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COMMENTARY

Exporting Education


By Jeff Bloom

Much has been written in these pages about the dismal state of our economy and what might be done to improve the situation. Perhaps the most cited long term solution is that Hawaii should wean itself from tourism and expand into areas such as telecommunications, speciality agriculture, biotechnology, etc. I agree that putting all our eggs in one basket is costing us dearly. I'd like to suggest an additional export industry that is so obvious perhaps one would never think of it as a potential business or money earner. That enterprise is education, particularly learning harnessed to high-tech applications.

Let's step back for a moment and I'll explain what I mean. For most of the 20th century America's schools and our university system have been the envy of the world. Our public schools provided opportunity for immigrants to better themselves and have, to a large degree, accounted for the tremendous wealth and economic stability of this nation. This fact has not been lost on the developing world which sends their best students to study in our universities. In short Hawaii has something of value to export--our educational system. What I would like to discuss is how higher education, combined with technology, can be developed as a growth industry in our state.


Enter the Virtual University

As Internet usage expands exponentially, so have Web-based applications in almost every arena imaginable. Amidst this explosive growth, the use of the World Wide Web as an educational tool is slowly evolving. Unbeknownst to most people, Hawaii teachers are pioneers in this field. For example HPU professor Larry Cross has created a the first accredited graduate level, web-based course. The 17 students enrolled in the HPU program entitled AInternet Marketing 635" access a web site divided into 15 modules that contain everything from lessons to exams. According to Professor Cross, there is not even a need for text books as all the teaching materials are on the Net for the student to peruse 24 hours a day anywhere in the world. One need not be in the same town, the same time zone or even the same country receive real time instruction.

Cross believes his course might be the cornerstone in what could eventually be a AVirtual University@ accessible to students anywhere in the world. AEducation is a undervalued resource and Hawaii could be marketing a whole new brand of Web-based learning to the rest of the Pacific. The technology and the content to develop courses for a Virtual University to be used in the Pacific Rim are here,@ said Cross. The good professor believes that Pacific Rim nations are eager to adapt this technology. What's needed are resources to develop a curriculum and some clever marketing to promote the concept.

Exporting Nerds

If there's one thing that America does well, it's high technology. As the westernmost outpost of the United States and with a cultural mix that is much closer to Asia than the mainland, Hawaii is perfectly positioned as a technology transfer point. We have technical schools and Universities where individuals can be trained in the latest software, multi-media and telecommunications applications. Not only are we in a position to educate people in Hawaii, we can send our own experts abroad to train others or to work in some of the world's top multinational corporations. Our own company will soon be sending English speaking computer programmers, network administrators and other Information technology pros to Seoul and Tokyo and the demand is growing daily. The upshot is that if we stay ahead of the technology curve, there will always be jobs.

Learning Over the Wires

Unbeknownst to most of us, the University of Hawaii and the much maligned Department of Education are national leaders in applying high tech solutions to education. These solutions entail both Internet and video applications in distance learning. What's more, the state of Hawaii is the first in the nation to provide 100% of their schools with high speed Internet access. Hawaii is so well known among educators as a leader in technology that when the State of Ohio needed a someone to direct the wiring of 100,000 classrooms, two of the top candidates for the job were from the Aloha State. Evidently Hawaii's prowess in this area is also known overseas as well. Nearly every month it's not unusual to find a group of educators from Japan, Vietnam or even Germany dropping into the University of Hawaii to evaluate first hand our distance learning programs and our educational networks.

The bottom line is that Hawaii has accrued a tremendous amount of knowledge in the area of technology training and educational applications. This is greatly valued in our own country and overseas. Governor Cayetano has stated his support for the development of this burgeoning field and state agencies such as the High Technology Development Corporation (HTDC) are facilitating the infrastructure for distance learning. Private enterprise is beginning to turn its expertise in technical training and cross-cultural know-how into dollars that will benefit our residents. The challenge for the State's Educational community is to do the same. There is no reason why education cannot be one of Hawaii's growth industries of the new century.

Jeff Bloom is the Managing Director of Computer Training Academy, a computer
education center based in Honolulu.

The Honolulu Advertiser - Wednesday July 29 1998

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