Epals gets kids talking to foreigners

Schools across New Zealand are increasingly emailing students overseas, who can now receive the messages in their own languages.

Schools across New Zealand are increasingly emailing students overseas, who can now receive the messages in their own languages.

The ePALS.com "global community" claims 50,000 users in New Zealand, 300,000 in Australia, and 2.5 million in 182 countries worldwide and is billed as "the biggest educational online classroom in the world".

The Canadian-developed system has operated for four years, but a few months ago it was relaunched with a language translation and filtering service.

Canadian John Irving and Tim DiScipio of Connecticutt worked for internet design and marketing businesses in the early 1990s. Then, Irving came up with the idea of a system for schoolkids to contact overseas schoolkids and learn about different cultures.

ePALS.com has 70 staff and has received $US2.5 million from Hewlett-Packard, America Online, Microsoft and other parters. Other funding comes from other sponsorship and licensing agreements.

DiScipio says the Linux-based system has the translation technology embedded within the browser. The webmail system also has five levels of monitoring and can recognise 350 “foul words” in three different languages. A “profanity blocking device” will stop the transmission of naughty words and route them to the teacher/guardian at the school where the message was sent from.

DiScipio says the system has spread by word of mouth, without any promotion, but he plans to visit New Zealand early next year to help boost its take-up. It operates in eight languages, with a Chinese version due shortly.

New Zealand users include Mt Roskill Primary School in Auckland. Teacher Nathan Crocker uses ePals.com in class as a chatroom and has contacted children in Canada and Germany. He likes the system as it is much better than Hotmail at filtering out bad words.

Dave Winter, ICT specialist at Southwell School, Hamilton, says he likes the set-up but hasn’t managed to find schools for his children to chat with.

“It’s for the kids to contact people overseas, anything to do with topics that may be helpful,” he says.

Dave Kelsey, deputy principal of Hora Hora School in Whangarei, is installing the system to boost language teaching for his children by encouraging them to talk to children overseas.

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