Kenya conference addresses African infrastructure needs

An Inter Press Service report on the allAfrica.com web site follows the progress of a five-day workshop in Nairobi, Kenya, designed to help make internet access available to rural parts of the African continent. Most of Africa’s technology can be found in the continent’s urban areas, but there is a strong demand for internet access in sub-Saharan Africa.

tags

Web helps students develop interest in the voting process

A Reuters story, carried on USATODAY.com, reports on the popularity of mock internet voting among students. Carl Fillichio, president of the Council for Excellence in Government, says engaging kids in this process helps make them “educated consumers of democracy.”

tags

Microsoft, Urban League fight tech gap

Tonitta Fisher admits she was far from computer savvy when she decided to help start a technology-based business with a group of fellow Chicago high school students.

“There was a lot I didn’t know about the internet, like I didn’t even know what a URL was,” the 17-year-old said, referring to the Uniform Resource Locator, more commonly known as a web address.

But under the coaching of technology experts, accountants, and business owners involved in an emergent national program for urban high school students, Fisher and her colleagues have learned about computers, the internet, and the logistics of a business startup.

Today, the students have a professional proposal to launch an online tutoring and book-buying business–and they are being held up as an example of the success the National Urban League and Microsoft Corp. had hoped for when they set out to bridge the digital divide.

Tonitta Fisher, right, and her fellow students in Chicago developed a text and tutorial company with the help of Microsoft Corp. employees. (Associated Press photo)

“Computer literacy is basic to success in our society, and it’s critically important for people to fully participate in our society, as well as for career opportunities,” said Barbara Holt, education coordinator of the Chicago Urban League.

“Without that literacy, the disadvantages that people of color face are even wider,” Holt said.

Experts say many urban communities and their schools lack widespread access to technology, in part because of the expense.

Several programs are already working to close that divide, including a U.S. Department of Education grant program, called Community Technology Centers, that helps bring computers and internet access to poor communities.

Microsoft and the National Urban League teamed up to create another program that they hope to take from four pilot programs to 10 cities next year.

In its first year, teams of urban high schools students in Chicago, New York, Dallas, and Los Angeles spent six months training with experts to come up with technology-based business plans.

They will take those plans into competition July 24, with the winning team receiving $15,000 to help bring its business plan to life, pay college tuition, or buy computer equipment.

Many of the 60 students who began the program in January were hesitant at first to give up their Saturdays to participate, but they now say it was worth the time.

“It was hard because you still want to hang out and a lot of my friends were like ‘why don’t you just drop it?’ but I just wanted to follow through on it,” said Francine Lewis, who is in the New York Urban League program. “We were working together to actually make something we enjoy instead of just looking at it as only an educational experience.”

Audrey Martin, who heads education programs at the Greater Dallas Urban League, says the program reaches students in a way that a traditional school curriculum cannot.

“There’s only so much that you can cover in a lesson plan, and this is a smaller, more cohesive group, which allows for growth and innovative ideas,” Martin said.

“We’re sparking ideas in their minds that they can be entrepreneurs and showing them what they can accomplish,” said Sjonia Harper, a technology specialist at Microsoft’s offices in suburban Chicago and the lead instructor for the Chicago program. “The more possibilities they are exposed to, the more opportunities they believe they can have for themselves.”

The students are excited about the competition, and many say they want to use the prize money to start their business. One group has a proposal for a car detailing service; another proposes a web forum for teenagers to learn about music, art, health, and tourism.

Five of the Chicago participants met recently to work out the kinks in their business presentation on their online tutoring and book selling business, called Text and Tutor Connection Inc.

“If we want to win, we need to step up our game,” Fisher, the group’s CEO, told her colleagues as they reviewed questions that the competition judges might ask.

Across the room, Staci Thomas beamed as her 14-year-old son, Marcus, described the different services Text and Tutor could offer.

“I think this program should be in every school,” she said. “Many times we tell our kids the sky’s the limit … but nobody ever puts it in a format to where they can see what they can really do. This [program] gave them that opportunity.”

Links:

National Urban League

Microsoft Corp.

tags

New technology would stave off IP address shortage

Reuters reports on a new technology that could allow what will essentially be an unlimited number of IP addresses to exist at once. This is important at a time when about two thirds of the existing IP addresses are currently used up. The new technology would increase that number by 25,000 trillion.

tags

British study: Parents unaware kids viewing porn

Scotsman.com reports that a recent survey in Great Britain showed that more than half of children using the internet were being exposed to pornography online. On the other hand, only 16 percent of parents realized that their children were seeing such material.

tags

‘Phishing’ latest method of online identity theft

The Medill News Service, in a story reported on PCWorld.com, reports on a new hacking phenomenon known as “phishing.” Hackers manage to hijack the appearance of mainstream web sites to fool web users into giving out sensitive personal information such as credit card numbers and online bank account user names.

tags

AOL live radio show an instant hit with children ages 8-14

The Washington Post reports on a new daily AOL radio show that is making inroads with children age 8-14. The show is only available to AOL subscribers, but its nearly overnight popularity is evidence of the internet’s power at reaching young people. (Note: This site requires registration.)

tags

Hybrid school-bus engines making a charge

Mounting health concerns coupled with soaring prices at the gas pump this summer have several school bus and engine manufacturers exploring an emerging technology already gaining traction in the consumer automotive market: hybrid engines.

Experts say the half diesel, half battery-powered machines would work similar to the environmentally friendly engines now being offered in the Toyota Prius or Honda Civic. The goal is to reduce overall fuel consumption and therefore limit the outflow of harmful emissions pumped into the air.

Bill Paul, editor of the industry publication School Transportation News, said school districts around the country already have begun testing variations of the technology through grants and corporate research projects.

Related story:
  • New technologies curb school bus pollution

    Headquartered in San Diego, ISE Corp., a manufacturer of fuel-efficient technologies and drive systems for public transit, is in talks with The Education Foundation of Harris, Texas, and the state’s Adopt-A-School Bus Program–an extension of the EPA’s Clean School Bus USA initiative–to demonstrate 10 hybrid diesel-electric, ultra-low sulfur diesel school buses in the Houston area. The deal is still waiting for final approval.

    In an eMail message to eSchool News, Paul wrote that the school bus engine “would work similar to most hybrid cars, in that applying the brake would activate an integrated motor alternator, an electrical device that doubles as a motor and generator. When the vehicle is stopping, braking force is applied to the alternator that allows the vehicle’s momentum [to] create an energy current and send it to a battery pack. The stored energy also works in reverse, sent to the axle when the vehicle needs to accelerate.”

    According to ISE, this “mild-hybrid” drive system, which is a less expensive variant of a full-hybrid system used in transit and large truck fleets for decades, not only reduces brake pad wear, but also reduces fuel consumption.

    Energy consulting firm Advanced Energy is pursuing a similar project in North Carolina. The company says it hopes the engines will improve the overall efficiency of energy use, making power sources cleaner and easier to control, while letting school bus operators switch between battery and diesel fuel power to reduce smog-causing emissions.

    Schools also have begun to experiment with the concept of full-electric school buses, charged on batteries and natural-gas engines, which reportedly emit 10 times less soot and 40 percent less smog-producing pollutants than their commercial diesel counterparts, according to a 2002 journal article published by the Union of Concerned Scientists. But a lack of available fueling and power sources means those technologies are expensive. The alternatives also have run into problems when it comes to generating enough horsepower to drive the larger buses. So far, there are no hybrid school bus engines available for schools to buy. Chuck Hanlon of engine manufacturer Cummins Inc. says that’s because the technology remains largely cost-prohibitive for most school bus fleets. According to Hanlon, hybrid engines sell for 50 percent more than the cost of a standard EPA-approved, low-emission diesel device.

    In one of the largest hybrid/public transit experiments in the country, Cummins is currently working with New York City to install the breakthrough engines in several of its metro transit buses, Hanlon said, though specifics were not available.

    tags