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Bridging the digital divide in Thailand

by Sasiwimon Boonruang, Bangkok Post, Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A sixth-grade student with a physical disability takes a photograph of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.

Disabled people, prisoners, people with less opportunities and those in remote areas are learning to connect to modern society, using computers and the Internet just as others do.

Thanks to the IT initiative of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, the digital divide in Thailand is being bridged.

Launched in 1996, the IT initiative was funded by the Government Lottery Office, aiming to promote the use of IT to enhance the quality of life and education and to create opportunities for less privileged people.

The target groups of the project include those who have fewer opportunities, such as students in remote areas, disabled people, hospitalised children and prisoners.

At Songkroa Jit-aree, in Lampang, senior students teach their younger counterparts how to work with computer hardware and software programs. From Matayom 1, they learn the basic functions of Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Adobe Photoshop. At the secondary level, they learn HTML scripting and how to develop web sites.

There are around 20 students taking this computer course, which is an alternative syllabus, and they are taken on as the employees of an imaginary computer company whose duty it is to take care of the computer room and provide services to other students.

These students now know every single component of a computer and they are able to fix the hardware when a problem arises.

The company has developed an in-house program to track user statistics. "Students who use the computers here have to register their user ID and state their purpose," said Rachanee Sae-Yang, a Matayom 4 student who is an "employee" of the mock company.

By making people register when they use the computer, we can gather statistics about how the students use computers, she explained.

At the Prapariyatdham School of Wat Nicrotaram in Amphoe Tha Wang Pha, Nan province, 167 novices from Matayom 1 to 6 enjoy learning the Lanna language using computers.

This four-year old girl can draw pictures with a mouse even though she has no limbs.

"Without computers and modern technology, the monks here would have no chance to learn the ancient Lanna language," Savian Sirikaew, the computer teacher, said.

He noted that in the past people living in the North generally recorded history on dried palm leaves (bai-lan) and kept these scriptures for centuries but never them read due to fear of damaging them. "What a pity it is that we have such historically-valuable material, but cannot make use of it for the younger generations," the teacher said.

Those historical records have typically been stored for hundreds of years in Dhamma cases.

An initiative to digitalise these historical palm-leaf scriptures began after the abbots saw the possibilities of computer cataloguing. It was realised that students could also learn the Lanna alphabet and language on the computer, and the temple could conserve the old palm leaves. "Our students are very alert when they study using computers and the Internet," he said.

The computer hardware was donated under the IT project of HRH Princess Maha Charki Sirindorn and the Office of National Buddhism which Nectec and Rajabhat Uttaradit have supported in developing the e-learning service.

IT has also been used to enhance the learning potential of disabled students. At Srisangwal School in Nonthaburi, such students have learned to draw pictures on computers using a mouse designed specifically to account for their physical problems. At Kavila Anukul School in Chiang Mai, where students have cerebral palsy and some have problems in articulation, the "Speech Viewer" program is used in classes to help students to communicate with each other.

Meanwhile, prisoners can take computer courses, from basic to advanced programs, whilst in jail. Four pilot prisons - at the Central Women's Correctional Institution, the Central Correctional Institution for Drug Addicts, the Central Prison Klongprem and the Bangkok Prison Bangkwang - have offered computer courses for prisoners and the computer learning project has been extended to 21 other prisons nationwide. Besides basic and general computer courses, new programs for animation, publishing, and a talking book reader called Daisy (Digital Accessible Information System) will be introduced. Prisoners taking the courses can work and get paid by outside organisations. As a result, one course graduate has taken up an IT job after being released from prison.

These are just some examples how support from the IT initiative of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn has offered people a better chance to succeed in modern society amid the growing development of computer technology and the Internet.

For donations of computer and equipment, please contact Nectec (http://www.nectec.or.th).

source: http://www.bangkokpost.com/031208_Database/03Dec2008_data68.php

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Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammāsambuddhassa.
Buddha sāsana.m cira.m ti.t.thatu.