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Technology and Ecology Around the World

Aired September 17, 2005 - 19:30:00   ET


EUNICE YOON, CNN ANCHOR: On this week's GLOBAL CHALLENGES, board of education -- the writing is on the wall for these Chinese school kids; Internet for everyone -- this small steel box opens up a whole new world; and a leap in the dark to gather them up two by two before they become extinct.
Hello and welcome to Hong Kong.

There is an old saying: you reap what you sow. And when it comes to educating the next generation, that's definitely the case. China realizes this and knows if it wants to continue its massive economic growth, it needs to educate its youth at the highest level. So you wouldn't think that they would want to go back to the drawing board. Well, think again.


(voice-over): China's half-million schools all look very much like this one in Guajo (ph) province: youngsters at rickety wooden desks memorizing their lessons word for word. But with the government keen to transform China into a world superpower, it's come up with a plan to turn this into this.

Hong Kong's Locust Academy (ph) is considered an innovator in the education field here and one of several schools taking part in a new research project monitored by Beijing. The school is testing digital whiteboards, one of many new technologies China's officials hope will help shakeup China's rigid education system.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We are so used to the idea of ranking the students by the marks they get on exams. A new system is good for students to develop their own abilities and creates a creative study environment.

YOON: Sparking creativity hasn't been easy for a school system which for years trained students to recite and memorize rather than think for themselves. Beijing's tight rein on information also discouraged free thinking.

Currently the country spends 3.2 percent of its gross domestic product on education compared to 5 percent in the United States. Educators say the government aims to increase that number to 7 percent by 2010.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: China is still very much of a manufacturing type society and in a manufacturing economy you need people who are going to follow instructions. Clearly, to be a leading economy in the world today you have to produce an innovative climate. So China is aware of that and it is trying to do what it can.

YOON: China is adopting new technologies to improve the education of its more than 200 million grammar and high school students. In addition to audio-visual equipment, like recorders and VCDs, the government is looking at computers, the Internet and digital whiteboards, like the ones made by Canadian firm Smart Technologies.

Smart Technologies interactive whiteboards are the modern day version of a traditional chalkboard.

NANCY KNOWLTON, SMART TECHNOLOGIES: Chinese students are just like students anywhere around the world. They are very excited to have something in the classroom that brings their lessen activities alive for them. The interactive whiteboard and everything that you can do with it and show with it speaks to them in a way that just words on paper can't do.

YOON: Students can move shapes around the board's touch-sensitive surface and use electronic markers to write notes that can be saved onto a computer for a lesson the following day. They can also watch DVDs and access the Internet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't have to press any keys. I just move it with my hands.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We can draw on it, like that. We can just move the things around.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I like the way that you can write on it with those electric markers. They're very cool.

YOON: They can even use the board to chat with students at other schools.

(on camera): Chinese students in Beijing and Hong Kong are coordinating their whiteboards so they can interact with each other electronically. Today they can share information and the hope is that in the future they'll be able to take lessons together.

(voice-over): Hoching (ph) Middle School in Hong Kong and Beijing's Uti (ph) plan on using the whiteboards to help their students learn Mandarin and English from each other.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I think the smart board is quite good and useful and it makes distance communication easier. With this smart board, all the students see the content as soon as I write it down.

YOON: Yet writing on the board can sometimes be tricky. Students complain that their shadows cast on the board by the projector can often get in the way. Staying on line for an extended length of time can also be a problem in China, a country where Internet bandwidth can be shoddy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The technology is ready, but the bandwidth is not ready. How come the bandwidth is not ready? Sometimes I don't know why. It's just not reliable.

YOON: The biggest hurdle is price. At $3,000 U.S. a piece, the interactive whiteboards are out of reach for the majority of schools here, a reminder to many educators that China will have to invest in more than new gadgets to change the status quo.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All these new boards may help to give some opportunities to students for creative thinking, but the most important thing is the teacher. The board itself cannot replace the teacher.

YOON: But for these students, the digital boards can help make learning a lot more fun.


When we come back, another way to inspire kids in school, this time with a small device that has big ideas.

Stay with us.


YOON: Welcome back.

Hong Kong has one of the most recognizable skylines on the planet. I would hate to see what the daily electricity bill is just to run all the computers in those buildings.

In many parts of the world, electricity is scarce and something only rich people can afford. But one computer chip maker hopes to change all that.


ALPHONSO VAN MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At Deep Slough (ph) Combined School, most of these students will celebrate graduation day, but few of these low income high schoolers will be able to turn their degree into a decent job.

They're big on talent and potential, but they live in the shadow of Johannesburg's affluent suburbs, where the school principal says it is hard to dream of becoming a doctor or a lawyer when her school, made of shacks, trailers and storage containers, can barely teach them the skills for on office job.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This school is situated in the heart of an informal settlement. What we call a squatter camp. And most of the houses are shacks. And they're not even the size of a normal room. 80 to 90 percent of the parents here are unemployed and they don't have any form of income so you can imagine that the children coming from this poverty- stricken background, still battling with feeding and clothing themselves, how could they ever access things like computers?

VAN MARSH: But a pilot program in South Africa is opening up access to students at Deep Slough (ph). One of the world's largest computer chip makers, California-based AMD, is providing these students with 40 little orange and gray boxes called PICs, personal Internet communicators.

They're designed to provide reliable Internet connections and barebones computing, like email and text editing, at a low price. Each PIC costs under $200. These PICs were part of a sponsorship program for the school's renovated Internet computer lab.

The PICs are connected to computer monitors, keyboards, as well as a mainframe server that is under lock and key. The PICs replace traditional computer processing units, CPUs, that couldn't handle Deep Slough's (ph) rough environment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We had a problem of maintaining our computers, especially our CPUs. Every time they were getting broken, or this part is off or that part is off. And, of course, children being children, tend to get into fiddling with them or breaking them themselves.

VAN MARSH (on camera): Now, while it is still necessary to call the technicians every once in a while, the owners say that the main component, the PIC, is virtually problem free. Why is that? Well, inside, the hard drive is enclosed in shock-resistant material. The manufacturers say the exterior, well, it's virtually indestructible.

(voice-over): The reliability of these PICs is a small but significant bit of stability in these students' lives. Students like 19- year-old Bulaloni Subaqua (ph). His story is one common to this area. Both parents were dead by his 16th birthday. One sister dropped out of school to have a baby. His other sister digs ditches.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our room is -- we have divided, this is my bed, my bookcase.

VAN MARSH: Bulaloni (ph), his sisters and his two nieces all live together in a one-room home with barely enough food to last weekend to weekend. And that's when Bulaloni (ph) brings home tips from working in a restaurant.

Bulaloni (ph) is in his last year of high school. His computer teacher says she was worried that he would dropout and work full-time. She says access to the Internet rekindled Bulaloni's (ph) desire to learn.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For the past two years, he wasn't, like, interested in his schoolwork or anything, but ever since -- because we've got extra classes, ever since sitting down with him and seeing that he is able to, I think that has boosted his self-esteem, because he's able to now do things for himself.

VAN MARSH: Things like come up with a computer business plan to open his own restaurant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can ask for sponsors and advertising your product through the Internet. The Internet is a whole new world. That is what will make my ideas popular. Normally I would be a dropout. A lot of jobs, they want people who have computer skills.

VAN MARSH: Bulaloni (ph) may bow a slow typer, but he's come a long way in just two years.

(on camera): Had you ever worked on a computer before?


VAN MARSH: Had you ever gone on the Internet before?


VAN MARSH: Had you ever seen a computer firsthand before?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I seen it, but I didn't work on it.

VAN MARSH (voice-over): Getting half the world's people connected to the Internet by the year 2015, that's the goal of PIC-maker AMD. The company CEO says the key to connecting people is to cater to the world's biggest underserved market, low income consumers, both present and future.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For a person that grew up as a young kid in Mexico shining shoes on the street, it becomes pretty personal. With today's technology, something like this device in a child's classroom or home, imagine what it will do. To me, it is fascinating to think of the possibilities.

You know, there could be some place in Mexico, Brazil, India or Africa, there may be the next Bill Gates sitting there, but we'll never know.

VAN MARSH: Teachers at Deep Slough (ph) Combined School say they're aiming for more realistic goals. Today's lesson, search online for clipart to make a flier selling electronics. For these students, there will be many obstacles ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Others look at their background and say, but even if I wanted to be a pilot, who is going to pay my fees to do that? So they will be provided with computer skills that they'll be able, for instance, while maybe they're still looking for financial support, to go to further their studies, they'll be able to work as clerks.

VAN MARSH (on camera): In your school you have access to these computers. Have these computers kind of opened up a whole different world for you than perhaps the world that you know here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. The children of Deep Slough (ph), we are losing hope. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in a squatter camp. You want to use computers. This is the first school to have this computer access, and it gives others encouragement.

VAN MARSH (voice-over): These PICs won't end the cycle of poverty in this Johannesburg suburb, but Bulaloni (ph) credits his computer class for inspiring him to break the cycle for him and his family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will make it. I will try.

VAN MARSH: Alphonso Van Marsh, GLOBAL CHALLENGES, Deep Slough (ph), South Africa.


YOON: Just a side note to that story. After Hurricane Katrina struck the United States, AMD deployed dozens of PICs to help those displaced by the storm locate family and friends.

After the break, it's not easy being green. The E word, extinction, rears its ugly head.

We'll be right back.


YOON: Welcome back.

Our ecosystem is so delicately balanced that if just one seemingly insignificant species dies off it could have enormous implication. It's hard to believe that a type of animal that has been around for 300 million years could disappear virtually overnight, but that's the fate that threatens frogs as well as other amphibians. Some scientists believe that this could be a giant red flag for mankind and something is being done about it.


MICHAEL SCHULDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a small section of rainforest teeming with life, a silent killer is on its way.

The killer is a fungus that has been moving from continent to continent, wiping out entire species of frogs. Scientists fear the deadly Kitric (ph) fungus may be contributing to a mass extinction on a scale not seen since the disappearance of the dinosaurs.

They believe this piece of paradise is the fungus's next stop. The only hope is that two men from Atlanta get here first.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And where do you work?

MENDELSON: I'm the curator of amphibians and reptiles at Zoo Atlanta.

RON GAGLIARDO, ATLANTA BOTANICAL GARDEN: Ron Gagliardo. I'm the curator of tropical collections at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

SCHULDER: Joe Mendelson and Ron Gagliardo are flying to Panama on a mission to save 40 rare species of frogs. They are armed with one of the oldest ideas in the book. You could call it operation Noah's Ark.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This permit allows 40 individuals of any gender and any species of frog.

SCHULDER: Mendelson and Gagliardo hope to find and evacuate 20 males and 20 females from each of the species they're trying to rescue, enough mating breeding pairs, they hope, to preserve the species in captivity until a way can be found to figure out how to deal with the fungus and return the frogs safely to the wild.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you hand me the map, I'll navigate from back here.

SCHULDER: Among the amazing varieties they hope to rescue is the glass frog, whose skin is so thin you can see right through to its internal organs.

Why should mankind be concerned that so many frogs are dying? One answer is down this hall in the food prep area that Mendelson and Gagliardo have set up for the evacuees.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a tasty morsel for a big tree frog.

SCHULDER: It is bad news when the natural predators of so many disease carrying insects disappear.

GAGLIARDO: Frogs play a major role in the eco system. They're consumers of insects. They're consumed themselves by other things higher in the food chain. So when you take out the biomass, which is tremendous, of amphibians out of the food chain, that's obviously going to have some kind of ripple effect that we can't even understand yet.

SCHULDER: Of the 6,000 or so amphibian species ever identified, about 120 are now presumes to be extinct. One hundred twenty out of 6,000 does not sound too bad. What's alarming is that most of those 120 species have died off suddenly in the past 20 years and more than 1/3 of those that remain are in decline and in danger of dying.

MENDELSON: I couldn't tell you how long this species has been on the planet, but presumably millions of years. And it's about to get snuffed out in the next 10, 12 months.

SHOULDER: But why now? Why after millions of years of adapting and surviving are so many types of frogs facing extinction? There is one particularly frightening possibility: that the human footprint, which has destroyed so much habitat and caused so much pollution, and left frogs vulnerable to a fungus that they might have survived in the past, and that frogs are not the only ones at risk.

CLAUDE GASCON, CONSERVATION INTL.: Today amphibians and the same life support systems, the same impacts that are causing this on amphibians, I think, can start to have impacts on other groups of organisms. And again, I think ultimately on the survival of our own species.

SCHULDER: For now, the mission at hand is to buy time, so into the woods they go. With a dedicated team of Panamanian biologists, they wait for the sun to go down and the frogs to wake up.

Rainforest frogs are not easy to find. Not with such amazing camouflage for skin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They found one.

SCHULDER: Suddenly, a sighting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, fantastic. That's one of our A1 priority species here. Any idea what sex this one is?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is a female.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So if you come back to this spot in a year-and-a- half from now, it's likely this won't be here.

Nice catch.

SCHULDER: And another sighting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, wow. This is a mated pair of rain frogs on top. Very much smaller than the much larger female. These are both adults.

SCHULDER: And more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And they're incredibly abundant in the environment. For every one you see, I guarantee we have walked past 20, 30, 40 more.

MENDELSON: That's a rainforest moment, isn't it? We should bring that one back with us.

It's a good night for frogs. We're seeing a lot of things tonight. Unfortunately, this is not what this place will look like in about 10 months. Most all of these frogs will be gone.

SCHULDER: The mission this night is a success, but the Mendelson- Gagliardo team is not out of the woods yet.

The next challenge, how to get some of the greatest jumpers on earth safely packed into the carryon luggage.

BRAD WILSON, VETERINARIAN: We have to pack them very firmly so they can't move at all during the transit. This has been known for a lot of problems. They are jumpy in transport, where you'll have trouble with them hopping and rubbing their noses and then that can lead to open wounds and bacterial infection, which is a big problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Precious cargo is onboard and getting underway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You ready for some frogs?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Always ready for some frogs. All right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kind of moss covered, but perfectly fine.

SCHULDER: Mendelson and Gagliardo brought back 35 of the 40 species they were searching for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They've got a job ahead of them.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Their job is to learn how to live in Atlanta, learn how to eat in Atlanta, and then learn how to breed in Atlanta.

SCHULDER: The early signs are good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we're learning here is intended to serve as a model, so that we can implement it rapidly in other places around the world.

SCHULDER: The ultimate measure of success will be the one that applied to Noah himself in the Bible, ensuring that the surviving members of each species actually have a healthy, natural habitat to which they can return.

Michael Schulder, CNN, for GLOBAL CHALLENGES.


YOON: Well, I've got to go back to the office now, but it's been a pleasure spending this time with you.

I'm Eunice Yoon. See you soon.



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