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Forum on ICT in Thimphu 2006

75 students from Thimphu schools gathered in a forum to express views on how information and communication technology (ICT) can shape Bhutan they had a lot to say.

Dzongkha teachers

The students talked about the digital divide, ICT and education, employment and health and as a facilitator in the democratic process.

"ICT in education should be understood as an application of digital equipment to all aspects of teaching and learning," said a Class XII student Chador Tshomo. "It needs to enter our classrooms and become a part of our teaching learning process."

She pointed that ICT could enhance the quality of education which, today, was being debated upon.

"In the present situation, our classrooms are overcrowded, teaching and learning resources are limited, reference materials are scarce, method of instruction is through chalk and black board and student learning materials are confined to the textbook," said the Class XII student.

It is an established fact that classroom learning in Bhutan is obstructed by a shortage of qualified teachers and accessibility to information and support outside the classroom.

Two things became clear at the forum; that ICT had not entered Bhutanese classrooms as much as it ought to and the digital divide among the Bhutanese youth was getting wider.

While the 75 students present at the forum all agreed to have heard and seen computers, only four had used it and even less had email accounts. Majority of the students did not have access to computers, whether at home, schools or elsewhere.

The Department of Information Technology's (DIT) deputy director, Sangay Wangchuk, agreed that the wind of ICT revolution sweeping across the world was barely brushing Bhutanese youth.

Dzongkha teachers
"Despite knowing the benefits there has not been much ICT impetus in this sector," he told Kuensel. Accessibility was scarce and the focus of providing facility and connectivity was vague.

Students like Jambay Sherub and Tashi Phuntsho get to 'use' computers once a week in school. They said they had not used the Internet because they could not afford to go to the Internet caf├ęs.

If this is the situation in the capital the picture in the districts would definitely be worse. For example, the only Internet cafe in urban Trashigang was shutdown in 2004 because there were no users.

First of all students found it too expensive and the connectivity was very slow and unreliable. In many other urban centres in the districts, this business is yet to be started. "There exists a high degree of disparity with regard to ICT and students," said the vice principal of Rinchen Higher Secondary School Chogyal Tenzin. "Some are fully exposed to it while others have not even touched it, and it differs from school to school."

But a majority did not have the access, which denied them the resources to enhance learning not only in schools but also away from it, he said.

Few schools that had Internet connectivity had the facility available only for the head of the school and, on few occasions, for teachers. For students Internet facilities, in most schools across the country, were off-limits.

In an effort to bridge the digital divide, last year, the DIT supplied 300 computers to 100 primary schools across the country. But according to a spokesperson for DIT, connectivity (Internet) was still lacking while many schools did not have electricity and telephone connections.

Also to promote ICT in schools, Bhutan Telecom is providing Internet connections on dialup packages at 50 percent discount to all schools. Besides, through a memorandum of understanding with education ministry, Bhutan Telecom provided free 'weekend' Internet connectivity in 10 schools picked by the ministry from across the country.

The UNESCO Information and Communication Technologies in Teacher Education (2002) points out the emergence of new paradigm of teaching-learning process with a shift from teacher-centred instruction to learner-centred instruction that was needed to enable students to acquire the new 21st century knowledge and skills.

This new shift professed learning as a natural process where ICT provides opportunities for teachers and students to collaborate with others across the country and across the globe. They also provide new tools to support this collaborative learning in the classroom and online.
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But studies have also shown that the daily ordeal of dull and ritualistically solitary classroom activity of traditional teaching-learning process was much more preferred in the wake of risk that children are exposed to on the world wide web.

The porn industry has built the Internet and today it was the only successful e-business growing at 40 percent annually since 1997.

A London School of Economics study that surveyed 1,511 youth aged nine to 19 years suggests that 57 percent had seen net porn.

Plagiarism, evaluating the authenticity and difficulty in sorting through the information were some of the other concerns of using the web as a tool to supplement education.

Often, Bhutanese school children sought help from elders on out-of-classroom assignments and project works and which were, often, copy-paste from the online source.

Taking this into consideration, another student Thujee P. Lhendup said it would not be wise to altogether forgo the chalk and blackboard system of teaching-learning. But he agreed that schools should apply more of ICT in the process.

Flashing cell phones, i-pods, and chatting online would sum up how Bhutanese youth today apply information and communication technology (ICT).

A majority, though, are more accustomed to online games. Most of the Internet cafés in Thimphu city have been changed into video-game parlours and are doing sound business.

Contributed by Bishal Rai, KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper, 2006

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