Monday, May 28, 2007

Visiting Schools

Last Friday, I had finally the chance to go out to Bhutanese schools and get a first-hand impression. As Samtse is a restricted area and my movement is restricted to the town of Samtse, we had to get an official permit to get out to the schools that are maybe 40 km and 10 km from Samtse. Getting this permit was a non-trivial process and Karma - the lecturer that organize the visits - was struggling hard to get those permits. In the end it worked out, I got the official paper, and we were ready to go.

The first school we went to is one of the largest schools in the country and has 1600 students. 50 teachers help kids from grade 1 to 10 to move forward and develop. We were received in a friendly atmosphere and were allowed to give a talk to the teachers and the principal. It turned out that in the beginning of May 07, the teachers received a total of six computers. Most of the teachers are not IT literate but a recent graduate from the Paro College of Education with specialization in IT has joined the school in the beginning of this year. During our meeting with the teachers, we presented a few ways of how ICT could be used in the school setting and gave them as well a short introduction of what could be available on the net. This was a bit of a futuristic presentation as the school has two computers with an Internet connection; one in the principals office and one for the students.

Right before lunch, we had a session with the grade 10 students. Out of maybe 80 students, about 5 got basic experiences with computers. None of them has ever written an email and probably not too many of them have ever used Google. As a motivation, I put up my email address and asked them to write me an email in case they are able to get an email account and time. We gave a similar talk to the students as to the lecturers - this time a bit more focused on how they could use the computers on their own.

I'm not quite sure how well the teachers and the students could connect to whatever we were doing - it must have been quite futuristic. I knew that people wouldn't have gotten a lot of exposure to ICT before but still, I couldn't really put myself into place and understand this thoroughly as in Switzerland, it is probably hard to find a young person that has never touched a computer. All in all, it was a good experience but I'm not quite sure how well we have done.

Luckily, we were not attacked by wild elephants as this schools is about 100 meter from really thick forest (rain forest?). There are stories of elephants coming to the tiny village and the local people are quite scared of them. There was military around during our entire visit and the villagers have put an electric fence around the forest.

In the afternoon, we went to the second school. This school had about 300-400 students in grade 1 to 6 and seven teachers. The school got three computers and no Internet connection. We gave a similar presentation to the teachers as in the first school. It was fascinating for me to see the enthusiasm of those teachers. One of them was running to the library to get a book with a CDROM that he wanted to try but that he couldn't get to work so far. So we helped him to get that CD running.

It turned out that one of the computers was rather noisy - the fan was running at full speed all the time. I opened the computer and it turned out that one of the cables disturbed the flow of the air. It doesn't come as a surprise that the fan is running at maximum speed as we had 27 degrees Celcius in the room - and actually, this is quite cold for this place as a couple of weeks ago, the temperature reached 39 degrees Celcius.

Further, there was a problem with the printer. The printer was connected to one computer and the other two computers could print using a switch that connected all three computers. The teachers tried to print from one computer and didn't realize that the switch and the computer that is connected to the printer have to be turned on. All in all, there was nothing wrong with the setup but there was a lack in education. I tried to educate them what exactly they have to do to be able to print and hope that this problem is now solved.

In the end, I was standing in front of about 200 Bhutanese kids - some of them looking into the classroom through windows. We gave them some ideas but it was probably pretty advanced. But all in all, it was a fun experience.

I haven't taken any pictures in the schools but on our way to the schools - they will follow later on. I took my GPS with me but unfortunately forgot it in my Gho during part of the way and it didn't record our location. But you can follow at least part of our trip and you can as well see the thick forest with the wild elephants next to a place called Kumai.

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