While we are still arguing over the impact of television on children, a new
world of online media has emerged that may have an even greater impact. Many
children in Malaysia are now using the World Wide Web and the number is expected
to grow rapidly in coming years.
These children are now connected to a vast
digital universe that transcends the family, the local community, and even the
nation. Education will expand beyond the classroom and other traditional
settings, as more interactive 'edutainment' becomes available.
What are the advantages of the World Wide Web? If harnessed properly, the new
media could enhance children's learning, giving them access to a rich diversity
of information and ideas, which reach across national borders. Many online
services are now exposing children to places, people and ideas beyond their
However, there are a few disadvantages. Those without access to the
communications system are likely to fall behind in education and be unable to
compete in a highly selective job market. Yet, just as access is becoming
important, the number of children living in poverty, with little or no access to
technology, is growing at an alarming rate. There are many families struggling
to put food on the table in the rural areas and the government will have to
ensure that they get access to the communications system in schools.
Even if more children are able to use the new media through schools and
libraries, they will still be at a disadvantage compared to children with access
at home. An hour or two of computer laboratory time in school is not enough to
acquire the technological competence that colleges and many jobs will require.
Some argue that the costs of the equipment will go down dramatically in the next
few years, making computer communications as affordable as televisions and VCRs.
But monthly communications services is still unaffordable. While television is
likely to remain free, most other services will require payment. For poor
families, either the upfront cost of equipment or service charges may be
Access is not the only challenge. Video game channels, virtual shopping malls
and manipulative fours of advertising targeted at children could further
compound the problems in the existing media that have troubled parents,
educators and child advocates for decades. Unlike TV, online media is dynamic
and two-way. Nothing prevents marketers from collecting personal information
from children and selling it to third parties.
Thus, we need to develop guidelines for advertising to children in
cyberspace. Marketers should not be allowed to collect personal information from
children. We also need to have non-commercial educational and informational
services for children.
In conclusion, although the online media is a powerful tool, we should ensure
that this media serves the needs of children.