The first time I visited the school in July 1998, I was skeptical about Tiong's ability to pull off this grand vision. As a seasoned journalist, I had seen enough failure in school computer laboratories and met even more headmasters too caught up with administrative matters to push the technology envelope.
Cost was another prohibitive factor. The majority of 8,000-plus schools in Malaysia survive on a stipend from the Government. Year in year out, these schools concentrate their efforts on raising funds either to build a new school wing, buy furniture, pay the electricity bills, or on repainting. Ironically, these schools are located not in the boondocks, as one would think, but within city centers.
Tiong, like his town counterparts, faced similar problems. Raising funds for a new building was a nightmare. It took him five years to find the money for a new three-storey block before he could consider equipping the school with second-hand computers and getting them networked. After all, obsolete machines have little value unless they are linked to a powerful server.
His bait to hook the students' interest in technology was to provide them unfettered access to the school computers and the Internet. He gave each an email address and Web space to design their personal homepages. Naturally, he does not condone roaming into restricted parts of the Net and has a proxy server tracking the movements of students online.
Having incorporated IT as part of classroom learning, the students are now clamoring for more hours on the PC.
Tiong's peers have traveled across the country to see for themselves SMJK's remarkable achievements. What these school principals fail to consider is that Tiong started out from ground zero. Like his students, he had to learn everything on the go. But his single-minded pursuit to create a tech culture in his school and his belief that equipping students with the practical IT skills that have provided the conduit for the project's success.