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Brokering Solutions

Innovative Sister City Networking for Global Solutions

Photo: Hole in the Wall project in India. Young kids in this project figured out how to use a PC on their own -- and then teach other kids.

Guest Blogger John Gallagher asks:

Will the relevant decision-makers look carefully at the opportunities that information and communications technologies can now bring to sister city-based international networking? Or, will these opportunities continue to be missed, in a country, and a world that need solutions?

John Gallagher writes:

A basic theme of this website is how people can network from local through to international levels to create the kind of place they would like to live in. Facility with such networking will enable people to make the most of today's increasingly cosmopolitan, technologically connected world.

I have since the 1980s thought about some new possibilities with sister cities. Promoted by President Dwight Eisenhower to build people-to-people connections to help counter Cold War tensions, sister city relationships have also been said to open up business opportunities. I have also heard critics call them feel-good, rate-payer funded travel junkets for a few.

Whatever the case,  I have long felt that user-friendly information and communications technologies could open many little noticed opportunities for much new and exciting, sister city-based connection-building.

Since the 1980s, email has enabled instantaneous communication almost anywhere, and from the 1990s desktop, hand-held and web technologies have made electronic communication increasingly commonplace from local through to international levels.

I have also since the 1980s lobbied for an infrastructure to enable the most to be made of such technologies. This was structured to support New Zealanders to engage more effectively in international diplomatic, commercial and other activities. It could also be usefully adapted elsewhere.

The core of the proposals is to enhance sister city communications across a range of peer-to-peer levels, and to do so in relation to three areas. One would be English speaking, where technologies could be mastered without language-learning issues. This could then provide a basis for developed Asian, and developing area (especially Pacific Island) relationships. Wellington, as a capital city, could especially usefully develop relationships with, say, Washington and Beijing as capitals of world power centres.

All to be done in practicable steps, and at a practical pace.

In each of these relationships institutional peer-to-peer educational, N.G.O., technological, professional group, business chamber and local government, sports club and hobbyist, relationships could be created. Class-to-class educational relationships could usefully range at least from, say, year 6 to tertiary levels, and include research institutes.

Radio and television stations could also be very helpful if they made say, regular monthly or weekly contact with their counterparts.

These relationships could be developed quite intensively.

An idea of what might be achievable was demonstrated in a Tasmania-Devon, school-to-school project using basic e-mail technology in the 1980s (as described in the Wellington Dominion computer section, page 22 on 6 October, 1986).

This project "twinned" 10 schools in Devon with nine in Tasmania. It aimed to observe the impact of e-mail technology on school curricula and what evolved educationally.

Initially, the children exchanged personal profiles of their families, likes and dislikes, before doing more specific group project work. One Tasmanian school emailed their weekly newsletter to their twin school in Devon. For this, they prepared stories and articles in groups on a word processor. These were then edited and sent off by an editorial team.

The Dominion report said, "Nearly the whole curriculum in some schools has been given over to the project, teaching children history, geography, maths, reading, through exercises of finding out about Devon and where the link schools is, and different time zones involved on contacting their British counterparts."

That is what could be done by 11 and 12 year olds, with the very basic technology available in 1986.

This illustration pointed to what might be achieved even from a remote location. What if many schools here related in these ways to schools elsewhere in sister city relationships? And what might become possible if sister tertiary institutes did likewise? What might be done by way of engaging in, or better still facilitating, international interdisciplinary education about matters of global concern? Perhaps, also, supporting aid projects, for instance?

Embracing such programmes nation-wide shortly after the new technologies arrived, say, 20 years ago, could have produced a new generation of New Zealanders able to relate comfortably, effectively and profitably to many parts of the world in diplomatic, commercial and other fields.

Will these opportunities continue to be missed, in a country, and a world that need solutions? Or will the relevant decision-makers look carefully at the opportunities that information and communications technologies can now bring to sister city-based international networking?

See video link on TED  website where Sugata Mitra talks about his Hole in the Wall project. Young kids in this project figured out how to use a PC on their own -- and then taught other kids. He asks, what else can children teach themselves?

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