APICNET (Asia Pacific Interactive Communication NETwork) is a personal computer network for international cooperation, international cultural exchange and education for international understanding. It is sponsored by the Association for Promotion of International Cooperation (APIC), an organization affiliated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The network was established in January of 1991. It acquired a UUCP connection to the Internet in November of 1992, and moved to a 64Kbps IP connection in July of 1994.
The majority of APICNET's users are 6-3-3 school teachers in Japan (6-3-3 reflects Japan's educational system, that is, 6 years for elementary, 3 years for junior high, and 3 years for senior high). In order to communicate with users of other networks or to access various Internet resources, APICNET users access its host computer in Tokyo via direct dialup connection or through packet switching networks. Currently, the services supported by APICNET are E-mail, telnet, gopher, WAIS, WWW (Lynx), finger and whois.
APICNET's aim is not to be simply a BBS that provides a space for communication, but rather an environment accessible from the classroom to conduct online projects which promote education for international understanding. After APICNET's inception, a cooperation setup with other educational networks around the world was put into place. This made it possible for schools in Japan to participate in projects planned by educators in other countries, and also made it possible for APICNET to devise its own projects and invite participation from schools overseas. The Internet is a valuable educational resource that makes the creation of a "global classroom" truly possible.
Electronic Sister School Project
The most introductory project APICNET offers is the Electronic Sister School Project. Schools in Japan are matched with schools overseas in an attempt to provide a means for them to communicate with each other on a daily basis. The actual content of their exchange is up to the schools themselves, and they range from simple penpal exchanges to highly creative projects. One such project is described below.
In order to motivate their students to study English, Amagasaki Minami High School in Hyogo Prefecture introduced E-mail into the curriculum in December 1992. They exchanged mail in both English and Japanese with students in Killara High School in Australia and a college of chemistry on the outskirts of Moscow. A handicapped student was among those involved in the project, and E-mail proved to be an effective way for him to share his ambitions and abilities with others. In the virtual community of the Internet, peoples' worth is determined by the content of their written messages; nationality, age and social status have no relevance. Through the experience of being judged solely on their opinions and not by their physical handicaps, E-mail can help students who are physically challenged develop self-confidence, which in turn can bring out previously hidden abilities.
"What's Japan? & What's America?" Project
The Electronic Sister School Project is a rather basic and easy to set up project, but in most cases the relationships tend to die out due to a lack of potential for supporting continued levels of student motivation. For schools in which the novelty of exchanging E-mail internationally has worn off, the recommended next step is to participate in a project with a well-defined specific goal. Our yearly "What's Japan? & What's America?" program is such a project. In September 1993, five high schools in Japan and five in the US started off the project by sharing their responses to a questionnaire created to expose the perception gap that exists between Japanese and Americans. Activities during the rest of the half year-long project included exchanging self-introductions, exchanging questionnaires, Q & A sessions, and discussions on bilateral affairs and global problems. The program culminated with the creation of a "Joint Declaration of American and Japanese High Schools' Global Partnership," consisting of problems which the participants believed should be solved through Japanese-American cooperation. The topics of the declaration included AIDS, handgun laws, Japan's rice problem, world peace, and human rights. In addition to copies of the declaration being sent to the local media of each of the schools, the declaration was also sent to President Clinton via E-mail and to Japanese Prime Minister Hosokawa via snail mail.
Collaboration with Other Educational Networks
Collaboration between educational networks in various countries is an important factor in making the global classroom a success. APICNET is currently serving as a way for schools in Japan to participate in educational projects coordinated by educational networks in other countries.
Last July, APICNET joined with Telecom New Zealand to sponsor the "Japan-New Zealand Tanabata Project." In this project, students in both countries worked with each other to compare the legends related to the Japanese festival of Tanabata to the traditional beliefs of the Maori people of New Zealand.
In September, the Forest Project was developed to commemorate Forest Day in Finland. Participants exchanged information on forests and the environment. An organization in Findland coordinated the project to invite students from all over the world, and participation from Japan was through APICNET.
Leeds University in London developed an ongoing project for their Japanese language seminar in which college students studying Japanese are paired with APICNET members who are learning English. This project provides the participants with the opportunity to help each other with their foreign language studies.
Proceeding to the Next Stage: IP-Connectivity-based Projects
Until now, the international educational projects in which APICNET has been involved have been based on exchanges via E-mail. As more and more schools in Japan gain access to IP connections, it is necessary to begin planning and conducting projects that take advantage of multimedia-based network technologies. Presently APICNET is conducting research in projects that utilize such applications as the World-Wide Web and CU-SeeMe. With the cooperation of AT&T JENS, a commercial Internet provider in Japan, APICNET is going to pioneer the horizon of the new educational projects by taking advantage of AT&T JENS' SPIN INTERNET backbone which links some major cities in Japan with Sydney, Australia and Hong Kong.