How Moldova’s Academic Community Prepares Students for the Internet Age – An Interview with Dr. Victor Besliu

On 2 Feb 2011 we met with Dr. Victor Besliu, Chairman of the of Automation and Information Technology faculty at Moldova Technical University.  Dr. Besliu is a graduate of the Moscow Technical University, and has many strong ideas and recommendations for how Moldova can make students and graduates more competitive not only in the Moldova ICT community, but also the global community.

The interview was conducted mainly in Romanian language, with translation done by Ion Stanciu.  You can listen to the entire audio recording of the interview in Romanian HERE.

Main topics discussed during the interview included;

1.  His opinions on Moldova’s eReadiness

  • He conducted extensive research on the topic during 2005 and 2009
  • Moldova still has only a couple of universities with curriculum focusing on ICT (information and communications technologies)
  • Moldova Technical University (MTU) does offer a major in computer science
  • MTU has around 500 graduates from the program each year
  • Moldova currently has approximately 1500 professional, qualified ICTR specialists working in government and private industry
  • He considers the quality of Moldovan graduates quite high, as most are actually being recruited to work in foreign countries following university

2.  His opinions on how well Moldova is meeting the needs of children, preparing them to function and succeed in an Internet and computer-enabled world.

  • Children at a young age need access to ICT tools, and are able to quickly absorb the technology
  • If children are given access to computers and Internet too early, they could run a risk of slipping into a virtual world, and not being able to function correctly in social environments

3.  On distance education and eLearning

  • Moldova currently has no legal framework for eLearning, meaning formal credits towards degree programs are not available through online education
  • The academic community has begun discussion and planning to consider the question of incorporating eLearning into the curriculum, however that is still an open topic
  • There has not historically been a culture of lifelong learning in Moldova
  • Historically paper (degrees and diplomas) has been given higher status and more respect than experience or knowledge
  • Some face-to-face interaction in the education process is important

4.  On adult education

  • In the old days of the Soviet Union, there were age restrictions on persons entering degree programs (35)
  • Today, in Moldova, there are no age restrictions, allowing any person with prerequisite qualifications to apply for formal university programs
  • Many students from foreign countries apply to, and are accepted, into Moldova’s university system

5.  On how to make the Moldova education system more capable in meeting the needs of all students

  • Politicians must understand the role of communications, computers, and ICT education in the future of Moldova
  • Increase educator salaries and benefits to the level being a teacher in Moldova is an attractive profession
  • Many instructors are already working in private companies part time, allowing them to not only increase their income to the point of survival, but also to keep on top of new and emerging technologies
  • They are changing the university curriculum every 2~3 years based on technology and emerging ICT trends
  • Provide more opportunities for student internships in local companies to give them more practical knowledge of the concepts and theory learned in classrooms
  • Continue tracks within the ICT faculty that allow students to take courses to the degree level taught entirely in a foreign language, including French and English
  • Continue to emphasize beginning Internet and computer exposure into education system from the beginning – young students need to develop tacit knowledge of this technology and become computer/Internet literate not only to function in the workplace, but also in normal society

On a positive note, Dr. Besliu acknowledged many of MTU’s graduates are now well-positioned in Moldova companies, and that trend is expected to continue.  In addition, Many Moldovan expatriates are now returning home, further reinforcing Moldova’s ability to support development of a knowledge economy.



Please check Moldova technical University’s website for more information on their programs and activities.

Audio file for entire interview (in Romanian language) HERE

Vietnam’s Focus on Information and Communications Technology

When you live in California, it is easy to be a bigot when it comes to technology. Even within the United States the Silicon Valley attracts venture capital at a multiple of any other location within the country. It is easy to ignore the efforts of companies in Los Angeles, San Diego, Atlanta, or even Boston when looking at the rate of investment going into the ‘valley.

Here in Hanoi, the English newspaper “Viet Nam News” provides not only a mini-International Herald Tribune view of international news, but also a well-written review of primarily economic news within Viet Nam. Looking at the topics in this week’s papers you see a high number of articles related to both high tech investments in Viet Nam, as well as reviews on the status of technology infrastructure projects.

  • “Intellectual Property will be Protected, says VN President”
  • Articles on energy conservation and “green” strategies
  • The national telecom company (Viet Nam Post and Telecommunications/VNPT) subscriber growth
  • eCommerce and eBusiness strategies and support
  • Cooperation with other nations such as Israel, India, Japan, and the US
  • Regulating the internet “café” and kiosk industries
  • A critical article on the low rate of 31% for companies supporting web presence for their organization or business

It is all very exciting. It is exciting to know ICT infrastructure is getting a very high priority by the government, in addition to education. The marriage of ICT and education will continue to provide the country with an educated workforce, who will no doubt find their way into the international university system, and ultimately find their way home to Viet Nam.

An Internet Cafe in HanoiIt is easy to observe children going to school early in the day, and staying until their evening classes are completed. School children explain they are focusing their academic efforts on mathematics, physics, and language. Contrast this to the “soft” education our children are receiving in American schools, with a high percentage of children in cities such as Los Angeles never graduating, and you can see that countries like Viet Nam, with an emphasis on delivering ICT infrastructure and education will eventually have a major impact on the US’s ability to remain competitive with our own citizens.

In the US we fight over who has the right of way to build infrastructure though a public location, or which carrier has the monopoly to deliver services within a community. We worry about Network Neutrality and the control of content delivered over the network.

In Hanoi the government is funding, with the help of international donors and lenders, ICT infrastructure that equals or exceeds standards in many US cities – without the drama. You cannot walk a sidewalk in Hanoi without seeing major development projects, and huge bundles of conduit being buried beneath the sidewalks and streets.

Back to Education and ICT

At what point does Stanford and MIT determine they cannot meet their academic standards with American students, and have to come to countries like Viet Nam to recruit qualified freshman? At what point do the Vietnamese students return home, and begin to develop industries with funding from countries happy to encroach on the Silicon Valley’s dominance in technology and investment?

Years ago I would be offended by the high number of immigrants in cities such as Sunnyvale, Mountain View, and Milpitas. Now I realize we, as Americans, need the immigrants to continue providing highly educated and qualified people to drive our high tech industries. Rather than push these innovative and educated immigrants away, we need to embrace them and hope they will stay and become Americans as well. (author)

When I review newspapers in Los Angeles, Long Beach, or the San Fernando Valley, I cannot find the level of energy related to ICT found in the Viet Nam News/VNN. Counting on my fingers, the VNN has about three times the number of articles related to technology that AI would find in the LA Times. It is exciting to see the publisher, even if it is the government (with a bit of planned media influence), evangelizing the topic. The exception may be the San Jose Mercury News, which is by default focused on the activities in the Silicon Valley.

If it was only hype, I would probably ignore the news and go on about my business in Viet Nam. But you cannot walk the streets without absorbing the reality of ICT infrastructure construction. Telecom and telecom transmission, Internet, electricity, data centers, education – it is all visible.

Viet Nam is on the right track for their country’s development. Nothing is perfect, and there is always a “B” side to every story. However to the critical observer the direction of ICT in Viet Nam is strong.

Forward

Business and Social Frog Soup – are we ready for the next decade?

Over the past couple years I have written several stories with “frog soup” as a main theme. The idea of being in cold water, and not recognizing the degree by degree Frog soup concerns for the American economyincrease of heat in the water, till at some point we are cooked, is the danger of being a cold-blooded animal. Business may follow a similar course.

In business we can follow the route of “this is the way we’ve always done it, and it works, so there is no reason to change our processes or strategies.” Innovations like virtualization or cloud computing hit the headlines, and many say “it is a cool idea, but we want the security and hands-on confidence of running our own servers and applications.”

In the United States many telecom companies continue to build business cases based on “milking” telephone settlement minutes, bilateral relationships, and controlling telecom “pipes.” Internet service providers (ISPs) continue holding on to traditional peering relationships, holding out for “paid peering,” doing everything possible to attain market advantage based on traffic ratios.

Nothing new, same ideas, different decade.

It is international frog soup.

In Vietnam the government is currently planning to build an entirely new information infrastructure, from the ground up, based on the most cutting edge telecom and data/content infrastructure. Children in Hanoi go to school at 7 a.m., take a quick lunch break, hit the books till around 5 p.m., take another break, and finish their day at study sessions till around 9 p.m.

Concentration – mathematics, physics, and language.

The children are being exposed to Internet-based technologies, combining their tacit experience and knowledge of global interconnected people with a high degree of academic sophistication.

In the United States children go to school for, at most, 6 hours a day, graduating with (on average) little capabilities in math or language – although we do have deep knowledge of metal detectors and how to smoke cigarettes in the restrooms without being caught. In Los Angeles, some locations cannot even hit a 50% graduation rate among high school students.

And oddly enough, we appear to be comfortable with that statistic.

Perhaps our approach to business is following a similar pattern. We become used to approaching our industry, jobs, and relationships on a level of survival, rather than innovation. We may not in some cases even have the intellectual tools to apply existing technology to the potential of functioning in a global economy. Then we are surprised when an immigrant takes our job or business.

Some universities, such as Stanford, aggressively recruit students from foreign countries, as they cannot attract enough qualified student s from the United States to meet their desired academic threshold. And once they graduate from Stanford, they find their way into Silicon Valley startups, with an entrepreneurial spirit that is beyond the scope of many American graduates.

Those startups have the intellectual and entrepreneurial tools to compete in a global economy, using innovative thinking, unbound by traditional processes and relationships, and are driving the center of what used to be America’s center of the global innovation world. Except that it is only based in Silicon Valley, and now represents the center of a global innovative community. Possibly due to the availability of increasingly cheaper American labor?

Frog Soup

Us Americans – we are getting lazy. Innovation to us may mean how we manipulate paper, and has nothing to do with manufacturing and business innovation. We are starting to miss the value of new products, new concepts, and execution of business plans which end up in production of goods for export and domestic use. We believe concentration on services industries will drive our economy into the future, based on products and other commercial goods imported into our country.

Except for the painful fact and reality we do not have a young generation with the intellectual tools to compete with kids in Hanoi who are on a near religious quest to learn.

The temperature is rising, and we as a country and economic factor in the global community is being diluted every day.

Time to put away the video games and get back to work. No more “time outs,” only time to roll up our sleeves and learn, innovate, learn, innovate, and innovate some more. Forget comfort, we are nearly soup.

Citizen Journalism in Hanoi

For many Americans, the idea of traveling to Hanoi brings a certain level of mystique. Our media exposure to Hanoi has been primarily press corps following politicians such as John McCain, or via the occasional human interest story that pops through via an international cable channel such as Current TV. But for most Americans our memories and images of Hanoi are from the war, whether it is a photo of Jane Fonda gracing an anti-aircraft weapon, or the prisoners of war being released from custody.

Or maybe Vietnam has simply fallen off the charts as an area of interest, while the world focuses on other areas considered more important such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

Citizen journalists may serve an important function in locations such as Hanoi. With an estimated population of nearly 6.3 million, Hanoi is far from a small town, and estimates are the city is growing at about 3.5% a year. The potential of Hanoi, and all other areas within Vietnam as an economic factor within the next decade is daunting, as the government aggressively tries to bring Vietnam into the modern global community.

A street scene from old town HanoiNo Visible Restrictions on Recording Life in Hanoi

Having completed a series of meeting in Hanoi, I had a day and a half of free time to look around and experience the city. During this time I probably took 2000 photos, interviewed a handful of Vietnamese and foreign expatriates, and walked freely through city streets. Not once was I questioned, cautioned, or otherwise threatened in either an official capacity, or unofficially by residents of the city.

Along with me were large gaggles of European tourists, mainly of the backpacker and “walk-about” variety. Most were frantically snapping away with their cameras in the Hanoi “Old Town,” and like me appeared to be traveling freely, without any level of distraction.

In short, the government made no attempt at preventing anybody in my limited experience from recording any level of reality within the streets of Hanoi. Hardly the restrictive government some media outlets would lead you to believe. Or maybe that is American media outlets.

Why it is Important to record Life in Hanoi, and Other Emerging Cities

In the 1970s while stationed on Okinawa in the US Air Force I met a former Marine who was returning to Okinawa to renew his karate certifications. The Marine was always carrying a camera, snapping photos of everything. Literally everything. Amused, I asked him why he found it so important to take pictures of everything he encountered, and the answer was simple. “You never know what is important, not important, or just interesting. However you should never let the moment go unrecorded, as the value may only be known long after the event has passed.” (Ihor Rymaruk – 1981)

Thus, while walking around Hanoi, talking with people and indulging in moments of sensory absorption, Hanoi is in a period of rapid reconstruction. The horrifying examples of aerial electrical and telecom cabling currently hanging in the streets are being replaced with buried cable. Superhighways are being constructed, and Internet diffusion into the education system is a very high priority with the government.

In 20 years much of old Hanoi will be replaced with a modern city, much as Beijing has gone from a city of Hutong (old-style brick structures), horses, bicycles, and scooters to a modern city of high-rises, Audis, and Starbucks – Hanoi will go through a similar modernization and conversion. The levels of CO2 spewing from legions of scooters will be replaced with modern transportation, and the city will be unrecognizable from the Hanoi of today.

The history of Hanoi, from the Mongols, to the French, to the Japanese, to the Vietnam of 2009 will also fade with globalization and the facelift of modernization.

Citizen Journalists Have a Story

There is an argument that says “on the Internet nobody knows you are a dog.” This roughly means that in the digital age, deception be3comes even easier than ever before in history. The ease of misrepresenting facts, issues, or history is as easy as typing in your desired format, Photo-shopping a picture, and recording your “facts.”

Thus the world in general has had some misgivings on the value or integrity of citizen journalism, or when amateurs become reporters.

The other argument is that citizen journalists only record facts, and others may interpret those facts based on their in-depth knowledge of the subject matter, or the spin which will further reinforce their objectives.

In reality, experience is beginning to show that for a majority of “amateur” journalists the intrinsic reward of presenting a story or record of events in its purest form is far more fulfilling than using their effort for purposes of propaganda or an intentional misrepresentation of events. Thus the raw footage of riots and emotion in the streets of Tehran following the recent elections – those recording the events did not analyze, they simply transmitted events to the world as quickly as possible to ensure the history was not lost.

Too Close to See Reality

The final factor is that in a city like Hanoi, people concentrate on their daily lives, with little regard to something as small as the power company digging up a sidewalk to bury high voltage power cabling. When you are concerned about your children getting to school on time, you do not concern yourself with mobile phone transmission towers being placed on a nearby building. Highway construction is more of an annoyance than a historical event.

Thus, the outsider brings value to the preservation of history. When we as senior citizens want to remind the youth of our struggles during war, poverty, or explain the days when we actually chopped our own wood for cooking fuel, without a record of that history a child who lives within a future generation of the iPhone will have difficulty understanding how their life evolved into an environment where any child in Hanoi is a full-fledged, card-carrying member of the global community.

Putting the Past Aside

CNN or Fox News cannot provide the bandwidth needed to bring both fact and analysis. Americans should have the opportunity to see the real Hanoi, not the Hanoi brought to us in novels or drama dwelling on the pain and history of war. The Vietnamese know there was a war, Americans know there was a war, and of course we cannot afford to let history slip past.

But we also cannot hold a 12 year old student accountable for the human tragedy experienced in previous 500 years of history – we can only welcome the student into the global community of 12 year old students who will lead the world in a few short years. Without citizen journalists presenting communities like Hanoi to the rest of the world, the youth of Hanoi may carry an unreasonable burden to “prove” themselves.

In Hanoi, the government has offered no restrictions on recording the Hanoi of today, and hopefully a corps of citizen journalists will ensure events are recorded through interviews, impressions, visuals (photos, video, sound), and not lost to the dark age of history. And with luck we will have a similar article in the near future talking about Palestine, Afghanistan, North Korea, and Iraq.

John Savageau, Inchon International Airport, South Korea

A Day in Hanoi – Moving On to a Tech-Fueled Future

How do you get 6.2 million people up every morning, feed them, send them to work or school, and put a roof over their heads every night in a country where the average income of a worker is around $800 a year? Then answer is easy. Hard work, sacrifice, innovation, and an entrepreneurial spirit that is partially survival instinct, and mostly hope.

Motor Scooter Covered with HatsIn Hanoi it is easy to be confused while walking down a main street where many shops offer the latest in wide screen TVs and mobile phone technology, while navigating sidewalks busy with vendors trying to scrape a living by selling used books and bowls of dumplings.

We’ve been here before. Guangzhou in the early 1990s. Ulaanbaatar in the 1990s. Jakarta. Locations that are now littered with a Starbucks on every street corner, Mercedes Benz jamming the streets, and a hunger for opulence that has literally flipped the economy and quality of life on its back.

Does Hanoi have the same opportunity and appetite for success as other Asian countries? The intellectual and institutional tools to make s it happen?

Absolutely.

In the 1900s foreign tech companies would go to China to set up shop. Most had a twisted idea that if they sold a comb to one billion Chinese they would become wealthy, but others saw the potential of China as a place to build new business, and new business models not possible in their home countries. In the telecom Telecom and Power Cabling in Hanoibusiness we found university graduates with strong backgrounds in math, science, and physics – but had never actually touched a laptop computer or telecom switch.

Within a few months, with their strong academic training, the Chinese employees were overtaking their (in our case) American counterparts in both understanding the technology we were deploying, but also having a view into the future that was not nurtured in our home offices.

As a company we made the decision to let the China-based branch offices of our company loose to develop new products, software, and services based roughly on our company’s target market. The China office blew past our home office vision, and led the company into new areas of business that ultimately changed our entire service line – until we were eventually throttled back due to our business being contributed into a merger.

I see the same intelligence, capability, and burning hunger for success in Hanoi. The university graduates I meet are smart, really smart. Unlike the 1990s in China, Hanoi (and I assume many parts of Vietnam) already have some access to Internet technology. Very low cost Internet cafes dot the city, and a peek into the café reveals users are not playing games – rather they are using Facebook and other social media to communicate with expatriate relatives and friends, as well as making new contacts around the world.

Well-educated, and globalized.

Prioritizing Hanoi

There are several arguments possible on where and how Hanoi should focus their innovative efforts. The city infrastructure is appalling. Raw sewage floats down the sidewalks and street where children are playing. Tens Motor Scooters at an Intersection in Hanoiof thousands of scooters spew CO2 into the air. Low quality coal is used in homes for cooking and heat, spewing terrible levels of particulate into the air, as well as increasing the potential of illness due to CO2 poisoning in the home.

Clean water is also a commodity, and there is no assurance even tap water meets minimum international standards for health.

High voltage power lines are frequently running along the top of city sidewalks, and bundles of telephone and power cables drape their way across streets and intersections creating a situation that makes you pray there are no typhoons, earthquakes, or even irresponsible lorry (truck) drivers that may cause one of the utility poles to tumble into a crowded public space.

So the dilemma – should a city like Hanoi focus all its effort on rebuilding city infrastructure, or jumping into the 22nd century exploiting the capacity of their youth? Rhetorical? Maybe. Necessary? Definitely.

My suggestion would be to let the international agencies work with government to develop a strategy to rebuild the city’s infrastructure, and let the private sector develop the youth of Vietnam to build the basis for an economy and society for the next generation.

It would be a tragedy to force the youth of Hanoi, or any other developing country, to miss the opportunities of living in a global social and economic future driven by technology – and be forced to look forward to a life of selling used books to foreigners standing outside of the Hanoi Opera House, scraping enough money out of the sympathies of passing tourists, to find enough money to buy food to live through the next day.

Maybe there is a place for both. Maybe the youth can be trained to develop technologies that will help rebuild Vietnam’s infrastructure. The only problem that arises is that building infrastructure does not build products, provide exports, or support a market economy – it is merely a national cost center in a country that clearly is not in a position to afford a US-style deficit.

Back to the Future

But, when walking past an elementary school it is easy to become excited at the future of Hanoi. Young people must be smarter than our “baby boomer” generation, and they are being presented with basic intellectual tools to run with their dreams and visions. This will not be in competition to America or other country, but rather a new partner in developing a better world.

Given the experiences of China and Mongolia (my own experiences), I have deep empathy for the current sacrifices being made each day by the people of Hanoi, and great optimism that Hanoi’s quality of life and place in the globalized social community will level with the international community within the next generation.

John Savageau, Hanoi

Diffusing Technology into Generation Z

Us “Baby Boomers” tend to believe we have accomplished a lot in the years ranging from our roots of hard rock, to the birth of basic internet technologies in the early 1970s. We started our generation with black and white television, Generation Zexperiencing everything from the assassination of President Kennedy to absorbing the wonders of man walking on the moon. We end our generation with 7.6 Terabit submarine cables connecting every continent with high speed many-to-many interactive communications and applications.

Communications for many during the early 1960s consisted of telephone party lines, daily newspapers, telegraph, and radio broadcast. While in high school (Richfield, Minnesota), some of us privileged students in more opulent areas had access to computer classes. This consisted of having a teletype terminal attached via low capacity lines to a central mainframe computer – using a service called “time sharing.” Very cool, and very exotic.

Competition for a place in computer class was aggressive, and only a few of us were able to indulge in the excitement of connecting to a machine someplace outside of our class. We didn’t waste a moment of time learning some rudimentary programming routines, and were considered very strange by a majority of students in school, who either did not make the grade for computer class, or simply did not care.

Generation Z

In an opulent city like Richfield, the only real way to communicate with other students or people outside of our community was through the “exchange student” program. One or two students from a different country, such as Germany or Japan would live with a local family, and attend school in our city. This was to both give those students a chance to expand their experiences, but also to give us a chance to interact with students from a different country or culture.

At that time a child in Mongolia would have still lived under Soviet rule, not allowed to travel beyond his or her local community without specific permission. Many children in the Mongolia countryside never made it out of their Aimag (similar to a province or state), and had no idea of the world beyond their own village.

In 1994 Sprint China was asked to support an Internet project in Mongolia, sponsored by several international agencies. Tough job, and working with visionaries such as Dr. Enkhbat Dangaasuren and the late Narantsetseg Baljin, Magicnet Mongolia started delivering basic internet services to the public, with a whopping 64Kbps satellite connection to Stockton, California.

Today, almost any child, even in remote parts of places such as Mongolia, has nearly the same level of network access a child in Rolling Hills, California enjoys. It is normal for a 7 year old Mongolian child living in Ulaanbaatar to have an online chat with others in Mongolia, Germany, the US, or other country. It is normal for the child to use an application such as Skype to call a friend living in Japan or Canada, and it is expected to be available to them 24 hours a day.

Some governments haven’t had the means or desire to fully embrace educational or social globalization, however even the most restrictive national policies are eroding in favor of enlightening their new generations.

You can hardly find a Generation Z (born after 1990) person who does not have their own PDA or smart phone, and maintaining a Facebook page offers no more challenge than putting a paper book cover on a text book presented a baby Boomer.

Technology Diffusion and the Future

Globalizing Generation ZIf the generation born between 1945 and 1955 could put a man on the moon, invent Internet, Ethernet, and other digital technologies – with a background that did not include television, mobile phones, digital computers, or anything beyond a slide rule, what might we expect from Gen Z babies?

With Hex-core CPUs ready to find their way into laptop computers, SSDs making storage an anecdote, and ubiquitous network access a utility, what is a mind that grew up as a Gen Z baby capable of accomplishing? If your child has a problem with homework and needs help, and simply states “I’ll just ask my buddy in Nairobi, she is really good at physics,” what does it mean for further socio-economic globalization?

Technology Diffusion in Generation Z

Diffusion is the random movement of atoms, molecules, or ions from one site in a medium to another, resulting in complete mixing (Encarta, 1999).

Diffusion of technology in our context has two separate meanings. The first is through education, and the “absorption” of technology into the mental DNA of young people. The second meaning is the mixing of people, cultures, languages, and ideas into young people’s identities at a rate faster than Chingiss (Genghis) Khan absorbed most of Asia.

Each generation from the start of the industrial age till now has focused their efforts on exploiting natural resources, improving their quality of life, developing really scary weapons, and leading the world to the brink of annihilation – both from war and/or environmental disaster.

It is my belief Generation Z now has made a huge leap in available intellectual tools, well diffused into their intellectual DNA, to start unraveling the damage our generations have done, and start using this powerful supermarket of technology to innovate at a rate far outpacing anything in history. They will innovate, and discover things in our world and universe that is far beyond an old baby boomer’s ability to comprehend.

What baby boomers can comprehend is that during the twilight of our watch, we have an obligation to continue aggressively providing the tools needed by later generations to take our leadership “baton,” and see how fast the younger guys can actually run. Young people scattered around the world, capable of meeting each other online, and collaborating without the burden of geography, cultural, racial, religious, or social barriers.

And then us baby boomers can sit back and watch an old episode of Star Trek.

John Savageau, Long Beach

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