerships through corporate social investments, such as MultiChoice, are essential.

Jaime Viens

Photo: Flickr