Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Linking East-West Schools Via Telecomputing

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Linking East-West Schools Via Telecomputing

Article excerpt

From IGC: PeaceNet,

Dear friends,

I am a teacher of middle and high level English from Moscow and am greatly interested in telecommunications in education. Should there be anybody with the same interest I would be glad to correspond... Hope to hear from someone soon.

Marina Bucharina

This entirely routine message from Russia, recently posted on , an international telecommunications conference that links educators from the West and East, was answered with an equally routine response from the U.S. Let us not forget, however, that only a few years ago, the only response to Marina's call for communication from abroad would have been by the KGB.

Though the Berlin Wall symbolized the isolation of the Soviet regime, it was only brick and mortar. The real wall was invisible and more sinister; it was the information blockade that severed absolutely all communications with the West. This isolation started with a "temporary" Bolshevik decree that shut clown all independent newspapers. "Temporary" turned out to be 70 years, right up to Gorbachev's Glasnost.

* The Real Blockade

Printing presses were relatively easy to control, but emerging technologies proved more difficult. The spread of telephones necessitated widespread monitoring, and a common Russian phrase meant a subject was to be avoided on the phone. Radios were available only with a limited bandwidth for better control of the airwaves, and large dishes and antennas that jammed undesirable transmissions encircled major Soviet dties. Resourceful citizens, in their cat-and-mouse game to circumvent censorship, found ways to rewire radios to broaden their bandwidths. During the '50s, the climate was such that when my uncle bought a radio, his wife feared that the neighbors would suspect he was listening to the Voice of America--which is exactly what he was doing.

Authorities feared any information technology. For years they demanded typing samples from every typewriter in order to trace typed communications deemed subversive. When facsimile and copying machines arrived later, these devices were kept under lock and key, and were never available for schools. Even scientists who needed copies of scientific papers first had to fill out forms and obtain permission from both superiors and the security forces. Copies would arrive a day or so later.

Whereas the West regards video as a form of entertainment, in Soviet reality, VCRs had the power to present an uncensored world of images. This is why virtually every videotape crossing Soviet borders in either direction had to be viewed and approved by special agents. As late as 1990, I was unable to leave the country with several educational videos because I failed to submit them for approval several days earlier. The collapsing system was still trying to control all information. But what was paradoxical was that while uncensored videos and computer disks were prevented from leaving the country, the country's children were forging a new order. At the time, 20 Russian schools were freely communicating with U.S. schools by telecommunications.

Until only recently, the power of computers as communication devices went unrecognized within the Soviet Union. For most of the '70s and '80s, the Soviet bloc manufactured big mainframes and housed them in state-controlled computer centers. Although Russian schools from the early '80s taught computer science courses as required curriculum, educators presented computers as computational rather than communication devices. Consequently, curriculum focused on basic programming skills and was supported by simple Soviet-made 32K machines. Hardly any computers were available for private use. When Perestroika opened the borders, many thousands of Soviet citizens and new enterprises quickly acquired powerful Western personal computers, and with the PCs came modems. Some of this hardware finally reached the schools. …

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