Future City's Wireless Hotspots For Kids

Back to Contents of Issue: September 2002

JAPAN MAY BE BEHIND its international counterparts as far as digital education is concerned, but Mitaka City in western Tokyo is catching up quickly. The city says it will create wireless LAN hotspots for its children so they can access school intranets from outside the confines of the school.

What the city calls its Laptop School project will end with about 125 wireless LAN hotspots in an 800 square meter district this fall. The city will also distribute one PC per student. Unfortunately, the project is still experimental so it will only cover one primary school and one middle school (a total of 600 students), but the city says this is the first such try at creating hotspots among Japanese local governments.

The project will use wireless IEEE-802.11g technology, which allows for up to 30Mbps connection speeds and which should be licensed for the 2.4GHz portion of the radio spectrum by this fall.

Hotspots are becoming popular across the country, but Katsumi Oshima, a teacher consultant at Mitaka's board of education, notes that "even McDonald's hotspots are based on 11b, which is a step behind 11g."

So how can children make use of this latest technology? Mitaka is already doing some experimental e-school projects, such as sending video clips of kids swimming in a pool to be viewed at home. The system will also let children make and receive video clips from field trips. The city is also preparing educational drills on the intranet so a student can solve problems on his or her terminal and teachers can monitor the student's progress, see how long it takes the student to solve one problem and monitor how long she stays online.

Mitaka's hotspots will initially be for educational purposes only, but the city is considering expanding usage to residents some time in the future. Mitaka's initiative is part of the central government's e!school project.

Mitaka plans to launch various other e-government projects ranging from e-medical systems to e-payment of public utility bills. A city official estimates the total cost of launching the educational project itself will be somewhere between JPY600-700 million. Some critics argue that the newest technologies may go wasted unless the city provides enough human resources to ensure that users know how to use them. But mayor Yasujiro Yasuda says, "This is an unconventional area we are going into. We are fully aware that these are fairly complicated projects for anybody to understand. But I believe this is intriguing and will benefit Japan in the long run."

-- Sumie Kawakami
(From the J@pan Inc newsletter, a free email newsletter published every Wednesday. Subscribe to our free email newsletters at www.japaninc.com/subscribe_news.html)

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