[gnulinuxinasia] NEPAL: Dailekh bridges the digital divide

  • From: "Frederick Noronha [फ़रेदरिक नोरोनया]" <fred@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: gnulinuxinasia@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 8 Aug 2007 23:59:45 +0530

http://www.nepalitimes.com/issue/360/Nation/13814

Dailekh bridges the digital divide
Cost and language used to be barriers to computer use in Nepali
schools. No longer.
SHRISTEE GURUNG

From Issue #360 (03 August 07 - 09 August 07) | TABLE OF CONTENTS
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EARLY START: These children in schools in Lalitpur (top) and in
Dailekh saw computers for the first time last month because of a new
pilot project to provide cheaper networks with Nepali language
commands.
The two factors restricting the spread of computers in Nepal are cost
and language. But a pilot scheme to test a Linux-based LAN system in
schools in Dailekh and Lalitpur have shown that accessibility and
affordability needn't be a problem anymore.

The digital divide doesn't just exist between rich and poor countries,
but also within countries like Nepal. More than 80 percent of the
computers and internet connections in Nepal are located inside
Kathmandu's Ring Road.

The challenge is to encourage computer usage in Nepali language and
also equipment that would be cost-effective for the school management.
Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya's Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP) is
trying to test initiative and see if it works. The idea is not to
distribute laptops to every school child, but set up a computer lab so
students can learn basic skills.

LTSP is a Linux add-on package where one powerful server is shared
among dumb terminals (also known as 'thin clients'). The server is a
high-end computer with a hard disk of 120 GB capacity, a powerful
processor of 2.6 GHz and 512 MB RAM. Although the cost of the server
is 20 percent higher than a standard computer, the cheaper thin
clients cut down overall cost of the network. Because the dumb
terminals don't need CD-ROMS and other accessories they are 40 percent
cheaper than standard computers.

This is an excellent way, for example, to recycle used CPUs from
companies and individuals in Kathmandu willing to donate them when
they upgrade to more powerful equipment. It can be up to 25 percent
cheaper to install four computers under LTSP compared to standard
costs (see table).

At Dailekh's Kimugaon a pilot LTSP project was implemented at the
Basanta Madyamik Bidayala which has 400 students, most of whom have
never seen a computer before. So, the first computer they used had a
Neplinux 2.0 operating system so everything on the screen was in
Nepali.

Grade Four student Laxmi Kumari Thapa couldn't hide her excitement. "I
hadn't even seen a television before this," she said, "I can't wait to
tell my parents that I used a computer."

Installing the computers in the school was also an exhilarating
experience for enginners Amit Aryal and Dayaram Budathoki who went to
Dailekh to teach teachers and students basic concepts of mouse,
keyboard, monitor, writing and saving files with Nepali text.

"It was my first encounter with the reality of Nepali schools in
remote areas and I was really moved, it was very rewarding," says
Dayaram.

Basanta Madhyamik was the first school in Dailekh to ever have
computers, so there was excitement not just at the school but also
among local government officials, political parties and parents.

Says Amit: "In Kathmandu we've become so blasé about computers, and to
see the excitement in the faces of the students really made it
worthwhile for me."
Teachers are planning to make computer class compulsory for students
of grades two to eight. And since the desktop commands are all in
Nepali there won't be any barrier to use.

The LTSP project is already running successfully in Phulchoki Primary
School in Godavari south of Kathmandu, and Dailekh was the second
pilot. Two more schools in Dang and Bhaktapur are getting LTSP
networks with a grant from the Helap Nepal Network from the Nepali
diaspora. Students from class one to five can now use computers to
play educational games, learn to type text files, and send emails in
Nepali.

More Nepali schools can benefit from this scheme because the computer
applications are accessible and also within the budget of most schools
in the country.

Cheaper and better

                      Unit      Price   Cost LTSP       Normal cost
Server               1                    33,300             33,300     
Thin client          3                   15,400             46,200      
Normal cost       4                   26,400            106,000
TOTAL                                    79,500           106,000

If a school were to install four computers under the prevailing costs,
the bill for four computers would come to Rs 106,000. But if the
hardware was networked through a server and three dumb terminals, it
would be less than Rs 80,000, saving more than Rs 26,000.

Related Article
• Instead of one laptop per child...
• Web pioneer

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