Focus Asia: Thriving Community With Technology For Education

Emerging Technologies and Edtech August 12, 2013

Nid has never thought that she could own her first tablet pc when she turned seven years old last year. For a daughter of a poor farmer in remote province of Thailand, owning a tablet is not what her family can afford to amidst of low family income, debt, and lack of basic infrastructure to high speed internet in her village. 

Given to her through the government’s ‘One Tablet Per Child (OTPC)’ programme, the new tablet brought a lot of changes to Nid’s classroom and life in a small village. Through multimedia learning and with broadband Internet covering the entire school, it was the first step to bring Nid and her peers to the broader knowledge at the same level as children in the city, and to the bigger world beyond the limit of her village. These are experiences once Nid could only imagine.

Nid’s life is one of many examples proving that the proliferation of technology used in education across Asia is visible and starting to become a part of an important key to the country’s education development. Due to that, many governments in the region already incorporated pedagogical technology in their national plan. For example, Thai government with its on going OTPC scheme, South Korea with national e-book project, and Malaysia with the national project to adopt Chromebook and Google app for education.

Simple Videos for Complex Lessons

The move towards adopting technology for education is because technology plays an important role in many aspects of learning. Not only is it gradually replacing chalkboards, physical textbooks, or exam papers, but the way it has been applied to serve the underserved communities in many parts of Asia, also shows great impact and influence in helping people in remote locations to study, learn, and thrive. 

For example, Sri Lanka’s Rambuka eVillage School  — located on the edge of a rain forest – in the Southern part of the country relies on technology to connect its students with the outside world.  At this school, students use ‘Skype’ to communicate with their living in cities to teach them about tropical rain forests. At the same time, they get an opportunity to hone their English language skills. 

Right To Play – a not-for-profit organization – launched a similar concept for children in many countries around the world including China. Famous athletes from around the world use video conferencing to teach essential life skills such as leadership, teamwork, goal setting and tolerance to underprivileged children. The video conferencing system is also used to train local teachers and community workers.  

Technology is increasingly becoming an essential tool to deliver knowledge to communities living in remote communities. In addition, it is also paving ways for the community to thrive sustainably. 

A successful example is the  ‘Bamboo school project’ or the Meechai Pattana School in Thailand. Here technology is being used for the community’s social and economic development. The school engages children as well as adults living in remote provinces across Thailand. The project is designed to cater to individual needs for children and adults. 

The school is in fact a life-long learning centre for the entire community, serves as a hub for economic and social advancement, and provides training facility for teachers from rural areas to improve their teaching skills.

The Bamboo School teaches kids business skills, and involves their parents and the community in the projects. The lessons involve agriculture, e-commerce for rural products, small enterprise or whatever subjects that the students want to learn. Students learn to supervise their plantations, investment, and saving, and contribute income and the knowledge learned to their parents. They also learn to be self-reliant  after leaving the school without the need to travel long distances to look for jobs in the capital. 

The Bamboo School acts as an IT hub for 26 communities and schools with over 140,000 members. It has given remote communities access to knowledge and at the same time is teaching them to apply this knowledge to increase local productivity for the community’s sustainable growth. For example, the school teaches its students to use Internet to search for what best suitable to plant in their areas, what the market needs for particular season, and more importantly how to market, sell and value-add their agricultural products, rather than planting whatever the students can think of. In addition, people use the Internet to communicate with each other to share their ideas and practices. 

There are many more projects across Asia that prove that technology is helping people create an impact on their community. 

Access to Technology – A Remaining Challenge

However promoting and providing technology in remote areas remains a key challenge. It needs more than just efforts by private organisations and not-for-profit organization. It necessitates government involvement to provide the required infrastructure for the deployment of technology such as broadband Internet access, devices, software, and dedicated officials to run the projects. 

As technology continues to evolve, it brings with its unlimited capability to enhance hope, imagination, and opportunities for hard-to-reach students. Schools and ICT centres are a good start but at the same time it is important to train and equip staff that can execute such programmes and guide communities to bring education to all.