Elementary / Primary / Junior, Emerging, Feature, International, Minorities, equity, and access, Not-for-Profit, Required, Technology - Written by Ravi Kumar on Monday, August 29, 2011 6:00 - 0 Comments
The Uphill Battle to Build a Wired Society (and Education System) in Nepal
By Ravi Kumar, reporter for WiredAcademic
KATHMANDU, Nepal – Few mountainous villages of Nepal are now connected to each other and the world via wireless internet. For many villagers in Nepal, a computer is still a “mysterious-box”. But entrepreneur Mahabir Pun is trying to change that.
Paudar and Nangi, two of the many Nepali villages connected by the internet, are using the network to efficiently operate their Yak farming and camping grounds projects. The school of Nangi village has also started a crossbreeding project between yaks and cows at an elevation of 11,000 feet. All of this has happened due to Nepal Wireless, a non-profit organization Mr. Pun founded that hopes to transform Nepal by using information and communication technology
Nepal Wireless is using the power of technology to empower Nepali villagers on various levels. Only a third of the 28 million people of Nepal, South Asia’s poorest country, have access to telecommunications service. The non-profit formally established in 2009, has connected 31 villages and various schools. Today, some of the students of these connected schools have pen-friends abroad and write emails to each other.
Nepal, a Himalayan nation located between giants India and China, faces a laundry list of challenges. Nepal recently overcame a civil war, abolished its 240-year-old monarchy and is currently in the process of writing a new Constitution. A bulk of Nepal’s 28 million people are unemployed and unable to read. One of the biggest hurdles in educating Nepali citizens is that Nepal lacks qualified teachers.
By providing tele-teaching programs, Mr. Mahabir Pun, founder and supervisor of Nepal Wireless intends to help students learn efficiently. They are also creating databases to make e-learning materials accessible to students, teachers and villagers. These materials will be distributed by e-libraries created by different organizations.
Nepal Wireless has collaborated with Open Learning Exchange (OLE), an NGO based in the capital of Kathmandu, to develop interactive educational materials for school children. These contents will be based on the government’s curriculum.
Mr. Pun says one of his goals is to use the network for live tele-teaching by one teacher from one high school to students of other high schools. If the tele-teaching project is successful, then Nepal Wireless will be able to overcome the extreme shortage of qualified teachers in remote villages of Nepal.
Mahabir Pun, US educated and a 2002 Ashoka Fellow, aims to make Internet accessible to his fellow countrymen in Nepal. Mr. Pun launched the campaign of connecting Nepal in 1997 with four used computers donated to him by Australian students. He wishes to connect more villages rapidly but faces challenges.
“In the past, the network was small and we were relying mostly on volunteers in the villages for maintenance. Now the network has grown much bigger and we also need higher level of full time technical experts for the expansion and maintenance of the network” Says Pun.
Mr. Pun says he does not have enough funds or adequate support to progress as rapidly as he would like. Mr. Pun will also need to train villagers on how to use computers before villagers can enjoy the benefit of an internet connection.
Nepal Wireless does not get any support from the Nepali government. “There are some local and district level governments that provided some financial support to build some network in the rural areas” adds Mr. Pun.
Despite of all the difficulties, Mr. Pun continues moving forward in connecting villages in Nepal. “I have a dream to start a college by 2015 and an university in my life time. I have had this dream since the 1980s,” says Mr. Pun.
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