UN PROGRAM TO LINK PACIFIC AND HAWAI‘I SCHOOLS

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By Craig DeSilva

HONOLULU, Hawai‘i (December 6, 2000 - PIDP/CPIS)---A United Nations-related organization is developing a program that would link a curriculum for elementary and high schools in Hawai‘i and the Pacific Islands through the Internet.

The program is being organized by the Hawai‘i division of the United Nations Association of the USA, a non-governmental association (NGO) with 100-plus members interested in promoting UN-related activities

The Pacific Islands Network (PIN) program would establish online links between schools within the region and Hawai‘i to allow teachers and students to interact and learn about each other’s culture, history, geography, and environment.

Under the program, the UNA provides the framework and guidelines, while the schools develop the curriculum and materials.

"There is a real role for Hawai‘i to play in interpreting the Pacific Islands to the mainland and the mainland to the Pacific Islands in developing links and relationships," said Dr. James F. McDivitt, an advisor to the United Nations Association who’s heading the program.

The PIN program is modeled after Internet links developed between Hawai‘i schools and other countries. For example, Punahou School is linked with schools in India and Japan via the Internet in a language curriculum program.

McDivitt, a retired 20-year UN official who has worked in the Asia-Pacific region, started the PIN program in July by contacting several schools in the Pacific.

He said although the U.S. territories in the region are technologically equipped for the program, most of the schools in the independent countries lack the basic computers and Internet-related capabilities.

"The idea here (in Hawai‘i) is to have a computer in every classroom. The idea there (in the Pacific) would be to have a computer in every school," McDivitt said. "And we find that even if they have computers, they don’t have networks. They are stand alone computers that are not linked to each other or the Internet."

As an example, McDivitt said he communicates with schools in Samoa via fax because they are not yet linked to the Internet.

He notes that the high cost of telephone connections in the Pacific make Internet connections expensive.

McDivitt is also working to develop the program within U.S.-affiliated entities and territories in the region. But he is focusing mainly on schools in the independent countries, which have the greatest need for the Internet.

"We want these links to be more than pen pals and kids getting on the Web and exchanging messages with one another. We want a curriculum-related substance so teachers can be involved," he said.

The program has developed a test case linking an elementary school in Paynesville, Australia (near Melbourne) with Punahou School.

McDivitt is working with other NGO’s and related programs - such as PREL (Pacific Resources for Education and Learning), PEACESAT, UNESCO, and the Peace Corps to name a few - to provide free computers to schools in the Pacific.

McDivitt has also contacted service organizations, such as the Rotary Club, to see if financial institutions in Hawai‘i could donate old computers to schools in the region. Honolulu Community College students have offered to refurbish the computers before they are shipped out.

McDivitt is also working with Schools Online, a privately funded NGO based in California, to provide 10 Internet-linked computers to Samoa College, a public high school.

McDivitt hopes to have about half a dozen countries linked to the program in the next six to eight months with the goal of expanding to include as many as 20 schools.

"We’re hoping it will snowball," he said. "The situation as it now exists in these countries cannot continue. One way or another, in the next three or four years, these countries will all be on the Internet. So we’re trying to facilitate this and make sure the schools and students are involved."

"We’re talking to ministers and telling them that you are not going to be impacted by this particularly. But the youth - your children and your grandchildren - will be severely impacted. And the sooner they get into the system, the less of a negative impact it will be," he said.

The program will also hold an essay contest with a cash prize for Pacific Island students. The students will be asked to write an essay about how the Internet impacts their country.

"This will hopefully stimulate interest and activity," McDivitt said.

For additional information, contact Dr. James F. McDivitt at HISOPAC@aol.com 

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