Nepali Times
Dailekh bridges the digital divide


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 blas? 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.

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(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)