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Geographic Information Systems at Malaysian Universities

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Geographic Information Systems at Malaysian Universities
Nor Rasidah Hashim & Mohd Fazlin Nazli
Faculty of Environmental Studies, Universiti Putra Malaysia, 43400 Serdang, Selangor, Malaysia
Introduction

Due to GIS the field of geography has undergone a renaissance.  Today GIS has become so user-friendly that even computer users without any programming background can use the software.  Internet-based GIS applications have also allowed people around the world to share and check out each other locations and other spatial data (wildlife, meteorological and land use studies).  There are opportunities that are coming out of this situation.

“The re-awakening of geography through the development of new technologies such as Google Earth, recreational GPS, mobile map applications and in-car satellite navigation (to name a few), is whetting the appetite of a society that is ever more interested in location… Despite all this, there remains a shortfall of professionals and trained specialists” (Field, 2008, Geoconnexion.com). 

In short, having GIS skills has become an added advantage for job seekers, who in many cases are university students.  As such in this study, we aimed to find out the levels of GIS learning at Malaysian universities.  Specifically, the objectives of our survey were to: 1. gauge students’ knowledge of GIS (low or high) and 2. gauge students’ interests in GIS (low or high). 

Methods

In July-August 2007, we asked five questions (see Tables 1 & 2) to 50 students at Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), 25 of whom were in their first semester and the other 25 were in their senior years (year two and above), comprising 31 female students and 10 male students.  Their ages ranged from 19 to 23 years.

Results & Discussion

Most of the students, regardless of their year of study at the university, were not familiar with GIS, possibly because they had not taken any GIS course (questions no. 1, 2, 3; Tables 1 & 2).  However, the majority of the students showed interests in GIS and had a positive opinion of GIS (questions no. 4 & 5; Tables 1 & 2). This is encouraging for Malaysian academia.  This also means Malaysian universities curricula need to include GIS courses.  In this way Malaysian students have the option to develop their geospatial knowledge and skills by learning GIS and other related technologies (remote sensing and geographical positioning systems). 

In fact the new and revamped bachelor degree in environmental sciences at UPM (called Bachelor of Environmental Science and Technology, or BEST for short) has full courses in GIS and remote sensing, respectively.  The GIS laboratory of the environmental studies’ faculty will also be equipped with several popular GIS commercial software for the use of the students and staff.   

Table 1:
Answers to five questions about GIS knowledge and interest asked to junior students (in their first semester of study) at UPM.


No.QuestionNoYesNo answer1Are you familiar with geographic information systems (GIS)?25002Have you taken a full course in GIS?24013Have you learned about GIS in any of your other courses?23114Do you think GIS is useful in your field of study91515Are you interested in learning about GIS?5182

Table 2:
Answers to five questions about GIS knowledge and interest asked to senior students (second year and above) at UPM.


No.QuestionNoYesNo answer 1Are you familiar with geographic information systems (GIS)?  2410 2Have you taken a full course in GIS?        2500 3Have you learned about GIS in any of your other courses?         2320 4Do you think GIS is useful in your field of study11131 5Are you interested in learning about GIS?  3202


Conclusion

At this stage GIS is still relatively unknown amongst Malaysian university students.  However, based on our survey the future of GIS in Malaysian universities seems bright but we suggest here that more needs to be done by GIS practitioners working in academia to make the future brighter.



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