Bridging the rural-urban digital gap

The Digital Community Centre housed at Perpustakaan Desa Bahagia Jaya Teku, Sibu.

Public libraries have been around forever. The Roman Empire was the first to establish them in the western world. Then Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (whose reign across parts of North Africa spanned from 996–1021) financed and established libraries open to the public to access books and even get them copied free of charge.

No matter the era, libraries have always served the greater public good by giving free access to people to learn and cultivate their interests.

Today, in the age of the digital economy, the aim to improve the community’s socio-economic status through the sharing of knowledge remains the same as exemplified by last October 8 launch of 42 digital community centres (DCC) across the state by Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg at the annual International Digital Economy Conference Sarawak (IDECS) held by the Sarawak Multimedia Authority (SMA) and Sarawak Centre of Performance Excellence (SCOPE).

Established state-wide to catalyse the community’s socio-economy through digital inclusivity, the DCCs will be equipped with broadband internet services, laptops and tablets, digital video conferencing, makerspace equipment including 3D printers, 3D pens and computers, micro and online book collections and digital information. They will also be under Pustaka Negeri Sarawak’s supervision as well as the Local Government and Housing Ministry.

It seems only natural for Pustaka to be responsible for coordinating the DCCs throughout the state as it has helmed very successful digital literacy programmes under PANDei (People Accessible Network for Digital Empowerment and Inclusivity). Last year it won four awards and was a finalist for Unesco’s Confucius Literacy Prize. Over the last 20 years, Pustaka has tirelessly created and innovated its public engagement activities, making the state library and its campuses truly multi-functional community centres for lifelong learning purposes.

With the 42 DCCs, Pustaka Negeri’s vision to provide open learning spaces and educational activities will be spread throughout the whole of Sarawak offering a variety of digital services to local entrepreneurs with socio-economic development and supply chains on top of providing ICT services platform support, enhancing community digital skills and building talent capacity and increasing awareness and digital readiness for current and future needs.

Smart TV connected to WiFi.

During a trip to Perpustakaan Desa Bahagia Jaya Teku, Sibu last Oct 22, Azam Sarawak and Faradale Media-M Sdn Bhd staff saw how a rural library could be turned into a cutting-edge digital innovation hub, providing opportunities for people to get hands-on experience with a variety of digital tools and services including a 3D-printer, a replicator, 3D pen as well as digital conferencing services, among other things.

Initially a rural project run by the National Library of Malaysia in collaboration with Pustaka Negeri, Sibu Municipal Council and Kampung Bahagia Jaya Development and Security Committee Members, Perpustakaan Desa Bahagia Jaya Teku began outfitting the facilities as a DCC last September. It was officially launched on October 7.

The DCC at Dewan Masyarakat Teku near Kampung Bahagia Jaya is expected to benefit the stakeholders through innovation and new ideas contained in various programmes designed to strengthen the skills of students and other learners. The community will also be able to do video conferencing with other networks and other DCCs to share knowledge.

For the younger generation, exposing them to STEM tools like robotics, microcomputers and 3D printers will cultivate a future workforce that is IR4.0 ready, while the inclusion of a service for start-ups and co-working spaces under DCC’s initiatives will provide a platform to market home-grown products or services.

Giving access to rural entrepreneurs to create their own job opportunities and generate their own income, it opens up possibilities for more locally-made products and home-grown businesses that could show off the region’s unique resources or features.

Equipping rural areas and communities with digital or smart centres may not be unique to Sarawak, but it is a formula that works in bridging the rural-urban digital divide.

About AZAM Sarawak

Angkatan Zaman Mansang (AZAM) which means a “Movement for Progress” is a non-profit and non-governmental organisation which seeks to facilitate development efforts in Sarawak through promoting development communication.