New Schools to Bring Internet Age to Isolated Provinces

robap village, Preah Vihear province – Pam Meorn, 54, isn’t sure exactly what the local children will do with the solar-powered computer that’s part of the new school in his village.

But he knows a good roof when he sees one—something some schools in the area lack. And he wants a good education for his grandchildren.

Thursday, he stood among hundreds of local villagers to celebrate the inauguration of the first of 200 planned privately-funded, computer-equipped schools in rural areas.

“People have never before seen a computer and I do not know what it does,” Pam Meorn said. “But it is very important because we can improve knowledge people have never had here before. We can have progress like other countries. I am very happy because we have a school for new generations.”

Cambodia Daily Publisher Bernard Krisher, who launched the school-building campaign, said donations sufficient to fund more than 20 five-room schools like the one here have already been made by private individuals in the US, Japan, and Hong Kong. Each donation of $13,000 is matched by the World Bank social fund for Cambodia.

Each school will come with a computer, educational programs, and two solar panels that will provide energy to power the computer for four to five hours a day.

Krisher expects soon to secure donated satellite equipment that would make it possible for the schools to access the Internet, allowing previously isolated villages without telephone lines access to the World Wide Web.

A satellite provided by Shina­watra was tested earlier this week in the Robap school, and demonstrated it was possible to access the World Wide Web with the equipment, Krisher said.

“In addition to technical advan­ces, this will make villagers more prosperous and healthy,” he told the crowd Thursday. “Probably you will not understand what I am telling you today. In a few months, you will. The computer in the new school will teach you to write and communicate the way people do in big cities.”

The Robap school bears the name of its donor, Japanese parliamentarian Wakako Hironaka.

Still, many kinks remain to be ironed out in the program. Edu­cational CD-ROM computer discs have not yet been delivered, and final plans for the exact mode of teaching computers have not yet been decided.

But the schools are sorely needed, said Pok Than, secretary of state for the Ministry of Edu­cation. The nearest school is 4 km away, and insufficient to provide education to the thousands of children in the area.

“I think it will take a long time for the government itself to have enough resources to come to remote areas like this,” Pok Than said. “Bringing technology to remote areas will show children a future wide open, and show them that there are many things possible.”

Professor Nicholas Negroponte, director of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US, and representatives from the Tokyo Shintoshin Rotary Club also attended the inauguration. Negroponte and the Rotary Club each funded schools in the area through the program. Both are almost completed.

A helicopter to the ceremony for VIPs was delayed, and the enthusiasm of local leaders was sometimes obscured by feedback from the public address system.


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