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The Fuel and the Future of Asia-Pacific: Establishing the Credentials for Success in the Information Age

Written by  Janet Pearce Stenzel
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Janet Pearce StenzelIssue:Asia-Pacific II 2001
Article no.:11
Topic:The Fuel and the Future of Asia-Pacific: Establishing the Credentials for Success in the Information Age
Author:Janet Pearce Stenzel
Title:Executive Director
Organisation:Telecommunications and Information Industry Forum, Pacific Economic Co-operation Council (PECC-TIIF)
PDF size:24KB

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Article abstract

IT skills are needed to power the Asian-Pacific economies into the information age. For the informisation, and consequent emancipation, of the region to occur we must prepare people for the information-based economy. The region's business, government, and academic sectors need to consider education, training and systematic skills renovation as strategic investments. Otherwise the digital divide will grow. The ability to educate people will determine the region's success and survival.

 

Full Article

People with information technology (IT) skills will be the fuel that powers the Asia-Pacific economies into the information age. As they do so, these people, empowered with technological systems and services, will leverage IT ideas and products into the global marketplace, and will create the innovations, which will translate into a better future for all who live or operate in the region. This is obviously a statement of a best-odds future. For this prognosis to become a reality however, for the informisation, and consequent emancipation of the region to occur, there must be a mind-shift at all levels of society. From the start of life to the end of life there must be a rethinking of how to prepare people for the demands of the information-based economy, and how to empower them to make full use of the offerings of the information society. To do this, the business, government and academic sectors of every economy need to move education, training, and systematic skills renovation from the cost column to the strategic investment line in their budgets. We must come to terms with the fact that our ability to educate people literally and immediately determines our abilities to succeed and, indeed, survive in the world today. This is a bold statement. It competes with equally bold calls for economic leaders to place energy development, agricultural product protection, and better fiscal management at the head of the national agendas. Still, the call for education and training is part of any successful policy agenda, no matter what the sectoral objectives. As the world increasingly adopts IT and communications systems to speed up, make more effective, and make more accountable both manufacturing and service industries, we see a need for skilled and IT literate people in every dimension of life. No matter if you are a day labourer, a bank clerk, a social worker, or a corporate executive, if your organisation is to be competitive in the future you will find some technological literacy requirements coming your way. And where does this requisite lead us? In one of two directions. Either leader can make commitments and strategic plans for human capacity development, and empower all sectors of the economy to access this scheme. Or we can rely on haphazard and unsupported efforts by educators and isolated corporate managers who will attempt to address a constantly growing call for more staff, more articulate consumers and more knowledgeable regulators. If the latter course is taken, I predict that the digital divide will grow. This divide is not merely caused by a lack of access to technology. It is far more problematic than that. This gap is ingrained by differential gains in access and empowerment skills. As the gap between the haves and have-nots widens, so also widens the gulf between their knowledge on how to use the emerging technologies for business and their abilities to make use of them for social and personal support. Simply handing a person a computer or a phone cannot reverse this ignorance. Nor will it be easy to bring those who fall behind up to speed quickly when the economic need appears. Thus, those on the trailing edge of the IT uptake find themselves increasingly marginalised in the work-place and in global society. Permutations throughout society Dennis Gabor, Nobel laureate physicist, is quoted as saying that "We can't really predict the future. All we can do is invent it." In observing this bit of wisdom, we can avoid filling this column with threats about what will happen if we allow the current inequities and insufficiencies to continue. Time is better served by looking at where the investments can be made to ensure an innovative and productive future. Creating the next generation of leaders It is no use building for success if that success will die out in less than a lifetime. Even as we attend to the need for IT skills and literacy in the working world of today we must also be building the consumer base and market power of tomorrow. Thus, we start with the primary education programmes for the region. IT changes more than the manner of how children are taught in the classroom. The very curriculum they follow, their options with regard to teachers and their areas of focus all are impacted by the introduction of computing and networking systems. Good work is being done in both technology application and curriculum development by a number of entities in the region. Resources for education are becoming available through a number of channels. Big companies, such as Intel with their Intelâ Education programmes, offers science and mathematics teaching modules on the Internet. Groups of schools such as those involved in the E-ASEAN Schoolnet share resources and work together to improve curricula for the knowledge-based economy. And grassroots efforts that define new curricula to stress sciences and mathematics for both boys and girls are also being pushed by such initiatives as the EDU-NET education centre in Singapore. It is critical that each economy in the region looks at how it can better use the corporate, academic, and social structures at its disposal to further the readiness of its children for the new age of opportunity and challenges. The college student and the apprentice Once the base has been laid, the next challenge is to improve the education and training support the region offers to college students and those who choose to become apprentices in the trades. Strangely enough, cyber cafes play a role in this orientation and literacy development work. These easily accessed and socially chic places help ease entry into information age services and allow students to engage with others, both through cyber-space and in person, in an informal venue for discussion. Above and beyond the 'street offerings', both bricks-and-mortar and bricks-and-click entities have a role to play in helping students gain the skills needed to manoeuvre in the new economy. Efforts such as those being made by Sogang University in Korea with their Multinet Cyber University programme help not only those in the classroom but those who cannot make it to the centre. Similarly, we can see programmes for assisting IT literacy and skills development efforts in rural regions by providing teachers (via the Internet, fax, or mail) with modules for use in their classes. Of great importance also are those programmes, be they online or in the classroom, that allow students to gain much needed technical certifications. The Cisco NetAcademies initiative is one of the more successful supply certification programmes around the region but there are numerous similar vendor-training initiatives that can and should be furthered. Of note here is also the importance of the 'train the trainer' programmes, initiated by companies, academic institutions, and governments. The Fujitsu Asia training centre is one such certification centre that helps educators keep up to date on the changing technological offerings. The graduate and entrepreneur Asia needs to create an IT workforce to maintain the existing information ecology and to create the next generation of the information age. I have emphasised investment in the college and early work years. But investment is needed at all stages of a person's work life in order to adequately address these maintenance and creation needs. This task of generation and regeneration of the information economy requires that new workers need to be able to not only move into existing corporate offices but to have the freedom (and access to capital) to initiate new ideas and new offerings through entrepreneurial and experimental ventures. Courses that stress not only knowledge retention but risk management and entrepreneurial thinking are mandatory. Also needed is an appreciation on the employers' side of the mix of what makes a stellar information-age worker. Established educational and technical credentials are important. Yet the value of a well-structured apprenticeship or even a failed entrepreneurial venture should be better acknowledged in assessment reviews in the future. In an age of rapid change it is often those who show quick task assimilation and quick recovery skills that are most helpful in transitions. The company man and his management We need to help the established wage earner go back to the sources of knowledge with regularity and effectiveness. This requires new systems to be put in place that ensure that workers are learning skills that make them more effective, and that they know how to apply these skills. It also requires that training and education programmes are not organised along the passive consumption patterns of old but rather the interactive and productive patterns that modern IT-based learning systems allow. Such active programmes are not only more interesting to attend but easier to monitor progress in as well. Management also needs a new skill-set. They must look beyond the simple hire protocols, and learn how to obtain, train, and retain their staff. This, in turn, requires that they understand that to retain people you must offer them the option of future growth. This option on growth, in a knowledge-based society, often comes down to access to that sources of knowledge mentioned before. The regulator and the legislator Last but not least, pity the poor bureaucrat who thought he was hired to manage and monitor the world of telephony and suddenly finds himself in the labyrinth of IT, broadcast, internet, and telephony regulation. But should we pity him? Regardless of your feelings towards those who are charged to legislate and regulate the new information economy, it is best to do what you can to make sure they act out of intelligence and not ignorance. Given the rapid pace of change in the information industries and the impact this sector has on the management and development of virtually every other dimension of the economy, poorly thought out regulation by under-educated regulators has the potential to profoundly affect the competitiveness of nations. A number of regional and national entities are facing this challenge in human capacity development. APEC, APT and the ITU offices in Asia are all engaged in regulator skill development efforts. Malaysia is currently engaged in testing the IT literacy and skills of its civil workers and has proposed a number of initiatives to overcome the deficiencies. The Philippines has also looked at the knowledge-economy readiness of their officials and is working with companies such as ICM and PLDT to facilitate e-com readiness both in the public and private sector. Yet regulators are buried under a raft of old telephony legislation and are fighting to understand the terminology, not to mention the technical underpinnings, of this new information industry. More must be done to help them help us. The Path to (if not nirvana) peace and prosperity From education, to knowledge, to evolving understanding and innovation, our success in including everyone in this voyage of transition makes the difference in how a person, a society and an economy will do in the future. Emerging technologies and their application have the potential to provide all national residents with greater access to the jobs and to the lives of their choice. It will allow each of us to better tailor our existences to best suit our needs: costs are reduced, issues of distance decline and time commitments are mitigated. Best of all, the relevance of what we learn goes up and thus eases our efforts to become productive and contributory individuals. In sum, we all face the challenge of reaching out to those who, in a bygone day, would have been bypassed. We must do this with a mind to finding the most affordable, sustainable and efficacious strategy for human capacity development. And we must define this strategy based not only on our national economic and political structures but also the global requisites for survival and success in the information age. Supporting us as we attempt to address these challenges is the power of IT and the incentives these technologies offer to those eager to better their lives and the lives of others through innovation and growth. The challenge requires a partnership. The success of our efforts offers each of us a more fruitful and independent future.

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