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Fwd: [GKD] SchoolNet: Computers for Schools in Thailand

---------- Forwarded Message ----------
Subject: [GKD] SchoolNet: Computers for Schools in Thailand
Date: Thu, Apr 25, 2002 11:20 AM +0530
From: Frederick Noronha <fred@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
To: gkd@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx


COMPUTERS FOR SCHOOLS and websites for students. That's the dream of an
ambitious project being promoted in Thailand, known as SchoolNet. This
project has notched up some impressive figures (some 4300 schools
connected to SchoolNet, with some 1500 having their own websites).

But that's only part of the story. How it worked its way to achieving
its goal, including taking some bold steps like using the GNU/Linux Free
Operating System to back up its plans, makes this project stand out from
other ventures aimed at taking computers to schools.

SchoolNet Thailand was launched by Bangkok's National Electronics and
Computer Technology Centre (NECTEC) in 1995. Its goal: providing
universal access to teachers and students. "Or, more specifically,
schools all over the country can access the network via a dial-up modem,
using access number 1509, and pay only three Bath per call," says its

It all started around 1995, initially just taking a piggyback-ride on
the country's university network. "In the beginning, we just called in
50 leading schools, where they understood that having access to the
Internet would be beneficial. We offered schools training that would
allow them to start off with an Internet server," recalls Dr Thaweesak
Koanantakool of Thailand.

Dr Koanantakool, the US-educated director of the Bangkok-based National
Electronics and Computer Technology Centre, told this writer that most
of the schools initially chosen were located in his country's capital.

In its first year, SchoolNet got 20 schools connected.

"When news spread out, schools outside Bangkok said they wanted to use
it. But they couldn't afford even a week's cost of the telephone line.
So we asked them to work with a university close by their schools. But
that was not convenient. In 1998, we introduced (the King's) Golden
Jubilee Network, for the citizen to access an Intranet within Thailand
for a year, without charge," he adds.

Soon, this was scaled up to 1500, the maximum capacity of the access
infrastructure, in 1999. That year, the Cabinet okayed expanding to 5000
schools. Under this plan, all secondary schools -- except those without
electricity or telephone lines -- and over 1000 primary schools too,
will have access to the Internet.

Currently, there are some 4300 schools that are connected to SchoolNet,
with approximately 1500 having their own websites.

Why SchoolNet?

The idea is that Internet access for schools throughout Thailand will
mean that IT, and the Internet, could help create more equal
opportunities in education. This could lead to boosting the educational
standards of the country.

But after the network infrastructure was successfully launched, it was
found that the Internet was still hardly being used as a tool for
education and learning in many schools. So, the programme's scope was
extended to cover content-development and human-resource development.
The latter meant training of teachers and trainers.

Project authorities were "not happy with the way teachers and children
made limited use of computers". So they decided to try and introduce
more Thai-language content in the schools.

Around the same time, Thailand also created a digital-library toolkit.
This allows teachers to get on their work after undergoing a short
training -- say of two hours or so. After this, the teachers can put up
their own website or teaching material on the web.

"Once it's on the web, anyone can access it. Teachers can mark
themselves as the authors, and we will protect the content for them, so
that they always own it. But the content can be used and reused by
anyone (for educational purposes)," says he. Today, there are hundreds
of teachers using this, resulting in thousands of web-pages being

"Ultimately, our aim is that every school can create new knowledge from
existing ones, or what we called the Complete Knowledge Cycle," says Dr

"We allowed every school to use this nationwide network. We pay for
Internet connection and internal bandwidth. We managed to provide for a
capacity of 1500 schools in all. It's a sort of free ISP, but limited to
schools," says Dr Koanantakool.

What has their experience been?

It varies a great deal. Some 10 to 15 schools proved to be really good.
These institutions threw up great teachers who created content and
activity for their students. Soon, some of these teachers were awarded
at SchoolNet Day functions, so that they could act as really good
role-models for teachers.

A couple of years back, the project got their budget expanded to cater
to some 5000 schools. Each schools is allotted 400 hours of
connect-time. Capacities vary. Some small schools have just a single PC,
large educational institutions have 400 to 500, says Dr Koanantakool.

Old PCs that "barely run Windows" but allow for TCPIP connections work
fine. "Even an old 486 could be used as a server, because the line-speed
is slower than the CPU anyway. Many schools, which have a greater number
of computers, run really great data centres," says Dr Koanantakool.

Some teachers however remain "afraid" of computers. But, good schools
know how to put even just a couple of computers in the library, then
bookmark examples of good sites, and let students use the PC to search
for information for their projects.

Along the way, Thai computer scientists developed an easy-to-administer
web-controlled GNU/Linux-based schools Internet server, he told this
correspondent during a recent UNDP/APDIP workshop on using ICTs for
development, held in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.

SchoolNet has developed a Linux School Internet Server (Linux SIS) to be
promoted and distributed to schools "as a cheaper alternative to using
an expensive server software".

Since its introduction, Linux-SIS has been very popular in Thailand.
Project implementors say this has been due to its "excellent
documentation in the Thai language, its simple-to-install CD-ROM and
web-based server management" that allow one to manage it without the
need to know any UNIX commands. "SIS training courses are always in
constant demand from schools looking for a reliable Internet server at
the lowest cost," says Dr Koanantakool, who is director of Bangkok's
electronics and computing centre NECTEC.

(More info on the Linux-SIS at )

"Initially we used Windows NT on a straightforward PC. Then, we
developed the Linux schools Internet server. We now have our own
software, running GNU/Linux, which is managed via the Web, using the
Thai language. That means, to run it the user hardly need to know
anything of Unix. This runs on just a PC. Compared to it, we could not
afford a Sun Microsystem box and router for each school, for example,"
says Koanantakool.

GNU/Linux and a simple PC allows the schools to run an FTP server and
"virtually everything out of one box". Says he: "It's far cheaper too.
You just get a modem, and put on Linux. Even an old PC can replace a

"We started working first with the server side (using GNU/Linux) since
the desktop is more difficult. One barrier was that almost nobody knows
Unix commands (among school teachers in Thailand). So we wrote out a
web-based simple admin system. This means, any school can run this after
a very little training. There's hardly any need to talk to the GNU/Linux
console (the terminal that requires difficult and initially complex
commands). But, using the web, one can delete files and carry out other
commands routinely needed," he adds.

Koanantakool says the Thai language web-admin tool became "some kind of
a breakthrough" that helped teachers to run a school network at the
lowest cost. In addition, the Thai-language extension of the project
started last year. Version 4.1 was released in March 2002.

"When you boot the machine, it comes to a point that makes it seem like
(a user-friendly version of) Windows. Many Thai computer companies are
eager to pre load the Version 4.1 onto their computers, because they're
afraid of anti-piracy campaigns. Since February, the Thai Language
Extension (which calls itself Thalay, meaning 'Ocean' in the Thai
language) has been making it to the headlines. Almost on a day to day
basis," says a proud Dr Koanantakool with a smile.

Incidentally, a 'Thai Junior Encyclopedia' has also been brought out, in
both CD-Rom and Net versions. This involves cultural data collecting,
the use of computers and software among cultural centre network groups
in that country. "If left alone in a cyberspace dominated by English
content, the language barrier will discourage most teachers and students
from using the Internet," as the project promoters realise.'

GLOBE is an activity that allows teachers and students in SchoolNet@1509
(the four-digit number is used to access this network) to collaborate
with their counterparts across the globe.

Schools take part in the Internet-based global education programme
called ThinkQuest ( This provides a highly
motivating opportunity for students and educators to work
collaboratively in teams, and learn as they create material while
sharing with one another. This challenges young learners to create high
quality, innovative and content-rich websites.

One of the schools -- Sri Wittaya Paknam -- has a site that draws a hit
rate higher than that of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, says
Koanantakool, with a hard-to-hide smile. The teacher uses this site to
teach English through the web.

Say the project promoters, cautiously: "There is no guarantee whether
SchoolNet Thailand will succeed in the long run. However, it is
undeniable that this project has already made a significant impact on
many schools in Thailand."

More details at
Frederick Noronha * Freelance Journalist * Goa * India 832.409490 / 409783
Email fred@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx * SMS 9822122436@xxxxxxxxxxx * Saligao Goa India
Writing with a difference... on what makes *the* difference

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