Thu, Oct 23, 2003 - Page 11 News List

Academics aim to bolster local software industry

By Bill Heaney  /  STAFF REPORTER , IN TAOYUAN

Academics at the National Central University in Chungli are developing a new technology-based learning model that aims to boost the nation's software industry.

"Software is the part of the information technology industry we are beginning to try to develop," Liu Chao-han (劉兆漢), director of the university's Program for E-learning, told a group of foreign reporters yesterday.

Starting this year with an annual budget of NT$800 million for five years, the national software development program is concentrating on using a network of low-cost computing devices in classrooms from elementary to high school as the central teaching tool, eliminating the need for books, paper and pens.

The program started looking at new teaching software for tablet computers, but plans to develop cheaper alternatives that could resemble toys for younger children.

"Imagine a handheld device that resembles a toy and that costs about twice the price of a calculator," said Chan Tak-wai (陳德懷), chairman of the Graduate Institute for Network Learning Technology at the university.

"That is where we are aiming," Chan said.

The program might revolutionize the learning experience for children in the future.

"This is a very important project, not only for Taiwan but for the world, and it is going to change the way learning occurs, not only here, but elsewhere," said Joseph Kraj-cik, chairman of a learning technology review committee at Michigan University, in a videotaped commentary during a recent visit.

The Central University team is already selling the project to other countries in an attempt to establish an international network of on-line students, classrooms and virtual schools. Next week Chan plans to take a delegation to visit partner institutions in France, Switzerland, Germany and Sweden.

The program comes as Taiwan struggles to create a software industry. Figures from international research company International Data Corp (IDC) show the country had 60 software companies employing 781 people in 1996. That figure doubled to 122 companies employing 2,298 people last year and it is expected to reach 180 companies by 2006, representing 4,182 jobs.

The local software industry was worth US$698 million last year and is expected to grow to almost US$1.2 billion by 2006, IDC said.

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