Friday, April 21, 2006


... you had to walk for 10 minutes to get to the next PC with Internet access. You'd probably think twice whether you really need to check mail or read that article in the NYT.
The situation in Bhutan is a bit different. There are still villages that don't have access to a phone. The next phone is not just a ten minutes walk away but it might be rather a few hours or even two or three days. Can you imagine to walk a few days to call somebody?
Part of my work here in Bhutan is to look into distance education and how IT could be used. The NIE Samtse has a distance education program for teachers in the field. Teachers that are currently teaching but that feel the need to get an upgrade in their education can participate in this program. The participants in the distance education program stay at NIE Samtse for about 4 weeks per year to have a face-to-face communication with their lecturers and will study independently during the rest of the year (besides teaching fulltime - but that's a different story). Assignments are handed in with the help of the Bhutanese postal service and if a trainee has a question, he either writes an email, calls the lecturer, or sends a letter. One round of communication by letter might take up to 6 weeks.
About 64% of the students currently enrolled in distance education have access to computer and internet within reasonable distance - so within a few minutes walk. For 13% of the students, a manageable trip will bring them to a computer with internet connection. Manageable trip means to walk or drive for a few hours - but less than a day. For 24% of the students currently enrolled in distance education, neither of the above two categories applies. That means that they have to travel for more than one day to reach the next computer with internet connection. The closest computer with an internet connection might be located at a Resource Study Center (RSC). RSCs have been established in remote regions of Bhutan to help students collect material and communicate with the lecturers. The RSCs have fax, phone, a computer, a printer, and support staff.
So let's assume that you are a participant in the distance education program and you have been walking for the last two days to get to resource center. At the time you arrive at the resource center, you cannot start the computer because it is cloudy and the solar panels aren't producing electricity. You wait for a few hours and suddenly, we have blue sky and sun. You start the computer but upon trying to check your mails, you realize that the internet connection isn't available. The support staff investigates and concludes that it'll probably take a few days to get it working again. So here you are: you have been walking for a few days and haven't been able to make any use of the IT part of the distance education program.
That are the constraints that we are facing. Remember my introduction? 10 minutes walking to check your mails! A few days walking to check your mails?!? You might now understand why I have to take my time to get started in this new environment. I'm not judging but it's me that has to get adapted to a new environment, shift my way of thinking from my previous environment into the environment encountered here in Bhutan.

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