[SCMP Archive] A brand new world online
[First published on Feb 05, 1991] ONE of the best ways to learn about information technology is to do it in the privacy of the home.
An innovative and useful facility, HKIS-NET, which was recently established by the Hong Kong International School (HKIS), is making the learning exercise easy for teachers, parents and students alike.
HKIS-NET provides a communications and information network which is unique in the education arena in Hong Kong.
The HKIS has long been a leader in the field of technology in education locally, largely due to the enthusiasm and efforts of Mr David Elliott, a .visionary mathematics and physics teacher who has been with the school for many years.
Mr Elliott said that the HKIS-NET idea grew from the interest of parents and staff. It was considered that modern day technology would be a useful means to distribute and exchange information between parents, teachers and students.
School newsletters were obvious electronic mail items, but athletic events and many other activities could be organized more efficiently if the majority of the interested parties were connected to an on-line network.
Using this simple, but practical, base as justification for the system, many other facilities would then become possible. International communications with parents, teachers and students would be possible. Students could participate in on-line US-based curriculum projects such as National Geographic’s KIDNET provides.
“There are on-line science projects being coordinated by groups of schools. These projects involve the direct participation of the relevant scientists and offer much broader scope than can be achieved by a single school or even a single geographic beau on,” Mr Elliot said.
“A current scientific study of acid rain is a good example.”
Access to vast information databases are an objective of HKIS-NET, although Mr Elliot correctly points out that encyclopedias and newspaper indexes are expensive to access from Hong Kong because of international communication costs.
“We need these databases to be available on local nodes as soon as possible and I don’t really understand why someone isn’t doing it; It can only be an advantage to the carriers, because it encourages the use of the networks,” Mr Elliot said.
Initially the HKIS considered establishing its own bulletin board system (BBS), using PC technology and volunteer resources. But while this would have satisfied a few of the more knowledgeable enthusiasts, it was not considered to be a sufficiently reliable approach to the introduction of technology to newcomers.
In addition, the support and maintenance efforts which a BBS demands were considered to be beyond the resources available to the school. The HKIS decided that the most effective implementation would be to approach professional network providers in Hongkong with the view to contracting out the management support and maintenance of the system to the, people with the resources.
Hutchison-I NET (INET) was chosen and the system was implemented late last year. More than 50 users from 30 families were registered with the system, Mr Elliott said. The school pays a blanket monthly fee to INET to cover the support costs the users simply pay a small usage charge based on connect time to INET.
I have long been a strong advocate of the use of information databases and electronic mail systems from the home and office and I have also stated that until one actually does it, it is impossible to really appreciate the benefits it can bring.
This viewpoint is vindicated by the experience or Mr Elliott with users of HKUS-NET — one of the most popular facilities now being used is the international fax service provided across the INET network.
In other words, once a person has a reason to connect to a network, such as the HKIS-NET, it is perfectly natural to look for other useful facilities which may then be available.
I can but reiterate my earlier advice - connect your PC to the telephone line and open up a world of communications, information and convenience which has to be experienced to be believed.
The HKIS-NET initiative is excellent, and I hope that the lead will be followed by other schools.
It may be a while before the big wheels of the government education system start turning on this one, but the English Schools Foundation (ESF) seems ideally situate to establish a territory-wide network with international connections.