Addressing opportunity gap among children

They must be given the tools and knowledge to leverage technology to creatively solve problems


MORE organisations need to come together to collectively address Malaysia’s opportunity gap among children.

Malaysia Digital Economy Corp (MDEC) VP and head of digital skills and jobs Dr Sumitra Nair said although the government and the telecommunications industry are addressing this with various initiatives, there is still an opportunity gap where children, specifically in rural areas, are not aware of the opportunities from the digital sphere, such as learning future digital skills.

They must be given the tools and knowledge to leverage technology to creatively solve problems.

“Even if they do have the devices, it appears to be more for consuming content rather than creating and solving problems with it.

“This is what will define and prepare them for future digital skills,” she said in a virtual dialogue held by Unicef and Digi Telecommunications Sdn Bhd yesterday.

She stressed that Malaysia can no longer wait for everyone to be connected and must find creative ways to close the opportunity gap, be it through modern or traditional mediums.

“We can look at closing the gap with initiatives like DidikTV and Makerspace; the latter which MDEC is working on with various organisations in the public and private sectors at the federal and state levels.

“These are some of the initiatives that are out there to get children from lower-income households to be exposed to opportunities,” she noted.

At the moment, there are more than 60 digital Makerspaces around the country and many of these are catering to the lower-income group either in semi-rural areas or the ones run by NGOs.

Petaling Jaya Child Council president Allison Low revealed that even though children are spending more time online during the pandemic, 52% of them do not feel safe due to online harm and risks, such as cyber bullying, cyber grooming, child sexual exploitation and privacy issues.

“I believe there is no finish line to the refinement of the digital environment for the safety of children and it is especially important to involve the participation of the youth in actualising such programmes.

“I hope we can continue to empower more youth-to-youth movements and digital safety programmes co-led by children because they are the stakeholders of our future,” said Low.

On another note, Unicef has inked a collaboration with Digi on projects related to digital inclusion and resilience, and continues to advocate for children’s rights in the digital age.

Both organisations have extended their long-running partnership since 2012 through a two-year memorandum of understanding (MoU) that builds on the global partnership between Telenor Group and Unicef.

The MoU leverages Telenor’s digital platforms to reduce inequalities, while enhancing children and young people’s skills for the digital future.

Dr Rashed Mustafa Sarwar, the representative for Unicef in Malaysia and special representative to Brunei, highlighted that they will focus on protecting the children’s rights and safety online.

“A key focus of this partnership is to protect children in online spaces, as they are as equally vulnerable there as they are anywhere else,” he said in a statement.

Digi chief corporate affairs officer Joachim Rajaram said Digi has been championing digital resilience and safer Internet for all in the past decade through its flagship Safe Internet programme, and is proud to partner Unicef for a more sustainable change for Malaysia’s future generation.

In 2020, Digi and Unicef collaborated with MDEC and the Education Ministry for a three-year “Future Skills for All” initiative to digitalise computer and technology school subjects and make e-learning easier for school children.

Both parties have also hosted the #ENDViolence Youth Talk to raise awareness on interventions on issues around child bullying and online violence.