Recently I traveled to China and Vietnam where I met with government leaders to discuss education policy, telecom liberalization and the need to include IT in national stimulus packages.This was my 15th trip to China and 4th trip to Vietnam over the last decade or so. Anyone visiting these nations is struck by the pace of change. The change is not random. It results from the focused actions of the governments and the industry of the people. In this period of economic transition, governments have a crucial role in positioning their nations for long-term competitiveness. No one can do it alone – collaboration through public-private partnerships, a long-term view, high expectations from the education system, and the willingness to make and implement tough decisions are essential. Looking at the stimulus package that China is implementing you get an idea of how they are looking forward in the 21st Century. The package includes many IT and physical infrastructure items as well as recognizing that incorporating the 800 million rural Chinese in any growth plan is absolutely critical. I moderated a forum in Beijing on Rural IT and what role it will play in bringing educational, health care and economic development advances. There was great enthusiasm for the topic. And in Vietnam, I also saw the government taking many of the right steps – liberalizing telecoms, increasing access to PCs and broadband, and fostering a pipeline of talent. Although a socialist country, competition is at the cornerstone of many of Vietnam’s initiatives – e.g. telecom liberalization. Vietnam now has some of the lowest broadband rates in the region. Demand in urban areas for DSL currently outstrips supply – a good problem to have. Vietnam needs to maintain the pace of telecom liberalization – with fixed DSL approaching its cost limit, WiMAX represents a fast and cost effective way for Vietnam to increase broadband penetration in both metro and rural areas. After visiting both countries I remain convinced of the importance of digital literacy in our knowledge-based global economy. China has already worked with Intel to train over 1 million teachers on how to incorporate technology into the class room. On this trip we and Vietnam’s Ministry of Education announced our intention to put connected PCs in the hands of 1 million Vietnamese teachers and train them as well. Additionally we awarded 28 scholarships to talented Vietnamese engineering students who will complete their studies at Portland State University and then commence work with Intel upon their return home. China and Vietnam are both working to foster an innovation economy and be better positioned for long-term national competitiveness. I see this trend everywhere including in the United States where President Obama’s stimulus package includes funds for broadband, digital health records, math and science education, basic research and much more. While these national stimulus plans are good business opportunities for the technology industry, in the longer term there will be more emphasis on IT and its importance for education, health care, and economic development. The long-term impact on individuals worldwide could be more far-reaching. Perhaps that is the sunlight we see at the end of this economic recession.
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