Education illuminates path for ICF 2010 Intelligent Community of the Year

In an announcement last Friday in New York City, the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) named Suwon, South Korea as the 2010 Intelligent Community of the Year. ICF Co-Founder Louis Zacharilla said Suwon’s commitment to educational investments helped push the city past the other six in what could have been a “seven-way tie.”

Suwon is South Korea’s second largest city and home to one of Samsung Electronics’ main factories. The city has a population of just over 1 million and it is known as a major educational center with 14 university campuses. The city has laid much of the technological groundwork that ICF believes will lead successful communities in the broadband economy: investments in e-government and fiber optic networks in the city has created a ubiquitous online environment for connecting to law enforcement, fire prevention, traffic information, e-learning and citizen services. The city developed its own governmental network despite South Korea’s impressive broadband infrastructure, currently ranked number one in the world, allowing Suwon to boost connection speeds from 32 Mbps to 1 Gbps.

But in naming Suwon its Intelligent Community of the Year, ICF focused less on technology than on Suwon’s development of the “human software” within its highly-educated community. Suwon has invested hundreds of millions of dollars grooming their curriculum for a global economy and workforce, officials said, which spoke directly to ICF’s theme during this year’s Building the Broadband Economy Summit.

“The levels of educational investment in Suwon, sends a signal that, as we emerge from the global economic crisis, it is the investment made in people that produce the truly impressive financial return,” Mr. Zacharilla said during the presentation ceremony.

The award was the culmination of a year-long process where potential candidates were vetted by an independent team of judges. The process began in 2009 when a list of Smart21 cities was named and in January that list was whittled down to a Top Seven. Suwon’s mayor, Yong Seo Kim called education “one of the most sound and rational outlays of capital that a government can ever make.” But he was not alone in his assessment during the summit.

In a blog post from BBE, ICF co-founder Robert Bell argued today’s teaching environment demanded much more from teachers in terms of technology knowledge and usage.

Many summit-goers echoed the need for a restructured educational system that was integrated with a community’s economic development and long-term growth strategies. “We tend to teach the technology and think we’re done,” Bell wrote. “Instead, we should be harnessing these tools to teach young people how to learn. Today’s educators have to know how to teach students to learn, not just convey information to them.”

But he also said strong government policy was needed to enable such developments. “Community leaders need to be relentless about promoting educational achievement, and ensure that education does not stop at the school wall.”

“Educational outcomes improve when classrooms connect to local business and institutional expertise,” Mr. Bell continued, “which also tends to keep graduating students in the community, where their skills can contribute to local prosperity.”

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