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ITC Acces, equal for all students in USA?

Edward Bladimir Grullon

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Interesting question …

I work a lot linking students in Sweden with students in the USA, using ICT. The Americans are constantly amazed at how much more advanced even 'ordinary' students in Sweden are than they are. IM, for example, is very old technology here. There's not much point in using it when you have a well-developed mobile telephone system - why not just send an SMS or make a call instead? (Though, strangely enough, IM is enjoying a brief revival here, since we've also got a well-developed network of 3G telephones and many of them come with Microsoft Messenger installed nowadays.)

The problem for people in the US is the market! If you're going to relate each cost a company incurs to some kind of direct monetary benefit, then it's very difficult to provide utilities on a sensible basis. When 3G telephony was being introduced in Europe, the policy of the Swedish government was markedly different to that of most European (right-wing) governments. Instead of auctioning off the bandwidths, the Swedes gave them away for free! But the condition was that the recipients had to prove that a) they could, and :) they would build a network which was nationwide (i.e. not just for a few wealthy inhabitants of the major cities). The state-owned telecom company was one of the ones whose bid was turned down, by the way.

The end result is that we've had 3G for three years now, whilst the rest of the continent is only just getting round to it … because their companies nearly bankrupted themselves in bidding for bandwidth, so they had no money left to actually build the networks.

One picture I get of a 'typical American town' is of pylons with cables strung from them. You don't see this in most European towns because we bury our cables. Burying them is an up-front capital cost, whilst having teams and teams of workers driving around all night to check for potential breaks (as they do in many major US cities, like Atlanta) is a running cost … which can be passed straight on to the consumer. We don't need surge protectors for our computers either, since our systems tend to be much more stable.

It's a well-known phenomenon in economics: no-one has yet devised a street light which only shines on the people who've paid for the light. In other words, if you're going to have a utility with public benefit, such as a well-developed mobile telephone or computer network, then collective action is the way to go … and the US is not very good at acting collectively.

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I've travelled widely in the USA and Canada. What surprised me most is the lack of digital mobile telephone facilities in many states. There are huge areas in many states that are not covered. My digital triband mobile telephone worked in Phoenix, Arizona, but not in Tucson, Arizona, and it didn't work at all in Alaska - although it did work in most of southern British Columbia, Canada. There is hardly anywhere in the UK that does not have digital mobile telephone access these days, and the services offered by British mobile telephone companies are quite sophisticated, including Web access. I have used my mobile telephone in around a dozen European countries, and it has worked OK everywhere, including a restaurant in a salt mine in Poland 300 feet underground!

As for ICT in education, a colleague who works in Pennsylvania and who trains language teachers in schools, tells me that many schools still have relatively slow Internet access and many computer labs in schools are not fully equipped with facilities for playing and recording sound and video. Most of them, she says, do not have adequate facilities for handling the media-rich facilities required for language teaching.

We bury telephone cables too in the UK. Older housing estates still have overhead lines, but the cables leading to the house in which I live, which is 35 years old, are buried under the pavement outside. The whole of our housing estate has 4Mb broadband access, soon to be upgraded to 8Mb.

Electricity supply in the UK is very stable on the whole. Houses in the UK (and in Ireland) have a 13 amp ring circuit, with every plug earthed. When I visit my wife's Canadian cousins in British Columbia we have to make sure that the electric toaster and the coffee machine are not switched on at the same time, otherwise a trip switch will be triggered. I can't remember the last time that this sort of thing happened in my house in the UK.

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I think Edward's summary is probably right. I am only aware of the situation in teaching modern foreign languages in the US. These bodies are very knowledgable about ICT provision for languages:

CALICO: http://www.calico.org

IALLT: http://www.iallt.org

I guess they have a good general overview too. Try contacting them via their websites.

Regarding the situation worldwide, there was a report, produced jointly by the Center for International Development at Harvard University and the World Economic Forum, that attempted to assess the challenges and realities of the networked world in which we live:

Kirkman et al. (2002) Global information technology report 2001-2002: readiness for the networked world, Oxford, Oxford University Press: http://www.oup-usa.org/reports

Substantial sections of the report are available in PDF format at: http://www.cid.harvard.edu/cr/gitrr_030202.html

An important chapter in the report is entitled "The Networked Readiness Index (NRI): measuring the preparedness of nations for the networked world" (Kirkman et al. 2002). The NRI ranks 75 countries according to their capacity to take advantage of ICT networks, bearing in mind key enabling factors as well as technological factors, e.g. business and economic environment, social policy, educational system, etc. Higher ranked countries have more highly developed ICT networks and greater potential to exploit the capacity of those networks.

The top 10 states were ranked as follows:

1. USA

2. Iceland

3. Finland

4. Sweden

5. Norway

6. Netherlands

7. Denmark

8. Singapore

9. Austria

10. United Kingdom

Edited by Graham Davies
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