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Every school needs a champion
By Anita Devasahayam
April 24, 2000

Three weeks ago, three friends from Sun Microsystems and I visited Malaysia's most happening school--SMJK Dindings. Stuck out in the middle of nowhere amid an oil palm estate and a fishing village, SMJK Dindings is probably the most wired public school in the country today.

The story behind this is worthwhile recounting.

School principal Tiong Ting Ming spent his first seven years there raising RM500,000 for a new school block complete with underground trunking. He lobbied and secured sponsorship in kind from U.S. power company Thomas & Betts, networking giant 3Com Corp and local conglomerate Sapura Holdings. He recruited his former students, who ran MyDirectory Sdn Bhd, to help out with troubleshooting and maintenance. Many more good souls, touched by Tiong's quest and impressed by his perseverance, sent money. Even his 15-year-old son, a student there, was roped in to be systems administrator.

For the next two years, Tiong and his students kept plugging on, single-handedly refurbishing computers for a local area network, porting over applications, and setting up servers for specific functions.

News of this cyber school soon spread within its vicinity, and before long the student population had grown from 320 to 800-plus. Today, SMJK's population of teenagers are more comfortable reading Linux, Macromedia Flash, Ethernet Gigabyte and other computer-related manuals than fiction. Most of the students harbor dreams of running their own IT startups or joining the industry as COOs, system engineers, technicians, analysts and Web designers.

And all because one man dared to dream.

Dispatch from Malaysia

Here's a nation that has built a first-world infrastructure. But can the country truly lead its people down the Yellow Brick Road to the smart city of tomorrow? Our Dispatch from Malaysia taps into the collective mindshare.

Anita Devasahayam spent a decade in technology journalism and currently plans to live the next one in Ipoh, far from the madding crowd and closer to home and family. When not pottering about the house, she is planting seeds in people's minds about the Internet and journalism as a career.


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