Thursday, March 20, 2008

An ICT revolution in PNG

A quite revolution is taking place in Papua New Guinea which promises to bring about massive development to our beloved country.

This is the development of what is known as PNGARNet, short for Papua New Guinea Academic and Research Network, which is being spearheaded by our universities, in particular the Divine Word University in Madang.

PNGARNET, set to be launched next month, is a company wholly-owned by the PNG Vice-Chancellors Committee.

PNGARNET was formed with the express purpose of facilitating the efficient cost-effective delivery of Internet services to Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) and research in PNG so that PNG tertiary students can receive a world-class education.

Potentially, all those organisations, which are part of the Office of Higher Education (OHE) in PNG, can become involved in PNGARNET.

In its initial and start-up phase, the original formation group of the PNG universities is spearheading the development.

The Universities of PNG are either state-funded or non state-funded.

The state-funded universities are University of Goroka, University of Papua New Guinea, University of Technology and Vudal University.

The non state-funded universities are Divine Word University and Pacific Adventist University.
These six universities are the founding institutions of PNGARNET along with National Research Institute (NRI) and National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI).

PNGARNET is providing efficient Internet resources to its members through a satellite Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN).

The typology of PNGARNET attempts to provide each member institution with complete institutional integrity as well a provide potentials for intercommunications.

At Divine Word University in Madang last weekend, I was able to see for myself initial work on this exciting project, which promises to bring about untold development.

PNGARNET was formed three years ago by the OHE and its stakeholders, the six universities, with DWU’s visionary president Father Jan Czuba appointed as chairman to commence dialogue with Telikom and PANGTEL.

“The benefits will be tremendous,” Fr Czuba said in an interview.

“The whole approach to teaching and learning in PNG will change.

“Having access to information will significantly reduce the cost of higher education.

“Instead of flying in professors, they can teach using video conferencing.

“To improve our quality of higher education, we need to have resources, which are very expensive.

“The PNGARNET will allow have student to have access (to these resources).

“That’s a huge advantage.

“It will open up new opportunities for PNG students, with unlimited access to universities in US, Australia and New Zealand.”

Fr Czuba said ARNET had the full backing of Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare and his Ministers.

The PNGARNET system is designed around a VLAN implemented through satellite technology.
It is designed to help answer the challenge that the universities of PNG offer a quality education to PNG citizens.

The third PNG National Educational Plan offers the challenge that the universities provide a world class education to its citizens.

This plan presumes that PNG tertiary students will be able to access the learning resources that are commonly provided via Internet connections, thus, PNG students must become world learners.

PNGARNET will employ satellite technology to link the universities of PNG to each other and to the World Wide Web.

To achieve this linkage, PNGARNET provides the infrastructure to coordinate the satellite system.

PNGARNET enables the satellite dishes to coordinate with central servers, which happen to be installed at this point in time, in Hong Kong.

The company, PNGARNET, also provides the central skill base in order to train staff for each institution.

PNGARNET is designed to not limit the independence of any university and to maximise the skill sharing for all universities.

The vision of PNGARNET is that this satellite link will connect all the institutions of higher education in PNG.

This linking will take time, and in the first stages, the major partners are all the universities of PNG, NRI and NARI.

It is hoped that other institutions of higher education will join the scheme as funding becomes available, as they grow in confidence in the scheme, and as the scheme matures into benefits for PNG tertiary students.

It is also anticipated that other schemes will evolve, similar to PNGARNET, for higher education.
It is hoped that hospitals and secondary schools might also develop similar projects to enhance their provision of services and to better attain their goals.

PNGARNET has the mission to provide efficient, cost-effective Internet to institutions of higher education in PNG.

The objectives of PNGARNET are simple ones.

These objectives are to offer PNG higher education institutions increased bandwidth that is reliable, cost effective and of a bandwidth suitable to be educationally advantageous.

At the same time, PNGARNET seeks to maintain and promote institutional independence and encourage collaboration.

Further, PNGARNET seeks to develop skills and ICT capacities in all its institutions by enabling skill-sharing, inter-institution training, and bringing new skills sets into play.

As these possibilities are exploited and used in daily teaching and administration tasks, then the goals of PNGARNET are being achieved.

Chandana Silva, ICT manager of DWU, and his team have collated the equipment needs of the major initial PNGARNET partners.

The equipment including satellite dishes, antennae and Block Up Converters (BUCs) – a device used in the transmission of satellite signals - for the sites of the PNGARNET partners has been sourced mainly from China.

The coordination of this equipment has been a large undertaking.

Mr Silva is in Hong Kong this week to commission the PNGARNet set-up there in time for the launch next month.

All over this increasingly-globalised world, a massive Information Revolution is taking place as economies use ICT as a passport to what economists call the “New Economy”.

Papua New Guinea will continue to remain light years behind the rest of the world if we do not jump on the ICT bandwagon in this globalised world.

Access to Internet, adequate infrastructure, human capacity building and appropriate policies on ICT are central issues in addressing the digital divide.

Success in this globalised world is predicated on ICT knowledge and successful knowledge-based economies will be based on the efficient and widespread use of ICT by all sectors within any given country.

ARNET is indeed a giant step in the right direction for Papua New Guinea.

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