Literacy is Key to
Hawaii's High Tech Future
By Jeff Bloom
A recent story covered in both our daily papers carried some pretty disparaging news:
According to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Education, a paltry 15% of Hawaii
students are conversant enough in English to flourish in the classroom or the workplace.
The study indicated that 28 percent of Hawaii students ranked "below basic" in
English skills (compared to the national figure of 17 percent).
So what does this mean to our state and the future of technology?
If Hawaii is to develop a thriving technology sector, the majority of new hires must be
indigenousthat is Hawaii people. There is no question that we need to produce jobs
for home grown, locally-educated boys and girls. Companies will come here gladly if there
is an educated workforce.
The problem is that without a firm grounding in English, the lingua franca of the business
world, Hawaii students will never be qualified for those future high tech jobs.
Im not here to point fingers at our local education system nor to condemn the use of
Pidgin outside the business world. I only want to clarify that in order to succeed in
technology, students must be able to communicate on paper and verbally in standard
Whereas Pidgin is no doubt part of our states charm, its not a language that
Senator Inouye would invoke in a congressional debate. English speakers, whether they are
native speakers or those who use English as a second language, are able to communicate
with one another because they share a common tongue. Pidgin doesnt make it on Wall
Street nor Bishop Street.
Granted, there are those who can eloquently write in Pidgin (such as author Lois-Ann
Yamanaka) or speakers (such as Andy Bumatai) who have mastered the idiom. Whats
more, these individuals are able to make a good living from their mastery of Pidgin.
However, I can assure you that both Ms. Yamanka and Mr. Bumatai are exceedingly articulate
in Standard English as well.
Of course, speaking articulate Standard English is only half the
battle. How then do we go about teaching technology to our brightest kids?
The first thing to do is begin when they are young. By the time kids are out of high
school, the battle has long been fought. So we must start by stimulating an interest in
technology in grammar school. Getting to our children can be done in a variety of ways but
one of the key elements is making sure that our teachers are well-versed in technology.
This is a tall order. Teachers are over-burdened and underpaid as it is.
Whats more technology training can be daunting. Theres so much to learn and
its all changing so rapidly. That said, its absolutely essential that at least
some of our teachers are up to snuff on the latest software and hardware and, that they
have the ability to transmit this knowledge to our children. More resources must be
allotted to provide state of the art computer labs as well as training for teachers in
I realize that this is not easy even at the best-funded schools. I can recall one of our
student interns from Kamehameha (which has first rate equipment for its students) had
simply gone beyond the knowledge base of his teachers. We were able to mentor him because
we have the human resources (the trained instructors) to do so. Without this, he would
have had nowhere to turn.
the Business Community
Even though it should be our goal to train teachers, I
believe another route is to directly involve the business community and the children who
show an interest in IT. Kids need the support of computer industry professionals and the
community at large. Young people interested in IT as a career need a place to demonstrate
their expertise. We need to create a local forum to encourage the development of high tech
skills for Hawaiis youth.
To remedy this a group of IT professionals has created a type of computer science fair
called Tech Quest 2000 for Hawaii students through grade 12. Sponsored by The
Hawaii Chamber of Commerce, the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association of
Hawaii and other local IT pros, this program will present cash scholarships and prizes to
award winning contestants. The student competition will be judged on December 7, 1999 at
Blaisdell Exhibition Hall.
This one program may not be a silver bullet but its a start. We believe that
offering scholarships and public recognition to youngsters interested in technology will
motivate and foster them to pursue high tech jobs. We have to start stimulating our
children at a young age or were lost. Hawaiis future depends on it.
|Jeff Bloom is the founder of
Computer Training Academy/Network Resource Center, a computer education/consulting firm
based in Honolulu. His contact is firstname.lastname@example.org or
839-1200. Suggestions for column topics are welcomed.
Pacific Business News - Friday November 12, 1999
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