Tuesday, April 8, 2003
Academics, tech keep HK ticking


Academics and technology firms are keeping basic education and business going in Hong Kong, despite the lingering public health crisis.

Hong Kong Baptist University and the Hong Kong Computer Society have teamed up with information technology vendors, including software giant Microsoft, in campaigns designed to counteract the impact of the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars).

Responding to the suspension of classes, Hong Kong Baptist University last week offered schools the free use of its Internet-based Virtual Integrated Teaching and Learning Environment (VITLE) platform.

"We are encouraging the principals of these schools and their students to adopt e-learning by continuing their classes on the VITLE platform," said Alex Fung Chi-wah, chairman of the university's Web-based teaching and learning task force and head of education studies.

Professor Fung said the principals of 39 out of about 1,300 schools in Hong Kong had registered for training on VITLE, located at www.iLearn.com.hk.

The university has been developing VITLE as its e-learning infrastructure over the past nine months.

It was due to conduct pilot tests next month.

"But after the government decided to suspend classes, we saw a need for education to continue over the Internet," Mr Fung said.

He had scrambled late last month to gather sponsors and get the infrastructure ready. Co- The VITLE site is supported by servers from Cellwise Technologies, broadband connection from the Powernet Internet Group, database software and an operating system from Microsoft and interactive applications such as ColdFusion MX and Flash Communication Server MX from Macromedia.

As an e-learning application, Macromedia Breeze allows teachers to create and conduct multimedia courses over the Internet.

Mr Fung said he was looking to increase VITLE's physical computing capacity in case of a prolonged and expanded need to support users.

Microsoft Hong Kong managing director Mark Phibbs said Baptist University could count on the company's support should the platform need more resources to cope with an increase in demand.

The Education and Manpower Bureau last week announced that all kindergarten, primary and secondary classes would remain suspended until April 21. Classes were originally suspended from March 29 and due to reopen yesterday.

Secretary for Education and Manpower Arthur Li Kwok-cheung said the suspension had been extended to the Easter holidays because the Sars situation has not stabilised.

The government-run online network Hong Kong Education City is allowing primary and secondary schools to run interactive classes on its Web site throughout the month.

Storytelling sessions for primary pupils and subject revision for Form Five students are available at www.hkedcity.net.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Computer Society yesterday announced a partnership with Microsoft to offer free online and phone IT support for individuals and companies to implement telecommuting as part of their business-continuity programmes.

The society's Work@Home campaign aims to help businesses, especially small firms, set up mobile working environments over the Internet.

"Sars has affected our daily routines and work habits. To many local businesses and large organisations in Hong Kong, employee health and safety has become a top priority and and an increasing concern," society president Daniel Lai said.

Anxiety among local businesses was high, he said. In response, the society was offering support in creating secure and mobile business environments so that damage to their business operations was kept to a minimum and their employees could work safely from home.

Support is available on the hotline number 2388-9600 from 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday, or at www.microsoft.com/hk/workathome.

Mr Lai said the computer society and Microsoft would hold discussions with other professional communities and associations on how they could help their members pursue basic business continuity programmes.

Mr Phibbs said Microsoft would "do what we can to help protect the health and well-being of Hong Kong people".