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e-Bario - Bridging the Digital Divide
Interview: IEICE Technical Committee on
Information Communication Management
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IEICE Fellow, Prof. Dr. Wolfgang-Martin Boerner
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APSITT2010 by IEICE Communications Society
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|Message from TFIPP Secretariat
Greetings to all of IEICE members, researchers and students! Allow me to introduce you with our e-Bario activities with the aim towards creating brighter future for our society where the gdigital divideh would be lessened through sharing the benefit of evolving information and communication technologies (ICT). I believe our experience will surely encourage people who have been interested in solving the digital divide worldwide.
For the benefit of the readers, let me give you a brief information about Sarawak. It is the largest State in Malaysia making up 37.5% of the total population in Malaysia and one of two States in East Malaysia situated in the famous island of Borneo. Covered with vast tropical rain forests with its exotic flora and fauna, numerous animal species, not to mention its friendly and beautiful multi-ethnic population, Sarawak, Land of the Hornbills, is undeniably a unique and interesting place to visit. On that same note, our university, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, proudly known as UNIMAS, was established in December 24th 1992 under the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971, soon after the declaration of an important national development plan, called gWAWASAN 2020h (translated as Vision 2020 in English). Located at the south east of the Administrative Capital City of Kuching, it is the eighth public university in Malaysia, and the first one initiated by the aspirations of Vision 2020. Initially, the main campus at Kota Samarahan was officially launched by the then Malaysian Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad on Malaysian Independence Day in 1993. Later in April 24th 2006, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the fifth Prime Minister of Malaysia was given the honour to officiate the new campus which is located just a drive away from the old campus area.
Sufficed with that information, now let us get to the main part of the topic. The idea of bringing the Internet to Bario was conceived as a research project by a group of academic staff at UNIMAS to determine opportunities for social development available from the deployment of ICT within remote communities in Sarawak. Bario means a highly remote and isolated village in the State of Sarawak. The only practical way of reaching Bario is a one-hour flight on a 19-seater plane or a journey by rivers and trekking which will take at least two weeks. The Bario population of 1,000 people comprises mainly of Kelabits, one of the smallest ethnic groups in Sarawak. They are mainly farmers producing pineapples and the famous fragrant Bario rice. Prior to the start of the e-Bario project, they had neither electricity supply nor telephone service. The communication was conducted by radio calls, as well as by sending messages to departing passengers, and receiving messages from arriving passengers at the airport.
Therefore, the e-Bario project was implemented with the objective to define the extent to which contemporary ICTs could deliver sustainable human development to remote rural communities. It is also aimed to identify further needs and opportunities within such communities that can be satisfied by the innovative use of ICTs, and through action-oriented measures, to demonstrate how significant and sustainable development can be achieved by remote communities through such implementations.
The project was undertaken against the background of the Malaysian Governmentfs aggressive adoption of ICTs for national development and the underdeveloped infrastructure and scattered population of Sarawak. It has as its rationale, the delivery of equal access to ICTs for those remote and marginalised communities that characterise the rural life in Sarawak, and which contain more than half of the Statefs population. At that point of time, in most of such communities, the areas are almost inaccessible by roads, and they have only access to meagre or non-existent telecommunications services. The objectives were to demonstrate that access to ICTs, specifically the Internet, could precipitate significant improvements in the lives of such communities.
The e-Bario project involved the secondary school focusing on the e-Learning initiative, as well as the community for the e-Community initiative. With the communityfs access to ICTs, an increased computer literacy exists among the students, teachers and community. Students who have undergone computer training are even with their urban counterparts in terms of knowledge and skills. The community members, including/from the council of elders, the village safety and development committee to the layperson, play an important role in the planning, decision making, and management of the telecentre. The telecentre is now self-sustaining since it is earning enough revenue from payments for computer and Internet usage to pay for minor maintenance and the salary of technical support staff.
There has been a clear improvement of livelihood of the community since the introduction of e-Bario in 1999. The community is now able to communicate with the outside world using telephone and email. This can be of immense importance during emergencies. Those involved in the tourism industry, they have taken advantage of the ICTs as they are now able to liaise with potential clients directly via email, and to confirm accommodation bookings online. In addition, some of them are using the Internet to promote their trekking service and the other tourism businesses. The most obvious impact has been an increase in the number of tourists and visitors there. And this can contribute significantly to the increased of revenue for the community. More youths and their family members are coming back to and staying in Bario to provide accommodation for visitors and other tourist services, and this has successfully resulted in reduced migration of local people to urban areas.
Due to the great success of the e-Bario project, the UNIMAS team has been given the opportunity and honor by the Malaysian Government to replicate the same implementation model to 5 other nationwide remote sites throughout Malaysia. So far we have implemented successfully two projects at Long Lamai in Sarawak (known as e-Lamai) and Kampong Buayan in another State, Sabah (known as e-Buayan). The other 3 sites have been identified and the implementation work is currently on-going.
Up to date, the e-Bario project is internationally recognized by many institutions. It has received awards including the Industry Innovators Award for Systems Development and Applications by Society of Satellite Professionals International (2002), Prime Ministerfs Information Technology Award (2003), eASIA Award for the Bridging the Digital Divide Category (2004), Mondialogo Engineering Award by UNESCO and Daimler-Chrysler (2005), and Commonwealth Association for Public Administration and Management (CAPAM) Gold Medal for International Innovation Award (2006), to name a few.
aI hope that this project will lead a chance toward the bright future for those who have suffered from the digital divide in various parts of the world, and now they may share the benefits of the advancement ICT and its applications.
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