Stem education for life to reach new heights


It is necessary for the nation to embrace Stem education in order to reach new heights.

IT is imperative that schools and educational institutions do their part to emphasise the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (Stem) to meet the country’s educational objectives for future growth and development and to meet the nation’s 2020 vision.

Stem EducationProf Ewe Hong TatUniversiti Tunku Abdul Rahman vice president (Internationalisation and Academic Development) Prof Dr Ewe Hong Tat

This is especially after Malaysia was ranked in the bottom third of 74 participating countries, in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) below the international and OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) average.

It is with this in mind that Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR ) is taking the initiative to promote and create awareness on the importance of Stem education among students and the community.

In the series of articles from UTAR, Part 1 and Part 2 ( STEM Education for life, part 2 introduces Stem and why such education is necessary for the nation’s development and what the University is doing to promote it.

Engineering gains

During the turn of the century, the National Academy of Engineering of USA (http://www.nae.edu/) did a detailed study and listed the top 20 engineering achievements of the 20th century (www.greatachievements.org) that changed the world.

Of these the prominent ones were computers, aviation, the Internet, air-conditioning and refrigeration, highways, health technologies, laser and fibre optics, water supply and distribution; among many others. Consumers used them daily without realising that these were the results of engineering research and innovation that propelled the world forward.

Therefore, for a nation to continue to develop and grow, it is important to promote and use Stem education as the foundation and propeller of growth.

After all, it is through Stem education that design, discovery and inventions that bring forth life-changing growth and development, have been introduced.

In the 21st century, new innovations have emerged such as renewable energy and resources, Internet of Things (IoT), advanced materials and biotechnology which need new talents to continue to drive growth.

Without a strong foundation in Stem education, these talents will not be groomed to excel.

In the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013 – 2025 (Chapter 3), Malaysia’s performance in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (Timss) Eighth Grade Mathematics and Science against other countries over three cycles (1999, 2003, 2007), showed that in 2007, there was a marked downturn in both Mathematics and Science scores. In 2003, Malaysia obtained 10th position out of 45 countries for Mathematics and 20th position out of 45 countries for Science.

In 2007, Malaysia obtained 20th position out of 48 countries for Mathematics and 21st position out of 48 countries for Science, thus indicating a declining performance in students’ scores for both subjects.

Malaysia participated in the Pisa assessment for the first time in the Pisa 2009 + exercise and was ranked in the bottom third for Reading, Mathematics and Science, well below the International and OECD average in all the three areas, lower than Thailand.

Therefore, there is a great need to raise the interest and standards in Stem among students, educationists and policy makers in our country to ensure that we remain competitive and relevant in the world market in future.

The National Science Foundation, a leading authority in scientific research and funding in the United States, defines Stem in a broader definition which includes subjects in the fields of engineering, chemistry, computer and information technology science, geosciences, life sciences, mathematical sciences, physics and astronomy, and social sciences (which includes anthropology, economics, psychology and sociology), Stem Education and learning research.

As indicated in the education blueprint, the case for increased emphasis on Stem education would need several initiatives and steps to be taken across schools in the country.

It is imperative that we need to develop strong fundamentals in Stem starting from primary schools and to create and sustain interests in this discipline.

For a start, it would be a good idea to allow a lot more experiments and hands-on projects in Stem subjects.

Experiential learning 

If we want to promote a society with higher order thinking skills, the exam-oriented paper and format-based school exams need to be complemented with more practical and experiential learning.

Learning science subjects through a textbook is nothing compared to the trial and discovery methods of science experiments.

Through the process of experimenting, trials and discovery, students think, analyse and deduce before coming to a solution; all these thinking processes help to develop higher order thinking.

Students need to learn actively to seek creative solutions and applications and to be inquisitive to foster inventions.

The recent announcement by the Education Ministry to reintroduce practical exams for the SPM science subjects of Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Additional Science in 2015, is a move in the right direction.

In addition, the media radio could play a bigger role in promoting Stem.

There could be more focus on Stem and related topics for schoolchildren and even the community, if more films and documentaries on Stem were shown, and how it is important for national growth.

Simple videos could be made on how our everyday resources of food, water, air and energy require qualified engineers, agriculturists, scientists and more to ensure quality, production, convenience and sustainability for the future.

The influence of the internet is pervasive and with Wi-Fi and broadband services increasingly available in many homes and public places, more information can be made available and accessed online.

To promote interest in Stem, perhaps students could be guided towards self-directed learning after school.

Several educational websites support such learning. Massive Open Online Courses (Mooc) are widely available through the web with unlimited participation and many websites provide course materials such as videos, readings and problem-solving papers, while others have more interactive user forums that allow discussions and networking to build a community for students, teachers, professors, and tutors to seek support.

Among the more reliable websites for online courses for students are three more prominent ones such as www.edx.org, www.khanacademy.org and www.coursera.org

EdXoffers free online classes and Mooc from the world’s best universities such as Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Australian National University and the University of California, Berkeley on subject contents including Computer Science, Mathematics, Sciences, Medicine and more than 200 courses that students could take online and be awarded a certificate.

The support from these reputable universities gives credibility to the courses and is ideal for students at home.

Khan Academy also provides free online materials and resources in mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics and even finance and history; mostly of secondary school level that are easily available to students, teachers and anyone interested in learning about simple educational topics which makes learning more fun.

Another website worth looking up is www.coursera.org which provides free online classes from more than 80 top universities (such as Stanford University, Yale University and Princeton University) and organisations around the world on topics covering a wide range of disciplines including science, engineering, medicine and social sciences.

A host of varied educational information is available on the web and most are on Stem subjects and topics that are taught in our schools.

Many of the topics in these websites also talk about scientific principles which are applied to everyday things like electrical appliances, transportation, automobiles, food cultivation and processing which are not only educational but also thought-provoking.

The colours and visuals used, the video and notes are all captivating; making learning so much more fun and engaging.

Even the teaching of simple Mathematics in schools is presented methodically and simply with good visuals and commentary.

The advantage of these online courses is that students canrepeat any part as often as they like until they get it right.

These online courses could perhaps be introduced as supplementary learning to students who can log on after school to learn more and cultivate their interests in Stem.

Perhaps parents and teachers alike can also guide students which will be more informative and educational than Facebook and Twitter.

Contributed by Prof Dr Ewe Hong Tat The Star/Asia News Network

The writer, an AAET Fellow, is the vice-president of the Internationalisation and Academic Development, Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR). This article is the first of a two-part series on Stem Education.

Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR)
Dr. Ewe Hong Tat
QUALIFICATION  BEng(Hons)(Mal), S.M. (MIT), PhD(MMU)
POSITION  Vice President (Internationalisation and Academic Development)Professor, Faculty of Engineering and Science (FES)
RESEARCHINTERESTS  Microwave Remote Sensing, Applied Electromagnetics, Satellite Image Processing, Sensing Network and Intelligent Systems
 CONTACT ADDRESS  Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (PetalingJaya Campus),No. 9, Jalan Bersatu 13/4,
46200 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, MALAYSIA.
 PHONE  +(60)-3-7958-2628 ext 7152
FAX  +(60)-3-7956-1923
 E-MAIL  eweht@utar.edu.my
HT Ewe received his First Class Honours Bachelor of Engineering degree in Electrical Engineering from University of Malaya, Malaysia in 1992, and S.M. (Master of Science) degree in EECS (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, U.S.A. in 1994. He obtained his PhD degree from Faculty of Engineering, Multimedia University, Malaysia in 1999. From September 1994 to April 1997, he was with the Electrical Engineering Department, University of Malaya (Malaysia). In May 1997, he joined Multimedia University (Malaysia) in Melaka Campus and was transferred totheCyberjaya Campus in January 2000 and worked there until Aug 2008. In Sep 2008, hejoinedUniversiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) andiscurrently a Professor in the Faculty of Engineering and Science (FES).

Experience Publication 

 
 
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LiFi, instead of WiFi: Chinese scientists achieve Internet access through lightbulbs


Lightbulbs may one day be used for connecting to Internet

LiFi Successful experiments by Chinese scientists have indicated the possibility of the country’s netizens getting online through signals sent by lightbulbs (LiFi), instead of WiFi.

Four computers under a one-watt LED lightbulb may connect to the Internet under the principle that light can be used as a carrier instead of traditional radio frequencies, as in WiFi, said Chi Nan, an information technology professor with Shanghai’s Fudan University, on Thursday.

A lightbulb with embedded microchips can produce data rates as fast as 150 megabits per second, which is speedier than the average broadband connection in China, said Chi, who leads a LiFi research team including scientists from the Shanghai Institute of Technical Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

LiFi_environment

With LiFi cost-effective as well as efficient, netizens should be excited to view 10 sample LiFi kits that will be on display at the China International Industry Fair that will kick off on Nov. 5 in Shanghai.

The current wireless signal transmission equipment is expensive and low in efficiency, said Chi.

“As for cell phones, millions of base stations have been established around the world to strengthen the signal but most of the energy is consumed on their cooling systems,” she explained. “The energy utilization rate is only 5 percent.”

Compared with base stations, the number of lightbulbs that can be used is practically limitless. Meanwhile, Chinese people are replacing the old-fashioned incandescent bulbs with LED lightbulbs at a fast pace.

“Wherever there is an LED lightbulb, there is an Internet signal,” said Chi. “Turn off the light and there is no signal.”

However, there is still a long way to go to make LiFi a commercial success.

“If the light is blocked, then the signal will be cut off,” said Chi.

More importantly, according to the scientist, the development of a series of key related pieces of technology, including light communication controls as well as microchip design and manufacturing, is still in an experimental period.

The term LiFi was coined by Harald Haas from the University of Edinburgh in the UK and refers to a type of visible light communication technology that delivers a networked, mobile, high-speed communication solution in a similar manner as WiFi.

Contributed by Shanghai Xinhua  Editor: Fu Peng

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Innovation not the same as invention, the difference here…


Innovation practitioners know that they should not listen to the experts who approach life with rigid blinkers that prevent them from visualising anything outside their conditioned minds.

 

Invention vs innovation

TAKING a leaf out of what our Prime Minister wrote in this space two weeks ago, innovative thinking is undoubtedly a significant driver in propelling the nation’s economy to new heights. It is imperative that Malaysians embrace a culture of innovation.

But let’s take a step or two back, before we can begin to move forward. It is important to pin down exactly what innovation means. Several readers have asked me if innovation is the same as invention, especially after reading about Malaysian researchers winning awards for their inventions. In fact, although they may appear similar at first glance, upon closer inspection both are very different indeed.

If you make something unique or original, that’s an invention. Whether the invention has value or not is immaterial. This is why we see whacky inventions like toothbrushes for dogs or a clip-on fan on chopsticks to cool down noodles. Both these examples are unique and original but offer little value to most citizens.

Innovation demands creating additional value, even though a product or service may not be unique or original. The innovator must first unravel customer needs, and then figure out how to inject greater value at different parts of the solution. Let’s look at two examples.

Forty-five years ago, the radical economist and philosopher E.F. Schumacher formed an NGO called Practical Action to help people in developing countries help themselves. Practical Action states that more than 1.6 million people in developing countries die of diseases and accidents caused by cooking and heating fires in homes. This is not surprising, given that one third of humanity still uses rudimentary stoves fuelled by wood, charcoal or dung.

Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is a viable solution as it costs less than wood or charcoal, but most villagers cannot afford the stoves. Some African countries have implemented an innovative “revolving fund” credit system that allows villagers to buy stoves. It works exactly like the “kutu” scheme prevalent in Malaysia for decades, although illegally. Ten households get together and form a fund, with each household contributing a fixed amount to the fund each month, for 10 months.

Every month, one household collects the contributions that month to buy a stove. The following month, another household gets the total contributions to buy their stove. Households draw lots to see who will get the fund over the next 10 months. Within 10 months, all 10 households get their LPG stove. Now imagine adapting this idea to meet the needs of entire communities and you see the power of this innovative funding system. No handouts or subsidies from the government and no bank loans either – the villagers help themselves, through innovation. This is a common sense solution, not rocket science. To be precise, this is innovation.

Let’s look at the second example. Does the number of new books that hit the bookshelves every month overwhelm you? It was predicted that the Internet would spell the death of the printed word, but in fact the reverse has happened. There are now more books in print than at any other time in history. How does one keep up?

As it is commonly known, a number of innovative online companies have found a practical solution to this. For a small fee, these companies provide a short summary of a book containing all the essential ideas presented in the book. Most people can read these summaries in 15 minutes, making it possible to read at least one book each day. This “compressed knowledge” is another example of innovation.

Ultimately, innovation is not confined to technologies, products or services. You can have innovation at every stage of the business cycle – from manufacturing to distribution to sales to post-sales support.

Just look at Nike, the world’s largest supplier of athletic shoes and apparel. It does not own a single manufacturing factory, but focuses on innovation in design and marketing. Another well-known example is DHL, a world-leading courier and logistics company that relies on innovation to accurately ship a document or parcel from the point of origin to its destination.

For you to benefit and profit from innovation, you have to dissect your business or activity into its key pieces or “parts”. The “eco-system” must be correctly identified, as dealing with just one part of the problem or value-chain is unlikely to bring satisfactory results. Nothing exists in isolation and even seemingly unconnected things are actually connected, so a “village” or holistic approach to innovation is necessary.

For each piece or part, you have to ask a fundamental question: How can I do this better, so that the outcome is greater than it is now – at a lower cost? Your brain will rebel at first and tell you that it cannot be done. Don’t listen to your brain; it is a lazy device looking for the easiest way out. Innovation practitioners know that the last person you should listen to is your own self. Don’t listen to the experts either, for they approach life with rigid blinkers that prevent them from visualising anything outside their conditioned minds.

Adopt a child-like disposition and question the assumptions that you and others have taken for granted. Persist until you have questioned each and every aspect of all the pieces of the puzzle and found answers that are uncommon.

This sounds easy, but it is the most difficult step as it questions all the sacred cows lurking in your belief system. Done correctly, however, it can lead to breakthrough innovations.
If you have been through this process, share your stories with me at kamal@pmo.gov.my so that other readers can benefit from your lessons too.

The Star Ignite
By DATUK SERI DR KAMAL JIT SINGH

> Unit Inovasi Khas CEO Datuk Seri Dr Kamal Jit Singh is hoping to jolt Malaysians out of complacency.

The Difference Between ‘Invention’ and ‘Innovation’

Two and a half years ago, I co-founded Stroome, a collaborative online video editing and publishing platform and 2010 Knight News Challenge winner.

From its inception, the site received a tremendous amount of attention. The New School, USC Annenberg, the Online News Association and, ultimately, the Knight Foundation all saw something interesting in what we were doing. We won awards; we were invited to present at conferences; we were written about in the trades and featured in over 150 blogs. Yet despite all the accolades, not once did the word “invention” creep in. “Innovation,” it turns out, was the word on everyone’s lips.

Like so many up-and-coming entrepreneurs, I was under the impression that invention and innovation were one and the same. They aren’t. And, as I have discovered, the distinction is an important one.

Recently, I was asked by Jason Nazar, founder of Docstoc and a big supporter of the L.A. entrepreneurial community, if I would help define the difference between the two. A short, 3-minute video response can be found at the bottom of this post, but I thought I’d share some key takeaways with you here:

INVENTION VS. INNOVATION: THE DIFFERENCE

In its purest sense, “invention” can be defined as the creation of a product or introduction of a process for the first time. “Innovation,” on the other hand, occurs if someone improves on or makes a significant contribution to an existing product, process or service.

Consider the microprocessor. Someone invented the microprocessor. But by itself, the microprocessor was nothing more than another piece on the circuit board. It’s what was done with that piece — the hundreds of thousands of products, processes and services that evolved from the invention of the microprocessor — that required innovation.

STEVE JOBS: THE POSTER BOY OF INNOVATION

If ever there were a poster child for innovation it would be former Apple CEO Steve Jobs. And when people talk about innovation, Jobs’ iPod is cited as an example of innovation at its best.

steve jobs iphone4.jpg But let’s take a step back for a minute. The iPod wasn’t the first portable music device (Sony popularized the “music anywhere, anytime” concept 22 years earlier with the Walkman); the iPod wasn’t the first device that put hundreds of songs in your pocket (dozens of manufacturers had MP3 devices on the market when the iPod was released in 2001); and Apple was actually late to the party when it came to providing an online music-sharing platform. (Napster, Grokster and Kazaa all preceded iTunes.)

So, given those sobering facts, is the iPod’s distinction as a defining example of innovation warranted? Absolutely.

What made the iPod and the music ecosystem it engendered innovative wasn’t that it was the first portable music device. It wasn’t that it was the first MP3 player. And it wasn’t that it was the first company to make thousands of songs immediately available to millions of users. What made Apple innovative was that it combined all of these elements — design, ergonomics and ease of use — in a single device, and then tied it directly into a platform that effortlessly kept that device updated with music.

Apple invented nothing. Its innovation was creating an easy-to-use ecosystem that unified music discovery, delivery and device. And, in the process, they revolutionized the music industry.

IBM: INNOVATION’S UGLY STEPCHILD

Admittedly, when it comes to corporate culture, Apple and IBM are worlds apart. But Apple and IBM aren’t really as different as innovation’s poster boy would have had us believe.

Truth is if it hadn’t been for one of IBM’s greatest innovations — the personal computer — there would have been no Apple. Jobs owes a lot to the introduction of the PC. And IBM was the company behind it.

Ironically, the IBM PC didn’t contain any new inventions per se (see iPod example above). Under pressure to complete the project in less than 18 months, the team actually was under explicit instructions not to invent anything new. The goal of the first PC, code-named “Project Chess,” was to take off-the-shelf components and bring them together in a way that was user friendly, inexpensive, and powerful.

And while the world’s first PC was an innovative product in the aggregate, the device they created — a portable device that put powerful computing in the hands of the people — was no less impactful than Henry Ford’s Model T, which reinvented the automobile industry by putting affordable transportation in the hands of the masses.

INNOVATION ALONE IS NOT ENOUGH

Given the choice to invent or innovate, most entrepreneurs would take the latter. Let’s face it, innovation is just sexier. Perhaps there are a few engineers at M.I.T. who can name the members of “Project Chess.” Virtually everyone on the planet knows who Steve Jobs is.

But innovation alone isn’t enough. Too often, companies focus on a technology instead of the customer’s problem. But in order to truly turn a great idea into a world-changing innovation, other factors must be taken into account.

According to Venkatakrishnan Balasubramanian, a research analyst with Infosys Labs, the key to ensuring that innovation is successful is aligning your idea with the strategic objectives and business models of your organization.

In a recent article that appeared in Innovation Management, he offered five considerations:

1. Competitive advantage: Your innovation should provide a unique competitive position for the enterprise in the marketplace;
2. Business alignment: The differentiating factors of your innovation should be conceptualized around the key strategic focus of the enterprise and its goals;
3. Customers: Knowing the customers who will benefit from your innovation is paramount;
4. Execution: Identifying resources, processes, risks, partners and suppliers and the ecosystem in the market for succeeding in the innovation is equally important;
5. Business value: Assessing the value (monetary, market size, etc.) of the innovation and how the idea will bring that value into the organization is a critical underlying factor in selecting which idea to pursue.

Said another way, smart innovators frame their ideas to stress the ways in which a new concept is compatible with the existing market landscape, and their company’s place in that marketplace.

This adherence to the “status quo” may sound completely antithetical to the concept of innovation. But an idea that requires too much change in an organization, or too much disruption to the marketplace, may never see the light of day.

A FINAL THOUGHT

While they tend to be lumped together, “invention” and “innovation” are not the same thing. There are distinctions between them, and those distinctions are important.

So how do you know if you are inventing or innovating? Consider this analogy:

If invention is a pebble tossed in the pond, innovation is the rippling effect that pebble causes. Someone has to toss the pebble. That’s the inventor. Someone has to recognize the ripple will eventually become a wave. That’s the entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurs don’t stop at the water’s edge. They watch the ripples and spot the next big wave before it happens. And it’s the act of anticipating and riding that “next big wave” that drives the innovative nature in every entrepreneur.

Tom Grasty By Tom Grasty This article is the seventh of 10 video segments in which digital entrepreneur Tom Grasty talks about his experience building an Internet startup, and is part of a larger initiative sponsored by docstoc.videos, which features advice from small business owners who offer their views on how to launch a new business or grow your existing one altogether.

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Reading opens up minds


Reading_Investment

BACK in my first year when I was asked to read cases by my professor, my immediate reaction was to ask how many pages were there to read.

My professor replied: “There’s no harm reading more.”

I also remember attending a scholarship interview where I was asked to give an account of the books I had read.

Proudly I answered: “I did not read any books besides the academic textbooks.”

It is really depressing and shameful that I took pride of my disinterest towards the habit of reading.

This may appear unusual for a law student like me to recount such a disinterest but I am afraid to say that many of my fellow Malaysian friends share such a disinterest, too.

Reading with Rover

Many students read for the sake of passing their examinations. Many spend time on computer games and working adults may find it tiring to read outside working hours.

As for myself, I turned impatient, disappointed, annoyed and even regretted choosing law as I later found out that I had to read hundreds of pages of cases every week (putting aside the textbooks, commentaries and other journal articles).

Over the years while in law school, I cultivated the habit of reading.

It was hard at the beginning when I had to flip through the dictionary to check the meaning of the words I did not understand, that I lost patience reading the countless pages of books and needless to say I shed many tears in my struggle to finish my law studies.

However, one thing I can assure you is that the sufferings bore fruit. Indeed, they were rewarding. I am no longer sheltered and ignorant.

My general knowledge and vocabulary have increased and with it, my ability to communicate. With the increased knowledge, I can voice an opinion if needed.

The habit of reading opened up my mind that I am now able to see things more objectively than before.

The treasure of knowledge also taught me to keep an open mind and not to accept another’s views blindly.

Reading news and non-fiction illuminates the world for us and reading fiction gives us what non-fiction cannot.

Through reading we travel and through books we find treasures. In those wanderings we find humanity, through the characters we find knowledge.

As how human beings need to be fed, knowledge serves as nourishment for our minds.

Reading opens up the door of knowledge, an important treasure for our country to achieve the 2020 Vision.
So, I urge all of you to cultivate the habit of reading, for yourselves and our country.

JUNE LOH Kulim, Kedah

A strategic game-changer, the Crude dynamics a new economic ‘golden age’ for USA likely?


A SEISMIC shift is under way in global affairs. At its most potent, this dynamic could conceivably upset the accepted wisdom of where the ‘centre of gravity’ of the world economy will lie two decades from now.

A recent report from the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that by as early as 2020, the US could surpass Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer — and achieve complete energy independence by 2030.

The IEA forecasts that the US will increase its production to 23 million barrels a day (MMbd) in 10 years from total available supplies of around 10.3 MMbd currently. Oil and natural gas production in the US is increasing at its fastest pace in 50 years.

The IEA’s outlook on world energy has underscored what recent data have been pointing to: a perceptible decline in the dependence on energy imports for the US.

The US, currently the world’s largest oil consumer using 18.8 MMbd (roughly 22 per cent of global production), imported about 45 per cent of its petroleum (crude as well as products) in 2011. After peaking in 2005, the share of imports in US energy consumption has declined a full 10 percentage points (from over 55 to 45 per cent currently).

Contrary to popular perception, 52 per cent of these imports were sourced from the western hemisphere, with Canada, Venezuela and Mexico supplying 29 per cent, 11 per cent and eight per cent of the US petroleum needs.

Saudi Arabia, the second-largest supplier of oil to the US after Canada, accounted for 14 per cent of US petroleum imports in 2011. The wider Middle East/Persian Gulf accounted for 22 per cent of US petroleum imports in 2011, down by around 25 per cent since 2005.

The US has benefited from large domestic production gains, particularly in shale oil.

This has been made possible by technological innovation in oil drilling such as ‘hydraulic fracturing’ (or ‘fracking’) as well as the opening of hitherto off-limit geologically rich production areas such as Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico (drilling activity in the latter was temporarily halted by President Obama following the oil spill caused from BP’s rig).

What will this trend mean for the global economy? The virtual elimination of the US’s dependence on imported energy in the next one or two decades is being dubbed as a “strategic game-changer”. (The Wall Street Journal carried a piece with the headline ‘Saudi America’ in its Nov 12, 2012 Asian edition.)

According to influential commentators like Niall Ferguson, the celebrated financial historian and Harvard University professor, the abundant availability of indigenous energy could spark a new economic “golden age” for the US.

Uninterrupted supplies of relatively cheaper, and less price-volatile, fossil fuel could galvanise the US manufacturing sector into creating millions of new jobs.

With its productivity advantages, coupled with a gradual convergence of manufacturing wages between developed and fast-growing developing economies, the US could also start becoming attractive once again as a global manufacturing hub, according to Mr Ferguson.

Hence, rather than write off the US economy as a spent force, commentators such as Mr Ferguson believe quite the opposite: that the US will continue to economically rival, and possibly dominate, competitors such as China and India well into the supposedly ‘Asian’ century.

The replacement of imported fuel and the infusion of domestic energy in the US economy will have implications for the US dollar as well, according to this line of reasoning.

According to forecasts by Deutsche Bank, reduced energy dependence would cause the US current account deficit to fall 30 per cent by 2016.

By virtue of these developments, the value of the greenback will appreciate, which will provide an added impetus to declining world oil prices.

The possible reduction of geopolitical risk in global energy markets as a result of America’s energy ‘independence’ resulting in a weaning away from the volatile Middle East, could trigger a sharp reversal in the international oil price. (This scenario assumes, however, that Saudi oil production has not ‘peaked’ between now and then).

By some expert reckoning, the geopolitical risk in current oil prices ranges anywhere from $20 to $30 a barrel.

Such a large reduction in the oil price, should it occur, will exact a heavy toll on the budgets and economies of Middle Eastern oil producers.

Given their demographics, most of these countries will need to continue ‘pump-priming’ their economies for the next decade at least to create jobs and provide social safety nets.

The potential loss of oil income could be a devastating blow to their economies — and for millions of migrant workers who send billions of dollars in remittances to their respective countries.

The other major implication of these potential developments in global energy markets would be on food prices. If world oil prices do indeed trend down for the long run, it will remove the economic incentive for the push into bio-fuels.

This in turn will be welcome news for the world’s poor, as both the stopping of food diversion for bio-fuels combined with lower transport costs will make a significant dent in food prices.

However, if the US economy does not decline into irrelevance by 2030, and is in fact rejuvenated, the global competition for resources will be even more intense — pressuring not only the environment but also prices for non-oil, non-food commodities.

A fascinating global energy landscape is unfolding. Whatever final shape it takes, our continued dependence on energy from fossil fuels will ensure that oil will continue to play a major role in our lives for the foreseeable future.- Dawn/Asia News Network

 By Sakib Sherani
The writer is a former economic adviser to government, and currently heads a macroeconomic consultancy based in Islamabad.

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Building an innovative society


Bad intellectual property image clouds the country’s real progress in encouraging inventors and building an innovation-based society.

Chinese InnovatorsCHINA has been an easy prey worldwide as it is labelled as a country with one of the worst environments for intellectual property (IP) development.

But little has been known about the nation’s steady progress in raising a greater awareness of IP rights protection and significance to build a more innovation-based society.

Chinese State Intellectual Property Office commissioner Tian Lipu admitted that China is still full of pirated goods and copycats but he also pointed out that many more individuals and companies are turning innovators instead.

“I think the Western media has painted a wrong picture of China on its efforts to protect IP rights. China’s image has been quite bad in other countries,” he said in a recent interview in Beijing.

He acknowledged that one would be able to find pirated goods in places like Beijing’s Sanlitun and Luohu district in Shenzhen but many had overseen the fact that China had developed a comprehensive system and legal structure to protect local and foreign patents and trademarks.

“Last year, we received 526,000 applications for invention patents, accounting for 25% of the world’s total. About 110,000 local applicants were granted patents. While the number of applications reflects the level of awareness of IP protection among the public, the figures of patents granted indicate how good is the quality of the inventions.

“However, the intellectual property office is more concerned about the valid patents and to see whether these patented creations are well received by the market and how well the patent is maintained by its owner. To date, there are about 350,000 valid patents owned by locals,” he said.

In China, applicants can register patents for invention, patents for utility model and patents for design. The office processed 1.63 million applications for these three types of patents last year.

As for trademarks, China received a total of 9.71 million applications as of the end of last year, with 6.65 million of them successfully registered. Besides, some 110,000 software copyrights were registered last year.

“Not many people know that China is one the countries which pay the most royalties for patents, trademarks, copyrights and franchises and one of the world’s largest genuine software buyers.

“Government departments, banks, insurance firms and many companies are using original softwares. Many firms buy books, music, movies and TV shows through copyright trade,” Tian said.

He said foreign companies had gained huge profits in overseas markets after the production of their original equipment manufacturer (OEM) goods in China.

“I think because of the conducive environment for IP protection in China, foreign investors would have a peace of mind to entrust Chinese manufacturers to produce their OEM goods.”

Last week, the office’s patents administration department announ-ced that as of June, all the departments of the 31 provincial and municipal governments had installed genuine softwares.

By the end of next year, it said, all city and county-level governments would do the same. As of the end of October, all levels of government spent some 1.48 billion yuan (RM725mil) on 2.3 million licences for operating system, office and anti-virus softwares.

It is learnt that most of the state-owned enterprises have been equipped with proper softwares while 50% of smaller companies would be given until next year to follow suit.

Tian said China might not have a society priding itself on IP like in the United States but it would not take too long for the Chinese to catch up with the rest of the world.

“China used to be a country with the highest number of inventions during the Song dynasty – and 50% of the world’s total inventions came from China. China then laid dormant for centuries until we started educating our people on the value of IP 20 years ago. I think it may take one or two more generations for us to build a society that lives by the IP culture,” he said.

He revealed that his office, the Trademark Office under the State Administration of Industry and Commerce and the National Copy-right Administration were amending the Patent Law, Trademark Law and Copyright Law to give more tooth to enforcement and judiciary agencies to carry out their duty.

Under the amended patent law, damages will be calculated based on the illegal gains of the party which infringes the owner’s right rather than the owner’s actual loss. This is because the act of infringing one’s right is relatively easy compared to the act of protecting and maintaining it, he said.

He warned that as Chinese companies reinforce their IP development, they should be on guard to face the so-called “patent trolls” which tend to buy patents at low prices and go around taking action against those infringing their rights.

“These ‘patent trolls’ did not involve in any R&D and innovation. They are a byproduct of IP development sidetracking its real spirit.

“Piracy and IP infringement exist everywhere in the world and cannot be totally wiped out. But investors should be confident about doing business in China as its government is resolute in addressing the problem.”

MADE IN CHINA
By CHOW HOW BAN

Why Is Creativity More Important Than Capitalism?


Haydn Shaughnessy, ForbesContributor

Creativity
Creativity (Photo credit: Mediocre2010)

Do you know your creativity quotient?  Creativity sounds a little weak, a touchy-feely topic, but it turns to be one of the most important memes of the past 100 years, and very definitely ranks alongside concepts (or ideologies) like capitalism in the pantheon of big ideas.

I admit to being a creativity sceptic. When it came into vogue thirty years ago I cringed. Creative? What’s wrong with busy? Or dedicated. Or hard working. But creativity’s rise – measured by the use of terms “creative” and “creativity” in Google‘s nGram database – has been relentless for over a century. It is NO fad.

For those that don’t know it the nGram database contains roughly 4% of all books ever published, in the case of this data in the USA and Britain.

The problem of creativity – how to manifest it in disciplined environments – hasn’t changed much during that period.

But if you look at the chart below you can get a sense of its importance.  The use of “creative” dwarfs terms like technological progress and scientific progress.

In fact digging a little deeper I found out:

The use of the language of creativity is increasing when people write about scientific progress. Progress itself is a term in declining use, seemingly replaced by the idea of creativity, at least in the sciences. You can’s see that from the chart – to get to that data I examined the use of a variety of terms over the period 1960 – 2010.

The best Google nGram data goes up to 2000 but I checked search interest in these terms, post 2000, and the patterns continue.

The use of creativity is increasing in business and management literature, declining where people write about religion and education, and of course rising when people write about cities.

Jonah Leher’s book Imagine underlines the slacker nature of creativity but also it’s importance. Let’s face it the quest to be more creative as a society is as old as (modern) business.

Creativity is big in entertainment too, naturally, if entertainment is taken to include art and music but surprise, surprise the use of the term in entertainment declined in the period 1981 – 2000, while it increased in association with business and management.

Is all this just a reflection of publishers pumping more books out? No, all data is normalised.

Is there anything to conclude from the data?  The themes of creativity have been pretty consistent down the years – how organizations stifle it, how necessary it is, and how it creates risk.

The one lacking ingredient seems to be a creative answer to those problems, though I think we may be on the cusp of one (more of that later in the week).

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