Rural students' skills and attitudes towards information and communication technology.

Author:Judi, Hairulliza Mohamad
 
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INTRODUCTION

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) skills play an important role in developing a nation. ICT has been regarded as an important tool to leverage economy and society, thus mastering basic skills and concepts of ICT become one of the core parts in education, besides reading, writing and numeracy. ICT skills are necessary prerequisites for information literacy and life-long learning. Students who possess ICT skills will be able to serve as worthy citizens in their communities and understand how society operates in information age (Burniske, 2001). On the other hand, students who do not have these skills are likely to encounter more challenges with the increased workplace demands for computer literate employees (Hindi et al., 2002). The computer skills that are required by employers are download/upload files, web programming, designing and querying databases, install/upgrade softwares, developing and editing databases and word processing.

Among the required knowledge and skills for those who want to enter into the competitive employment market are proficiency with computer technology. Students who did not have access to computers and the Internet technology would potentially miss out the 70% of jobs which require moderate or high level computer knowledge and eventually ended up in the 10% low-paying jobs that do not require technical knowledge (Tella and Mutula, 2008).

The Malaysian government is committed to the use of ICT to boost economy and to become a developed nation by 2020. In striving to achieve this status, the government has outlined several important strategies to improve human resources in ICT which involve long-term planning to upgrade the quality of current education system in primary and secondary schools. Among important element in this planning is the establishment of Smart Schools. In 1999, a total of 88 schools were chosen to become smart schools which showcased the state-of-the-art teaching and learning using technology effectively and efficiently. According to the master plan, all 10,000 schools in Malaysia should become smart schools by 2010 Multimedia Development Corporation, 2005.

Malaysia's Ministry of Education (MoE) is equipping teachers with computer facilities such as notebooks, with the aim of increasing computer literacy and enhancing the learning experience for both students and teachers. A total of 100,000 notebook computers and 80,000 Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) projectors plus other peripherals and teaching courseware were provided for Malaysian Science, Mathematics and English language teachers. Moreover, the MoE plans to have all schools set up with wireless Local Area Networks (LANs) by 2007 (Kumar et al., 2008a). The MoE is also providing each school with computer laboratories, as mentioned in the Smart School Program. In addition, in the Computerization of Schools Program, the Ministry will provide between 20 to 40 computers to schools that have 600-1,200 students (Kumar et al., 2008b). A website known as MySchoolNet, was also set up by the MoE to help teachers and students access educational information readily and thus encourages interactive communication between Malaysian school children and students from other countries (Idrus and Atan, 2004).

Despite the various initiatives by the government to incorporate ICT in education, not much research has been done to evaluate the achievement of these initiatives and programmes, including ICT proficiency among students. It is expected that students are equally ICT literate in both urban and rural areas as there is no obvious evidence of digital divide between students in urban and rural areas exist in Malaysia (Yasin, 2002). Students in urban area seems to be more fortunate because they have more opportunity to access ICT facilities either by using their own computer or cybercafe in their neighbourhood. However, for students in rural areas, they depend mostly on computer facilities provided by their schools. Therefore, most schools in rural areas need help to run more ICT programmes and facilities to enhance their students' ICT skills.

This study reports the results based on data gathered from students in Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Tengku Temenggung Ahmad (SMKTTA), located in a rural area in Malaysia i.e., Kundang Ulu, regarding this issue. Kundang Ulu area has been selected by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia under one of its community service projects. A comprehensive plan for this community development looked at various aspects such as ICT literacy development and enhancement, health promotion and disease prevention and academic excellence. The researchers are members in the ICT project team. Various activities were implemented by the team such as providing training on hardware maintenance (Hairulliza et al., 2010). As one of the research objectives in the project, requirement analysis was conducted to identify the problems or gaps in ICT literacy among students in the area. This study seeks to shed some light with regard to the following questions:

* What are the backgrounds of students in rural area regarding ICT skills?

* What are the attitudes of the students in rural area concerning the use of ICT?

* What are the skills of these students concerning the use of computer technologies?

* What is the internet knowledge level of the students?

This study aims to discuss about ICT skills and attitude towards ICT, explain the research procedure undertaken in the project, present the results and suggest recommendations based on the findings.

Background of the study:

ICT skills: Information technology refers to method, tool, content and software involved in the unlimited process of developing, gathering, processing, managing, disseminating and recording of information.

Communication is a process of sending, receiving and sharing of means between the related parties. ICT includes tools, software, contents, applications and products that posses, bring together, promote, expose and record message or knowledge that can be accessed and used at anytime. Computer and internet are the tools that are most related to ICT. Among ICT tools and service include internet-based communication and transaction systems, mobile devices, computer integrated telephony, groupware, workflow and multimedia.

Skills are related to the ability or proficiency that is acquired or developed through training or experience. In order to complete assignments-from essay writing, to presentations, to analysis of data; students will need to develop skills in accessing and using the appropriate software available to support these activities. In this context, skills aspects refer to ability among students in using ICT which they learned in ICT programme such as skills in using Microsoft Office and surfing internet. Skills aspects focus on the ability among individual to apply and arrange their learning in a more creative and innovative way. Students, who are competent in ICT skills will be able to capture, process, store and transfer information that will enable them to focus on information content, communication, analysis, searching and evaluation (Bidgoli, 2004).

Various local studies have been done to measure ICT skills among students. While Teck and Lai (2011) and...

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