SEARCC aims to widen appeal

THE Southeast Asia Regional Computer Confederation (SEARCC) is an organisation little known outside computing circles.

With as unwieldy an acronym as SEARCC for a name, it could be argued the organisation runs the risk of remaining in obscurity.

It would make an interesting survey to see how much of Hongkong recognises the name SEARCC after it holds its 12th annual conference and exhibition in October.

But if the event's organising committee has its way the SEARCC name - and the relative importance of the industry it represents - will be deeply entrenched by October.

The primary objective of the SEARCC organising committee goes beyond the conference itself. It wants to use SEARCC as a springboard to boost public awareness of the information technology (IT) industry.

The opportunity is unique. The 12-nation SEARCC may not be a household name, but it is enormously influential as an IT representative body.

Hongkong only gets to play host to the conference once every 12 years.

For the industry events scheduled for October, perhaps the most interesting for many is the one not targeted at ''industry''.

The SEARCC International Software Competition 93 (SSC'93) is just beginning to take shape - and it looks truly remarkable.

Designing software under competition rules might not be everyone's cup of tea but you have to marvel at it.

The basic idea is to throw in some international rules and youthful (under 17) competitors from Australia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Taiwan and Hongkong, and you have the makings of a good story.

(We presume the commercial world has realised this: Hongkong Telecom, American computer manufacturer AST and software giant Microsoft have emerged as significant sponsors.) The competition requires contestants to solve programming problems (using the language GW-BASIC) focusing on string or numeric manipulation, array and text graphics.

Speed and precision are the judging criteria, based on analytical skill, programming competence and the focus of imagination.

The software competition is an excellent addition to the SEARCC programme. It began in 1989 as a means of fostering software skills through the region. Each SEARCC member country first holds its own competition and then sends its six finalists to represent it in the international competition.

In Hongkong, the competition is steered by the Education Department and the Hongkong Computer Society. The organising committee chairwoman, Ms Judy Lau, said it has become one of the highlights of the secondary school computer education curriculum.

Most importantly though, the organisers have seen fit to ensure that some balance is offered to competition entrants - given that they are supposed to be the chief beneficiaries.

The teenagers who travel to Hongkong in October to compete will not spend all their time immersed in computer-related work.

Rather, the competition organisers have included trips to universities, museums, cultural centres, outdoor field trips - anything that provides an insight into the culture, lifestyle and aspirations of Hongkong.

In fostering the industry among the region's young, this is surely the best way to foster the growth of the industry generally.