Monday, April 16, 2007

MIT project in Rural Thailand

I was trying to find out more about and MIT project in rural Thailand the David Cavallo referred to in his Keynote at CAL 07. I couldn't find much online but this extract from ICT and Community Building in Rural Areas of Thailand seems to refer to the project and contains some guidelines about developing rural telecentres and making them sustainable. Also see Cavallo's thesis and Project Lighthouse in Logo newsletter.

"Another notable project was initiated and run by a joint-effort between Thailand and MIT (the Suksa-Pattana Foundation and the Thaicom Foundation). The project is located at a village called Ban Sam Kha in Lampang Province, about 100 km. South of Chiangmai. The project aimed at empowering the people in the community through project-based learning experience or the constructionism approach. At Ban Sam Kha School, practical working programs were tried with students and their parents. A number of workshops took place at Ban Sam Kha to solve the biggest problems of the community: their debts. Once knowing what is going on, the behaviour of the villagers changed rapidly. It was discovered that the total debts of all families combined were more than 18 million baht. Through a simple classification scheme, the debts were grouped by their financial costs and their relationship to the productivities, an amazing new knowledge was learned together. The villagers changed their behaviors quickly in order to get rid of less-performing and high-interest loans. At this moment, the villagers are trained to keep records of their income and expense, with the simple accounting tool training given to school kids at school. Parents are encouraged to join the evening classes to learn about computers where the kids are their teacher! The school has about 15 computers to teach students.

Developing telecenters and make them sustainable turned out to be harder and slower than originally planned, but this is not entirely unexpected. Here are a few things which we learned:

• Get to know the community well before putting ICT into the location
• Always encourage them to understand the linkage between ICT and their daily business
• Let them plan on what and how to do things by themselves. We only ask them relevant questions, which would help making decision.
• Send young staff or student volunteers to learn from the community and document their work.
• Never over-invest in the hardware/equipment as this will affect the sustainability of the centers, but never under-invest in putting a lot of attention to the learning process and technology adoption of the community.
• The winning telecenters are those where the machines are used heavily, and the main users are children. One way of inducing the adults to be literate about PCs is to ask the children to help.
• Always keep records of the users and income for analysis.
• Seek outside help to create useful software, information and news which are relevant to the community. Government agencies and universities are the main producers of the relevant contents such as farm prices, weather forecast/warning, and other knowledge. By enhancing the information quality, communities can learn more about the values of their telecenters."

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