American Technology (and Education) Left in the Dust by South Korea?

Norimitsu Onishi article in the New York Times about South Korea’s robotics efforts make American technology and educational technology seem somewhat archaic. (read the article soon, because the NY Times charges you after a week. Or bookmark it with ma.gnolia and they will save a copy for you)

Some factoids about South Korea from the article:

  • this month they will introduce WiBro, the 10 megabit wireless Internet connection for your home (faster than your cable or DSL modem)
  • first country in the world to to have high-speed Internet in every primary, junior and high school (the U.S. still doesn’t have that)
  • you can watch TV on Korean cell phones (U.S. companies are starting to offer this now too)
  • Microsoft and Motorola test new technologies in South Korea before the U.S.
  • 17 of 48 million people in South Korea are members of CyWorld, a social-networking website (not just kids)
  • 72% of South Korean households have high-speed Internet access (in the U.S. it is 58%, ranking 15th in the world)

CyWorld is so popular in South Korea that many politicians, celebrities and companies have formed profiles on that site rather than creating their own websites. CyWorld is similar to MySpace or Friendster in that you create your own profile, and then indicate who are your 1st circle friends. The rest of the space connects accordingly.

The article speaks to commitment. South Korea certainly doesn’t have more money or resources that the United States, but it is committed to using technology to improve the lives of its people. The national government offers information technology courses to homemakers and makes subsidized computers available to low-income families. That is commitment. Here in the U.S., the federal government decided to completely cut educational technology spending (read it yourself here), while standing by companies like Verizon who are trying to prevent cities like Philadelphia from giving away free wireless access. By 2010, they intend to put a networked robot in every home (the Jetson’s have finally arrived!).

From an education perspective, they are committed to giving their students access to 21st century tools so they can compete and thrive in a 21st century world. They realize that with broadband access, Internet-enabled phones and social-networking websites comes responsibility. To ensure their students know how to practice safely online, they created educational programs for all schools: February, the government released a 256-page “IT Ethics” textbook for junior and high school students. Teachers are expected to spend 30 hours instructing from the textbook, whose chapters include “Healthy Mobile Phone Culture,” and “Protecting Personal Privacy.

The U.S. needs to take a long hard look at itself as it seems like we take an arrogant approach to things sometimes – feeling that we are the world hegemond simply because our military is the strongest. Let’s not confuse the issue. Just because we can beat everyone else up, doesn’t mean we are smarter. We need to make strategic choices to make sure that the citizens of the U.S. and the students of the U.S. are being provided what they need to excel. Right now, it seems like we have a long way to go.

p.s. I know the robot in the picture is Japanese, but I couldn’t find a good Korean robot photo that was not copywritten

Technorati Tags: education, FCC, future, Internet, New York Times, Norimitsu Onishi, Philadelphia, robot, robotics, safety, schools, South Korea, students, technology, Verizon, WiBro, wireless

arvind s. grover

I am a progressive educator, a podcaster (, a blogger, and dean of faculty of JK-11 school (building a high school) in New York City.