San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Gifted “Power Users” Descend on San José

WHILE some are born with silver spoons in their mouths, there are others who are born with Palm Pilots in their hands. Or so it seems.A generation of young people around the globe has been brought up in an age of rapidly advancing technology, learning and growing with it. Instruction manuals are a joke for them. Teachers struggle to keep up, and are thankful to have them around every time the class VCR or DVD player does not work. Instead of mowing lawns, they design Web sites and program computers after school and on weekends.Meet the “Power Users” of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), as researchers have dubbed this rapidly emerging group drawing attention worldwide. Select teams of these young people came to Costa Rica this week from around the world for the three-day First International Power Users of ICT Symposium at the Hotel Marriot, west of San José.The symposium, which was organized by the United Nations Fund for International Partnership, the Education Development Center and Universidad Nacional, brought together six teams of Power Users, ages 11-18, from the United States, Australia, Europe, Asia, and Latin America. A team from China participated in the event by way of video conferencing over the Internet.DURING the event, the Power Users applied their technological abilities and knowledge to tackle problems they were assigned relating to the United Nations’ Millennium Goals, such as reducing world hunger and poverty, achieving universal primary education and facing infectious diseases such as AIDS and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).The teams visited sites including the National Center for High Technology and the National Biodiversity Institute (INBio) to speak with experts about their particular issues and to problem-solve in the field. The teams then gave multimedia presentations of their solutions on Wednesday, the final day of the conference.The purpose of the event, according to organizers, was to allow the Power Users to communicate and share ideas, as well as to unite investigators who are following the development of these youth and observing their impact on their environments, such as schools and the workplace.JELMER Kamstra, a researcher from the Netherlands who followed the Filipino team, explained to The Tico Times that the data the investigators were taking would be transcribed and consolidated for comparison among the groups.“We were taking data about the use of technology inside schools. Where did (these students) learn how to use technology? Is it in school? Is it from their parents? Do their parents use computers a lot, or do they promote (their children’s) use of computers?” Kamstra said.A common factor among the Filipino students, he explained, was that they learned about technology in schools or on their own.“I asked a question – did your parents teach you something about computers? – and all of them laughed,” Kamstra said.“After school, they learned it themselves… just by clicking and learning and going through the Internet.”OTHER Power Users said it was their parents who got them started, but after that, they learned largely on their own.“As soon as my parents gave me the opportunity, gave me a computer and Internet (access), that’s where it started,” said Anthony Schmidt, 17, a Power User from Lexington, Kentucky who runs a back-end programming business in his free time. “You can go anywhere, you can learn anything, for any reason on the Internet… You experiment, build things, see if they work, just to further your knowledge, and it’s a lot of fun.”“There are no boundaries,” said Joey Bose, 16, also from Lexington. “You can talk to anybody, anytime, anywhere. So there’s a lot of sharing of culture and an emergence of a new culture.”BOSE, who began working with computers at the age of six and now runs “a small Web-design business, on the side,” said he learned a lot from the Power Users from other countries.“I think its really great that we’re sharing how we use technology, and since we’re from different countries we have different perspectives on how we can better a society, so it’s really interesting, the perspectives people have and how they are planning on utilizing technology,” he said.

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