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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 9, 2002

Hawai'i national leader in virtual learning

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

A report released yesterday gave Hawai'i high marks in a nationwide assessment of e-learning technologies, calling the state a leader in virtual learning.

Hawai'i is one of only 12 states that has established a virtual high school, according to Technology Counts 2002, Education Week's annual survey of technology policies and student use of technology in the 50 states.

Fueled by the geographically dispersed islands and the necessity of air travel in Hawai'i, the state in 1996 launched an effort to develop an online distance learning program. Hawai'i had already developed a "teleschool," but used a challenge grant from the U.S. Department of Education to start online classes.

"The geography made us look at how telecommunication and technology could help us expand our reach," said Vickie Kajioka, advanced technology specialist at the Department of Education. "Equity and access are important because we're a statewide system."

Hawai'i is one of 32 states that has an e-learning initiative and one of 25 states that allows cyber charter schools.

But while Hawai'i's distance learning initiatives outpace those of many other states, the state continues to fall behind in the number of computers available to public school students, the study said.

There are 5.5 students to each computer in the schools — one of the six worst rates in the nation. The national average is 4.2.

Gov. Ben Cayetano had pledged to bring the number of computers in the schools up to one for every four students. But with the economic difficulties of the 1990s, that goal has been offset.

The report also found that there were 8.4 students per Internet-connected computer in Hawai'i in 2001 — the ninth worst rate in the nation. The national average is 6.8.

The state has come a long way in the past decade to get schools networked and online, though. In 1994, the state had just one computer for every 30 students; no public school was connected to the Internet.

Now, 95 percent of schools have Internet access from at least one classroom, and Hawai'i continues to fare better than most states in making technology available to poor students.

Many Hawai'i students can only access computers at school; 29 percent of fourth-graders and 24 percent of eighth-graders do not have computers in their homes.

Hawai'i is one of 36 states that has technology expectations built into the state standards for core subject areas, but it does not require technology training of teachers before they are licensed. At 29 percent of Hawai'i schools, at least half the teachers are beginners when it comes to using technology.

Even the continuation of the E-School faces challenges. With the $16 million federal grant running out this year, the state will have to find a new way to pay for the program. About 400 students from 45 different high schools participate in the E-School each semester.

For the first time, the state will offer E-Summer School. There's also an extensive teacher training program online, an E-Academy for advanced students and the state's first e-charter school.

At the Big Island's Kohala High School, kids are able to take classes in art appreciation, Shakespeare and music composition — a course selection not often seen at a remote 300-student campus. But by logging on to the state's E-School using computers in Kohala High's library, students can choose from a wide range of classes.

Principal Catherine Bratt said she is proud of the variety of students who have been able to do well in the online classes. "We tried it with the at-risk kids who don't make it in a regular classroom," she said. "The district told us to aim for the gifted and talented kind of kid, but we tried it with these students and got great results."