Sabbatical Clippings 2005

Sabbatical Clippings 2004
Sabbatical Blog
For links that can be blogged.

Many links from the Bangkok Post and The Nation do not work for Blogging. Those articles are tracked on my clipping site. A horizontal line separates each of the messages. There is a separate site for 2004 and 2005.

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Stephen Cysewski
Professor CIOS/ITS
UAF/Tanana Valley Campus
(907) 455-2816


ENGLISH TEACHING: Complete overhaul ‘essential’

Published on August 28, 2005

Chaturon calls for drastic measures; educators propose raft of initiatives. Calling for an overhaul of the teaching of English in Thai schools, Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang said that most students’ inability to communicate in English despite spending years learning the language pointed to a clear failure in language-teaching in Thailand.

The minister’s comments came yesterday during an Education Ministry workshop on improving the teaching and learning of English held at the Prince Palace Hotel. A total of 135 language-school executives, English-teachers and education professionals participated in discussions.

Chaturon stressed that both the teaching and learning of English must be refashioned, including curricula, textbooks and tests, in order for Thai students to acquire an acceptable level of competence in the language. He added that the practice of encouraging students to memorise grammatical rules by rote must be discontinued in favour of providing them with opportunities to practice speaking, listening and writing.

“Most of our students have been taught with a heavy emphasis on grammar without having the chance to practice the language verbally,” the minister explained. Such practices have had sorrowful results, he said. “When many of our students go overseas to study, all they can say are things like ‘What is your name?’ and ‘I love you’.”

Chaturon said several questions in the standardised TOEFL had been changed to make the language test better measure students’ grasp of English usage in everyday situations, integrating writing, speaking, reading and listening skills.

It transpires, Chaturon noted, that even many of those Thai students who score well on their English exams in Thailand encounter severe difficulties in writing and speaking during their studies abroad.

The General Achievement Test last year found that the English language ability of primary and high-school students in Thailand was equally low. Their average mark for English was among the lowest in all subjects. According to the Commission on Higher Education, the average score of Thai students in English tests administered during university entrance examinations has not reached 50 per cent in the past three years.

Dee Parker, an executive of the American University Alumni Language Centre (AUA) in Bangkok, added, however, that the ministry’s goal to have Thai students learn only enough English to “understand” was aiming too low. Thai students should be encouraged to express themselves fluently and descriptively in both spoken and written English, Parker stressed.

Arunee Viriyachittra, a consultant for the English Resource and Instruction Centre (Eric), in turn said Thai teachers of English needed training themselves as many of them were still grappling with the vernacular. She explained that a recent survey showed that some 40 per cent of 100,000 Thai teachers of English had a poor grasp of the language with their grammar and communicative skills hovering in the low to middling range.

“I recommend that all new English-teachers be required to demonstrate high degrees of linguistic competence through rigorous evaluation,” she said, adding: “Old English-teachers who don’t show signs of improvement should in turn be moved to other positions.”

Arunee went on to say she had found that several schools which used native English-speakers to teach even one class a week had achieved demonstrable improvements in their students’ ability to communicate in English.

She added, however, that she disagreed with the policies of some schools to go “overboard” by teaching all subjects in English, arguing that many students’ language skills remained too deficient for them to handle complex subjects in a foreign tongue. “We might create a situation in which many of our students become inferior not only in English but in many other subjects as well,” she warned.

Arunee added that current curricula also failed to differentiate between students with different learning abilities, whereby slower students risked falling further and further behind their more gifted peers. “Would it not be better if schools tailored their English classes to students’ individual levels of language competence, rather than lumping them all together in the same class?” she asked.

Boonladda Chainam, a professor at Mahidol University, stressed that the surest way to encouraging students to master English was to have them develop an affection for the language so that they considered studying not as a gruelling chore but rather as a rewarding activity.

“In a like vein, we have to find further ways to enable students to use English often outside classrooms,” she added.

Chatrarat Kaewmorakot

The Nation

August 25, 2005

Cellphones Catapult Rural Africa to 21st Century

YANGUYE, South Africa - On this dry mountaintop, 36-year-old Bekowe Skhakhane does even the simplest tasks the hard way.

Fetching water from the river takes four hours a day. To cook, she gathers sticks and musters a fire. Light comes from candles.

But when Ms. Skhakhane wants to talk to her husband, who works in a steel factory 250 miles away in Johannesburg, she does what many in more developed regions do: she takes out her mobile phone.

People like Ms. Skhakhane have made Africa the world's fastest-growing cellphone market. From 1999 through 2004, the number of mobile subscribers in Africa jumped to 76.8 million, from 7.5 million, an average annual increase of 58 percent. South Africa, the continent's richest nation, accounted for one-fifth of that growth.

Asia, the next fastest-expanding market, grew by an annual average of just 34 percent in that period.

"It is a necessity," said Ms. Skhakhane, pausing from washing laundry in a plastic bucket on the dirt ground to fish her blue Nokia out of the pocket of her flowered apron. "Buying air time is part of my regular grocery list."

She spends the equivalent of $1.90 a month for five minutes of telephone time.

Africa's cellphone boom has taken the industry by surprise. Africans have never been rabid telephone users; even Mongolians have twice as many land lines per person. And with most Africans living on $2 a day or less, they were supposed to be too poor to justify corporate investments in cellular networks far outside the more prosperous cities and towns.

But when African nations began to privatize their telephone monopolies in the mid-1990's, and fiercely competitive operators began to sell air time in smaller, cheaper units, cellphone use exploded.

Used handsets are available for $50 or less in South Africa, an amount even Ms. Skhakhane's husband was able to finance with the little he saves from his factory job.

It turned out that Africans had never been big phone users because nobody had given them the chance.

One in 11 Africans is now a mobile subscriber.

Demand for air time was so strong in Nigeria that from late 2002 to early 2003 operators there were forced to suspend the sale of subscriber identity module cards, or SIM cards, which activate handsets, while they strengthened their networks.

Villagers in the two jungle provinces of Congo are so eager for service that they have built 50-foot-high treehouses to catch signals from distant cellphone towers.

"One man uses it as a public pay phone," said Gilbert Nkuli, deputy managing director of Congo operations for Vodacom Group, one of Africa's biggest mobile operators. Those who want to climb to his platform and use his phone pay him for the privilege.

On a continent where some remote villages still communicate by beating drums, cellphones are a technological revolution akin to television in the 1940's in the United States.

Africa has an average of just one land line for every 33 people, but cellphones are enabling millions of people to skip a technological generation and bound straight from letter-writing to instant messaging.

Although only about 60 percent of Africans are within reach of a signal, the lowest level of penetration in the world, the technology is for many a social and economic godsend.

One pilot program allows about 100 farmers in South Africa's northeast to learn the prevailing prices for produce in major markets, crucial information in negotiations with middlemen.

Health-care workers in the rural southeast summon ambulances to distant clinics via cellphone.

One woman living on the Congo River, unable even to write her last name, tells customers to call her cellphone if they want to buy the fresh fish she sells.

"She doesn't have electricity, she can't put the fish in the freezer," said Mr. Nkuli of Vodacom. "So she keeps them in the river," tethered live on a string, until a call comes in. Then she retrieves them and readies them for sale.

William Pedro, 51, who deals in farm and garden plants, said he tried for eight years to lure customers to his nursery in a ragtag township near George, a resort town on South Africa's southern coast. Only when he got a cellphone two years ago, he said, did his business take off.

"White people are afraid to come here to my place in the township to buy plants," Mr. Pedro, who is of mixed race, said as he stood outside his makeshift greenhouses. "So now they can phone me for orders and I can deliver them the same day."

Hamadoun Touré, development director for the International Telecommunication Union, said the economic blessings of cellphones were magnified in the developing world.

"What is the alternative?" asked Mr. Touré, whose agency was founded in the days of the telegraph and is now part of the United Nations. "Somebody may have to leave work, travel for days, spending much more money" just to pass on a message.

Initially, he said, mobile operators based their predictions of cellphone use on the typical land-line user, someone with a bank account, a job and a fixed address.

"The woman selling vegetables in the market, with the baby and the umbrella, they weren't in the profile of the normal subscriber," Mr. Touré said. "But they use them."

Mobile operators cannot put up towers fast enough, not just in established markets like South Africa, which is already home to about one in four African mobile subscribers, but also in nations that barely have electricity, much less existing cellular networks ready for expansion.

Five years ago, for example, sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) accounted for one of every five mobile subscribers on the continent. That ratio has now doubled.

Executives of the MTN Group, another major African mobile operator, say the company's Nigerian network cost two and a half times as much as its South African network because of lack of infrastructure. But demand is so intense that MTN is adding hundreds of new base stations.

Congo was in the midst of a civil war when Alieu Conteh, a telecommunications entrepreneur, began building a cellular network there in the 1990's. No foreign manufacturer would ship a cellphone tower to the airport with rebels nearby, so Mr. Conteh hired local men to collect scrap and weld a tower together.

Now Vodacom, which formed a joint venture with him in 2001, is grappling with other problems. Its trucks get stuck in the mud. A crane is out of the question; it takes 15 to 20 men to haul each satellite dish into place with ropes. Base stations must be powered by generators. Each morning, executives send instant messages to employees containing the latest rate for the plunging local currency.

Despite all that, Vodacom Congo has 1.1 million subscribers and is adding more than 1,000 daily.

There are no current plans to extend land-line service to the surrounding steep mountains where Ms. Skhakhane lives, government officials here say. But that may not matter: six months ago, Vodacom erected a cellular tower whose signal can be picked up in the hills. Now it logs 10,000 calls a day.

Before the tower went up, Ms. Skhakhane communicated with her husband by letter. She waited weeks for a response. The nearest public telephone, outside a little shop more than 10 miles away, has been broken since March.

Ms. Skhakhane said she considered the $1.90 a month for a phone card to be money well spent. "I don't use the phone very often," she said, "but whenever there is something I really need to discuss, I do."

One problem remains even in the age of cutting-edge cellular technology: How does an African family in a hut lighted by candles charge a mobile phone? A bicycle-driven charger is said to be on the horizon. But that would require a bicycle, a rare possession in much of rural Africa.

In Yanguye, as in other regions, the solution is often a car battery owned by someone who does not have a prayer of acquiring a car. Ntombenhle Nsele keeps one in her home a few miles down the road from Ms. Skhakhane's. She takes it by bus 20 miles to the nearest town to recharge it in a gas station.

For 80 cents each, Ms. Nsele, 25, lets neighbors charge their mobiles from the battery. She gets at least five customers a week.

"Oooh, a lot of people," she said, smiling. "Too many."

CP 7-Eleven plans retail school

Published on August 24, 2005

CP Seven Eleven Plc, the local convenience store chain, has set up a new business arm to train retail professionals. In two months the company will officially open the country’s first vocational college for retail education. More than 1,000 students will graduate each year into a fully guaranteed job at CP Seven Eleven, or 13 affiliated retail firms.

The “Panyapiwat Techno Business” vocational college will train retail staff for their primary vocational education, deputy director Poontana Musikaboonlert said.

The curriculum will be joint-ly developed by managers of the college and CP Seven Eleven bosses.

Human resource staff at CP Seven Eleven will screen applicants. CP Seven Eleven executives will occasionally be asked to give lectures on their retail experience and practices.

The retail vocational college is the first educational business formed by Sueksapiwat Co Ltd, a new educational business arm set up two years ago by CP Seven Eleven Plc.

The company acquired a 10-year-old vocational college named “Bangkok Technic Nonthaburi” on Ngam Wong Wan Road, which was later renovated and converted to Panyapiwat Techno Business.

The new vocational college has been operating for two months. It has 35 teachers with an average age of 30. All teachers will have on-the-job training at CP Seven Eleven to gain real retailing experience.

Poontana said that in addition to Panyapiwat Techno Business vocational college, the educational arm also planned to open an undergraduate institute for retail management and technology.

A workshop training centre for retail practice including marketing, sales and service-minded development will be set up in the near future to train retail professionals from middle to top levels.

“All students who graduate from Panyapiwat Techno Business will have full knowledge about retail practices from store management to sales and marketing, merchandising, product display, inventory management and promotion management,” Poontana said.

Poontana has significant experience in both marketing and human resource development, as he worked for Siam Cement Group in both areas for almost 20 years. He retired from Siam Cement and worked for the past three years as director of Thai Rubber Latex Corp’s management development office. Poontana is also the assistant vice president for business process improvement at CP Seven Eleven’s headquarters on Silom Road.

“We will teach our students real retail knowledge and make them into retail entrepreneurs. Graduates can either work at our CP Seven Eleven or other retail operators, or set up their own small retail business,” he said.

CP Seven Eleven and 13 affiliated companies had a lot of demand for new recruits every year to fill their business expansion.

“CP Seven Eleven and its 13 affiliates, including Counter Services, recruited a total of 5,000 new employees every year. About 2,000 of them are needed each year to fulfil the expansion of 7-Eleven stores only,” Poontana said.

He said the group planned to increase the number of 7-Eleven stores from 3,000 currently to 5,000 in the next two years.

CP Seven Eleven and its 13 affiliated firms currently employ more than 30,000 people within its retail organisations.

Piyaporn Chalapinyo, deputy academy director at Panyapiwat, said students would spend three years at the college for the primary vocational level and another two years for the higher vocational level.

Graduates would become store personnel at 7-Eleven outlets, and could become store managers within about a year, she said.

Kwanchai Rungfapaisarn

The Nation


Federal grant helps rural Alaska gain Internet access

KODIAK (AP) -- Easy access to the Internet is taken for granted in most American cities but considered a pipe dream in many Alaska communities such as Akhiok. A federal grant could change that.

The remote fishing village of 51 people on the south end of Kodiak Island could be wired - or wireless - by next summer.

A grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development is giving money to small Alaska communities without access to Internet funding for broadband Internet, connecting even rural villages to the World Wide Web.

Ouzinkie and Old Harbor on Kodiak also were targeted as potential sites for funding.

The Alaska Regulatory Commission has wired about 20 rural communities in Alaska and is looking to connect about 20 more, said Rich Gazaway, who administers the grant program for the commission.

"We're trying to give access to communities that normally wouldn't be able to get the Internet," Gazaway said.

All three villages have phone lines but the high cost of dial-up access limits use.

Debbie Garner of Ouzinkie said she used to connect to the Internet through her phone line with a toll charge.

"Here it's mostly at businesses. Most residents don't have the Internet," Garner said. "Like I said, you couldn't afford it because there is no local provider."

Garner said broadband Internet in Ouzinkie would be wildly popular.

"I think everybody would go out and buy a computer," Garner said.

Linda Amodo, an Alaska Native and secretary for the Akhiok Tribal Council, said Internet just isn't feasible to most of her village.

"I want to get the Internet and I've been trying to weigh the pros and cons, but it's just too expensive," Amodo said.

She said much of Akhiok is unemployed and relies on Native lifestyles to survive.

"It's a lot of money and unless you have a steady job - and not everybody has the opportunity here - you can't afford it."

Under the grant program, the USDA is willing to pay for about 75 percent of the costs to the village, with the village covering the rest. Typically a satellite would be installed in the village and that would connect wirelessly to households.

"Residents would still have to pay installation charges for their homes, but it would be significantly less expensive than normal," Gazaway said.

Amodo, said the only place in the village where Internet is available is at the school.

"The kids just love it," she said.

Funding for the grant just opened up recently and the Regulatory Commission is taking feedback from communities. Government employees at the three villages in the Kodiak Island Borough said they had not received word on the grant.

Amodo said she remains cautious about wiring the village. Television and the Internet can be a distraction to villagers who rely on subsistence living, she said.

"Unfortunately, most of us have satellite TV," Amodo said. "You just have to keep a balance and continue the Native way of life."


Information from: Kodiak Daily Mirror,


Brainstorming English

Published on Aug 17 , 2005


The Education Ministry will invite 100 experts to a brainstorming session on August 27-28, with the aim of finding strategies to improve the standard of English education in schools across the country.

Khunying Kasama Varawarn na Ayutthaya, permanent secretary at the ministry, said the sessions would focus on reaching a mutual understanding of what quality English-teaching methods consist of, what results should be deemed to be satisfactory, and how to develop teachers' abilities.

"We have discovered that schools still have different views about what quality English classes actually consist of," she said.

She added that the sessions were in response to Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang's announcement of a policy to improve English education.

Kasama was speaking after she met with a working panel Chaturon appointed to improve the quality of English education.

"Basically, we plan to shift the focus from English grammar to communication skills and we need to develop teachers' abilities continuously. Just using native speakers would not be the right solution," she said.


Six years on and no results in education reform

Published on August 17, 2005

Recent official evaluations have concluded that after six years, education reform in the Kingdom remains far from achieving its goals.

Those goals include encouraging self-motivation, boosting analytical abilities, enhancing academic knowledge, promoting vocational education and developing teachers’ skills.

“This reflects a need for improvement in different areas. Our primary concern should be developing children’s analytical abilities and encouraging them to embrace life-long learning. We also need to focus on improving teachers’ abilities,” Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang told a seminar this week.

He said his ministry would set up a working panel to take charge of learning reform and developing teachers’ abilities.

Chaturon said that since the National Education Act of 1999 took effect six years ago, the country has focused mainly on restructuring government agencies and passing relevant laws.

A representative from the ministry’s Education Council told the seminar the government wants a fifty-fifty ratio of general to vocational education by 2008, but statistics from last year show a ratio of 63-to-37.

He said the average for national test scores in Prathom 6 and Mathayom 9 and 12, as well as Toefl results, also point to low levels of academic achievement for students, who especially need improvement in maths and analytical ability.

Furthermore, the council pointed out that most schools still cram too much material into classes, reducing chances of children developing analytical abilities. There are also not enough classes for pupils with special needs.

He said the had also concluded that teachers’ skill development has not progressed satisfactorily during the past six years.

“Delegation of education-related tasks among the relevant agencies is still inefficient, and educational services are concentrated mostly in urban areas,” he said. Private operators and local administrative bodies still play a very limited role in educational services.

In addition, the council said a failure to inform the public about new educational options has provided opportunities for unethical operators to trick students into paying for uncertified home-school courses.

The ministry’s Office of National Education Standards and Quality Assessment reported it had conducted quality checks at 17,562 schools across the country, or 49 per cent of all educational institutes.

Of the schools assessed, 39.2 per cent provided satisfactory instruction with a student-centred approach, and only 13.5 per cent impressively arranged activities to promote creativity and analytical and problem-solving skills.

The office said students at 47.6 per cent of the schools had very low levels of foreign-language ability.

The Education Ministry concluded that most teachers clung to old and outdated teaching methods and lacked efficient techniques. The problem exists mostly in small schools, where heavy workloads prevent teachers from improving themselves.


Kids: Teachers don't get it

`Misunderstand' new ministry curriculum


Students and parents have urged the Education Ministry to rectify teachers' misunderstandings of child-centred teaching saying it led to too much work and stress for students instead of analytical thinking, creativity and academic achievement.

Their move follows the ministry's assessment, to mark the 6th anniversary of education reform, that 90% of the 17,562 schools included in its survey had not succeeded in developing students' analytical and critical abilities.

About 60% of the surveyed schools had failed to adopt the child-centred learning curriculum which answered to the educational needs of children in different localities, and most were clueless about formulating an effective curriculum.

Wilaiwan Laichanthik, a student of Huay Thalaeng Pitthayakom School in Nakhon Ratchasima, said the ministry should find ways to urgently end confusion among teachers nationwide about child-centred education as the evaluation results found most schools still failed to teach students to be analytical and creative and that the method also caused them to perform worse in major subjects.

She said teaching reform over the past six years had failed because all teachers had been forced to change their teaching methods to child-centred teaching without guidelines or plans for them to adjust to the changes systematically.

Natsuda Chuchart, a Mathayom 4 student of Triam Udom Suksa Pak Tai School in Nakhon Si Thammarat, said students were now in trouble because teachers had no idea about proper child-centred teaching techniques and thought their only duty was to assign students to do research themselves on the internet and in libraries and to check and grade reports submitted to them.

``Now, teachers of most subjects assign students to do research and learn by themselves many times a week. Each week, I'm assigned to write reports for at least four subjects. We study harder and become more stressed than under the old curriculum which focused on rote learning.

``We study very hard, but feel as if we've not got as much knowledge as is expected. In class, there is no process leading to analytical thinking and teachers do nothing to help and fail to explain to ensure basic understanding before assigning research.

``Now, it's like students have to depend on themselves and teachers have a smaller teaching role. This does not seem to be right,'' she said.

Danaisak Nuphuak, a student of Thart Phanom School in Nakhon Phanom, said teachers were doing poorly in their jobs to their lack of understanding about child-centred learning, and were also busy with other tasks such as preparation for academic accreditations and school evaluations, skipping classes for training outside the schools several times a week.

Namfon Rangket, a student of Doi Saket Witthayakom School in Chiang Mai, called for urgent action to ensure teachers' understanding of the child-centred learning curriculum and to bring teaching methods in line, saying students were now really confused since teachers adjusted their own teaching methods, designed what they would teach themselves and chose textbooks in their own particular ways.

Somsri Sunanthawiwan, a parent, said the permission for schools to design curricula themselves without limits caused many schools to sink below standard, caused students to become more stressed than when they learned by rote, and increased the burden of parents since their children could not use the same textbooks anymore.

Another parent, Chingchai Charupanichkul said teaching under the new curriculum was badly organised with teachers of different subjects assigning too much homework, which was sometimes similar, to students and schools not allowing parents to take part in drafting the curriculum and formulating policies.



Softer Cell
In Mobile Phones,
Older Users Say,
More Is Less

All the Features Just Confuse,
They Tell Vodafone, So It
Tries Making a Simple One
Pushback From Young Staffers

August 15, 2005; Page A1

At a time when cellphones are letting users do more tricks, from video calling to downloading digital music, one of the latest models from Vodafone Group PLC has no camera, no browser and hardly any icons. Instead of being sleeker and cooler than ever, the phone is large and ordinary-looking.

What it is, though, is easy to use, and if Vodafone is right, the market will love it. That's because of who its market is: people getting up in years.

If the battery on the Vodafone Simply, as it's called, gets low, the phone doesn't signal this with a tiny icon somewhere. Instead, on its screen, the words "please charge" appear. If a message is waiting, a light flashes, like in old-fashioned answering machines. To help people who tend to lose their phones around the house and let the battery run down, this one comes with a stand that serves as a place to stow the thing, and charges it while it's there.

Ann Ridley is the kind of customer Vodafone has in mind. A 65-year-old ballet teacher in Claygate, near London, Ms. Ridley rarely gives out her mobile-phone number, never uses text messaging and doesn't store her friends' numbers on the phone. "I can't see the numbers, and it's too complicated," she says. The result is that she uses the cellphone for fewer than a dozen calls a year, spending less than $18 annually.

[The Vodafone Simply handset.]
The Vodafone Simply handset.


The hope at Vodafone is that when people like Ms. Ridley, who said she wasn't familiar with the Vodafone Simply, hear about it, they'll find its ease of use so comforting they'll start to use their cell service more. If so, Vodafone, which collects a fee for each cellphone call, can expect more revenue.

Vodafone isn't the only company -- nor cellphones the only industry -- trying to shape some products for older consumers or to simplify them. At Ford Motor Co., designers who test-drive prototypes sometimes wear a "third-age" suit that gives them a sense of an older person's experience by means of stiff fabric at the elbows and knees and thick padding at the waist. Ford has made many modifications to cars as a result, from wider doors to more-comfortable seats, says one of its technical specialists, Jeffrey Pike.

Philips Electronics NV, whose many products range from beard trimmers to X-ray systems, has a "Simplicity Advisory Board" of outside experts, and next month will bring out the first products of a companywide simplicity drive. Consumers are saying, "Many products complicate my life instead of making it easier," says the head of Philips's global marketing management, Enderson Guimaraes.

The Vodafone Simply isn't an attempt to match certain ultra-simple phones sold to the elderly for emergency use, such as one from a France Télécom SA unit that has no keyboard but just three big color-coded buttons linked to preprogrammed numbers such as that of a doctor. Instead, Vodafone is trying to appeal to a large market of middle-aged and older people with a handset they won't find intimidating. The company's European target market is everyone who's 40 years of age or over and isn't issued a cellphone by an employer.

That's a sign of how young the usual market for cellphones is -- and what a change this move is for an industry that keeps adding features to get customers to upgrade. Vodafone's plan reflects the need for new sources of growth. Cellular markets in much of Western Europe and Japan are becoming saturated, so that the middle-aged and older are among the few places to look for new growth.

Vodafone is offering the Simply in nine countries so far, not including the U.S., a market in which it participates through a 45% stake in Verizon Wireless. The U.S. cellphone market still is growing briskly, although its growth, too, is expected to slow before long. The countries where Vodafone Simply is available are the U.K., Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Greece and New Zealand.

Other European cellular operators have ideas similar to Vodafone's for more effectively tapping into the older market, says Kai Oistamo, a senior vice president at Nokia Corp. The Finnish manufacturer of handsets is in discussions with some other service providers now, he says.

Vodafone's initiative began two years ago, after the company surveyed 5,000 Europeans about what they wanted from a cellphone. What it heard from consumers aged 35 to 55 shocked executives of the Newbury, England, company. Many in that age range didn't know their cellphone numbers or how to use basic functions.

One-third, for example, said they didn't know how to tell when they had received a text message. Some thought the envelope icon that signals a message meant their phone bill had arrived.

One woman in Italy told Vodafone she didn't know how to reply to a text message, so she would send back handwritten notes through her son, on his bicycle.

Many 35- to 55-year-olds also didn't like going into Vodafone retail stores because the young staff -- average age 24 -- talked in acronyms they couldn't understand. These consumers said they weren't interested in the cameras, Internet browsers and many of the other features that are becoming standard on the latest cellphones. "Our biggest customer segment turned round and said: 'You haven't been listening to us,' " says Guy Laurence, the company's consumer-marketing director. "It was an industry for kids."


As the Vodafone Simply project took shape, company executives debated how much emphasis it should get. The company's chief executive, Arun Sarin, a silver-haired 50-year-old who once headed a Silicon Valley start-up, was convinced the appetite for a simpler handset was substantial. "It's not tiny. It's a chunk," he said at a recent news conference.

At an industry gathering in early 2004, Mr. Laurence invited manufacturers to build a basic handset that could make voice calls and handle text messages and do little else. "They looked at me like I was from Mars," he recalls. "They said: 'It's not needed.'"

Eventually, Vodafone found a supplier in Sagem SA, a Paris-based electronics maker. Vodafone also engaged IDEO, a London design agency that had worked on the Palm V personal organizer, widely acclaimed for ease of use.

During development, young Vodafone product managers kept trying to add features, like software for sending picture messages. Mr. Laurence said no. He showed them an old TV comedy sketch about an elderly person being humiliated by a hi-fi salesman who delighted in the customer's technical ignorance.

Vodafone ran the ideas of product managers past groups of over-40 consumers. One finding was that the consumers tended not to enter many names into their cellphone contacts books because they thought they might lose the handset and have to do it all over again on a replacement. This wasn't good news for Vodafone, which finds that the more names in a phone's contacts book, the more the phone gets used.

To allay people's concerns about the hassle of re-entering numbers in a replacement phone, Vodafone made it easier to copy the contacts book onto a personal computer for storage. The handset automatically transfers contacts to a PC when connected to it, something that with most handsets can't be done unless owners first install special PC software. It is then straightforward to transfer the numbers from the PC back to a replacement cellphone.

Based on what older customers told it, Vodafone also installed dedicated buttons for volume control and for locking the keypad, to prevent accidental redialing of the last number called. It added a 'tips' function to give users guidance if they got stuck in any of the menus. The handset is bigger than most and has a spacious keypad.

Gary Sheehan, a 38-year-old director of a London information-technology company, likes that keypad, along with the phone's simple menus and large screen. He replaced his Sony Ericsson camera phone with a Vodafone Simply in July. "It was all singing, all dancing," he says of his old phone. "But if I wanted to change the ringer volume, I couldn't find it."

On his new one, "I can see what I am typing without squinting," he says.

The downside is that his colleagues at the IT firm, mostly in their 20s, frequently mock his choice of handset. He says his wife, using British slang for "idiot," calls it the "Vodafone Wally phone." But he doesn't care: "I just wanted a phone that phoned," he says.

The simple handset remains a work in progress. In the 2½ months since Vodafone launched it in mid-May, the company has decided it needed to make about 60 tweaks to the software.

The company's Mr. Laurence was wary of permitting advertising agencies, typically staffed by young people, to create a commercial for the phone, fearing it would be too flashy or complicated. The company first commissioned a print ad to run in a European edition of Good Housekeeping magazine -- not a usual venue for cellphone advertising. Its print ads, which also ran in Golf Monthly, picture the handset and describe what each button does.

One of them, highlighting the volume-control button, says: "No mucking about in menus to find the right setting. So no excuses for letting your Vodafone Simply phone ring in the middle of your cousin's wedding."

Mr. Laurence ran the ad by product managers working on fancy multimedia handsets for young people. "The more they hated it, the more we knew we were on the right track," he says. Vodafone eventually ran television commercials for the phone in four of its markets.

It won't say how many of the phones it has sold, but Mr. Laurence says the company expects to at least recoup its investment through added revenue. The average age of the phone's users is 45.

Many young staffers in Vodafone's retail stores don't seem to grasp the concept, because they keep pushing older customers to buy phones with fancy features, Mr. Laurence says. So the company has taken to lending their parents a Vodafone Simply. "If their parents say 'this is the best thing since sliced bread,'" Mr. Laurence says, "they are going to learn to sell it properly."


Schools fail ministry's evaluation

Most can't train young minds to be analytical


More than half of the country's schools from kindergarten to high-school levels fail to train students to be analytical, and students are doing more poorly in major subjects than four years ago, the Education Ministry's assessment reveals.

The ministry's academic accreditation and educational evaluation office said

A survey of 17,562 schools, including private ones, found 90% of them did not succeed in developing students' analytical and critical abilities, according to the ministry's academic accreditation and educational evaluation office. There are some 30,000 kindergarten, primary and high schools nationwide.

About 40% of the surveyed schools had adopted the child-centred learning curriculum and did fairly well at it. The rest failed to come up with a curriculum that answered to educational needs of children in different localities, said the office's director Somwang Pitthayanuwat.

Most of the schools were clueless about devising an effective curriculum and resorted to copying the models used by other schools, he said.

Mr Somwang said the survey also exposed a wide gap between state-run and private schools in terms of education quality. State-run schools were largely outperformed by in all areas, except relations with local communities.

The government should learn from private schools and allow them access to national education management, he said.

The survey also showed the quality of education varied depending on sizes and locations.Students of large city schools tended to perform better academically than their peers in small rural schools which were in desperate need of resources.

Mr Somwang said at least some 10,000 of the surveyed schools appeared oblivious to their own problems. They did not bother to make evaluation reports, and it was unrealistic to expect them to shape up.

The office was also alarmed by the finding that a large number of teachers employed by 60% of the surveyed schools were below standard.

The two billion baht spent by the state to train teachers was obviously not a fruitful investment, he said.

Rungruang Sukapirom, adviser to the Education Council, said a comparison with the 2001 figures confirmed Prathom 6 (Grade 6) students now performed a lot more poorly in mathematics, sciences, English and Thai languages.

Also, the opportunity for children to have formal schooling was only slightly better despite the size of the budget allocated to implement the government's 12-year free education policy.

It was found the number of youngsters who completed 12 years of education had remained capped at 84% since 2002.

The adviser said schoolchildren were forced to study too much while subject contents were often repetitive. Teachers rushed to cover the subjects they were assigned to teach and so had no time to encourage and help students develop thinking and analytical abilities.



Internet gets a place in space


The successful launch of the world's biggest commercial satellite was watched nervously by many, and has put a feather in Thailand's cap. Thaicom 4, also known as iPSTAR, is not just the heaviest private satellite ever launched, but is also one of the most technologically advanced. The ``iP'' of the name refers to the ``internet Protocol'', which is the manner in which information is exchanged on the computer network of networks.

Most internet data travels along wires of various types. The new satellite opens a huge new pipe in the sky, along which information can flow and be processed in 22 countries across Asia.

iPSTAR is basically a high-speed internet service provider high above Earth, in a geostationary orbit, meaning it turns with the planet and remains directly above one point. Since the satellite was conceived five years ago, Shin Corp has won both praise and some scepticism _ applause for its forward-looking plans, doubts over whether they are, to coin a phrase, pie in the sky. The theory of a huge internet provider, unfettered by wires, is unassailable. It remains to be seen whether it will work economically, and whether enough companies and outlying individuals can make it profitable.

Previous Shin Corp satellites, which are handled by the firm's Shin Satellite subsidiary, have focused on known and predictable commercial enterprises. In particular, Thaicom 1, 2 and 3 have carried television and other broadcasts. The growth and needs of broadcasters is uncontroversial, and the satellites have made money from carrying programmes of stations and networks.

Thaicom 4 delves into riskier territory. Indeed, as the satellite was built and readied for launch, contracts were negotiated, agreed, discarded and launched, often in ways unforeseen. Indian companies bid against each other for satellite time; a major Australian company backed out at the last minute. Burma, as many know, has signed on as a major customer. But 80% of the bandwidth is still available.

The new satellite is a commercial venture by the public company Shin Corporation, which is responsible to its shareholders. But Shin Corp is also a Thai corporate citizen, with the duties that go along with that status. In fact, Shin Corp is one of Thailand's most closely watched firms. Its name is derived directly from the family of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who founded the firm, and whose wife and children are major stockholders and voices in the company's operations today.

Not a few political opponents have speculated about this arrangement; Shin Corp is suing one such commentator in a high-profile case in the Criminal Court.

Allegations aside, Shin Corp is one of Thailand's biggest and most successful firms, and thus has obligations to its country. Of course, prospering, paying its taxes and providing employment for many thousands of Thai workers is important.

But, as Thailand's biggest, most prosperous technology company, Shin Corp could consider other steps. Most Thais, for example, still live outside areas where affordable high-speed internet connections are available. iPSTAR has the bandwidth and the national coverage to allow an internet connection in every outlying village.

This is not to suggest that Shin Satellite is the only Thai company with obligations to its citizens. CAT Telecom and the TOT Corporation have both been freed recently from the restrictions of being state monopolies. They have been remarkably unimaginative in meeting the demands of the public for reliable computing service at realistic prices.

Instead, they have spent inordinate time trying to hold on to unearned and unmerited pieces of companies like Shin Corp. Telecom firms are still required to charge huge amounts from consumers to give to TOT and CAT Telecom in return for so-called concessions.

CAT maintains a monopoly on internet services with a choke-hold on land and submarine links to the country. iPSTAR effectively ends that monopoly _ but only if the owners of the satellite share the wealth of the internet channels from space.

Big companies can afford big payments to Shin Satellite for the use of enormous amounts of internet bandwidth needed to share and process commercial information. Shin could consider setting aside links for consumers who have little or no avenue to other internet access.

CROSSING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE: Sipa hopes for equal access for all children nationwide

Published on August 15, 2005

In the near future, children in the remote areas of Thailand will be bridging the digital divide with the chance of equal access to information in digital form.

The E-Book/E-Learning Sharing Project, initiated by the Software Industry Promotion Agency (Sipa), aims to enable children throughout the country to have the same chance as children in the cities to access knowledge through the Internet.

Manoo Ordeedolchest, president of Sipa, said the project’s concept is to build infrastructure to allow children to easily learn. This includes work to encourage teachers to develop electronic books and also to assist schools to integrate and share their electronic-book resources, allowing children access across servers as well as client devices such as laptops, PCs, personal digital assistants and mobile phones.

Content developed by teachers will be stored in schools’ distributed servers across the nation. The distributed servers will probably be linked, similar to peer-to-peer networks.

Once children access the network from anywhere in the country by signing on with their unique user name and password, the software management system will automatically know who they are and then the system will offer information appropriate to them, instead of them wasting time looking for the information they want from everything available over the network.

“To manage the delivery of a particular child’s requirements, the server hub is essential to manage traffic through the networks, similar to Web services’ UDDI,” Manoo said.

Sipa’s role includes software management for server hubs, training teachers to develop digital content with animation, multimedia and graphics, and providing platform tools for teachers.

“Sipa will also invite publishers to convert their books into electronic platforms for children at lower prices. With this model, children in remote areas of the country will have a better chance to access knowledge,” Manoo said.

This project is scheduled to start next year. Sipa has proposed Bt10 million as an initial budget for this project.

It is expected the server hub will be established at Sipa.

Meanwhile, to access the network, children must have appropriate client devices. For proof of concept, Sipa has worked with a local company, Basic Concept Development Technology, to develop an engine for client devices across platforms including Windows, Windows CE, J2ME, Symbian, and Linux. Clients will be enabled to receive any format such as text-based, animation, graphics, and PowerPoint.

“A local company has already converted 1,700 pages of ‘Sam Kok’ into a one-megabyte electronic version, compressed from 3 MB, and installed in a pocket PC,” Manoo said.

Client devices do not need to be pocket PCs. They can also be thin clients.

This initial project is part of the government’s decision to consider the adoption of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab’s One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project after Nicholas Negroponte, chairman and co-founder, approached Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra earlier this month. OLPC was announced in January by Negroponte at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

OLPC is the MIT Media Lab’s new research initiative to develop a US$100 (Bt4,100) laptop to revolutionise the education of the world’s children, to be used for work and play, drawing, writing and mathematics. The proposed $100 machine will be a Linux-based, full-colour, full-screen laptop that will use innovative power such as wind-up generators, and will be able to do almost everything except store huge amounts of data. These rugged laptops will be WiFi- and cell phone-enabled, and have USB ports galore. Its current specifications are 500MHz, 1GB, and 1 megapixel.

The idea is to distribute the machines through the ministries of education of countries willing to adopt a policy of “one laptop per child”. Initial discussions have been held with China and Brazil.

Under the plan, the government will order around 600,00 of the $100 laptops per year to distribute to children in remote areas to access the world of knowledge.

The government’s adoption of OLPC, together with Sipa’s “E-Book/E-Learning Sharing Project”, is expected to help bridge the digital divide as well as to encourage children to carry their own library around with them.

Asina Pornwasin

The Nation


I use EverNote to gather information for my Sabbatical, it is great and free. The problem is that it is a computer file and I can not share it unless I put the information into a web page or create a blog entry. EverNote is especially good at gathering information from web sites that require subscriptions, two examples being the Wall Street Journal and the Bangkok Post.

Highly recommended.


EverNote Organizes Your Endless Stuff Onto an Endless Tape
August 11, 2005; Page B1

Computer users are drowning in information. Between Web sites and email, and the pictures and documents you download from them, a flood of material pours into our personal computers each day. Organizing it all is a major challenge.

Many people make do with the crude tools the PC provides. They stuff all those documents and messages into folders in the computer's file system or inside their email programs -- until they get lazy. They overload the bookmark features of their Web browsers and cram saved Web pages into their imperfect folder system.

Others just give up and save everything in the Windows "My Documents" folder, where finding the data later can be a scavenger hunt.

Macintosh users with the new Tiger operating system have a leg up in solving the mess. The system's Spotlight feature finds almost any document or email in seconds, and you can create "Smart folders" that automatically accumulate files based on search criteria you specify. Similar capabilities are promised for the next version of Windows, called Vista, in the fall of 2006.

There is another way to tackle the information overload. For years, some folks have turned to an obscure type of software called information organizers. These are programs designed to collect and organize your notes, as well as snippets of information copied from elsewhere. Users of these are addicted to them.

Among these products are Info Select for Windows, $250 from Micro Logic; and StickyBrain for the Mac, $40 from Chronos. Microsoft entered the field a couple of years ago with a Windows organizer called OneNote, which is $50 after rebate.

A new contender has now entered this field, and it boasts an unusual design. It's called EverNote, and is for Windows computers only. EverNote is being offered as a free download from its maker, EverNote Corp., at A paid version, the $35 EverNote Plus, adds handwriting and shape recognition for people who use tablet computers.

I have been testing EverNote and it works well. It is fast and logical and a good way to round up random thoughts and resources.

Like many other information organizers, EverNote is designed as a bottomless storage locker for your notes and clippings. So, it dispenses with the regular Windows system of creating a new file each time you want to do something and then saving it. Instead, EverNote lets you quickly create notes in one central place and saves the material automatically.

It doesn't use the interface of a word processor or a virtual notebook. EverNote appears on the screen as an endless tape, with notes falling one after the other down the length of the tape. Unlike tape in the real world, this virtual tape isn't narrow. It can be whatever width you like, up to the full width of your screen. But it is long.

You see only a portion of the tape at any one time -- the portion containing the note you are creating or reading.

EverNote allows you to create notes in several ways. You can just type them in; a new, empty note frame is always ready at the bottom of the tape. Or, you can select and drag text or graphics into an empty note from a document, email or Web page. Or, you can use the standard Windows copy-and-paste system to get content from elsewhere. Finally, you can install a special EverNote icon into your Web browser that will automatically create a note from selected text on a Web page, or even the whole Web page.

In most cases, when you create notes from copied content, EverNote adds a reference line to the note saying where it came from. If you double-click on this reference line while holding down the Control key, EverNote will send you back to the source: a Web page, a document or an email on your computer.

You can assign one or more category labels to each note. Some are automatically assigned based on the form of the note, such as "Web clips" or "Word clips." Others can be created and assigned by the user, such as "Clips about David Ortiz."

There are three main ways to navigate the virtual tape and to find notes quickly. On the right side of the tape, EverNote presents a "Time Band," a single-column calendar with dates and hours, so you can get a note whose creation date you recall by clicking on that date.

On the left is a list of the categories. When you click on a category, the tape shows only the notes that fit that category. Finally, there is a search system that rapidly locates any word or phrase you type and highlights it in yellow in every note in which it appears.

EverNote has too may other features to list here. It saves a history of each version of notes you revise. It has templates for common kinds of notes, like shopping lists and phone messages. It automatically backs up, and can restore, your notes. The company also is working on such things as a version for cellphones and a way to synchronize with multiple devices.

So, if you are lost in a sea of files and data, give EverNote a try. It may be just what you need.

Write to Walter S. Mossberg at



Laptop Kids $100 Laptop

Please note: these laptops are not in production. They are not—and will not—be available for purchase by individuals.

Alexandra Kahn
Media Lab Press Liaison
email via our contact us page

Nia Lewis

The MIT Media Lab has launched a new research initiative to develop a $100 laptop—a technology that could revolutionize how we educate the world's children. One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) was announced by Nicholas Negroponte, Lab chairman and co-founder, at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland in January 2005.

Here Negroponte answers questions on the initiative.

What is the $100 Laptop, really?
The proposed $100 machine will be a Linux-based, full-color, full-screen laptop that will use innovative power (including wind-up) and will be able to do most everything except store huge amounts of data. These rugged laptops will be WiFi- and cell phone-enabled, and have USB ports galore. Its current specifications are: 500MHz, 1GB, 1 Megapixel.

Why not a desktop?
Desktops are cheaper, but mobility is important, especially with regard to taking the computer home at night. Recent work with schools in Maine has shown the huge value of using a laptop across all of one's studies, as well as for play. Bringing the laptop home engages the family. In one Cambodian village where we have been working, there is no electricity, thus the laptop is, among other things, the brightest light source in the home.

How is it possible to get the cost so low?

  • First, by dramatically lowering the cost of the display. The first-generation machine may use a novel, dual-mode LCD display commonly found in inexpensive DVD players, but that can also be used in black and white, in bright sunlight, and at four times the normal resolution—all at a cost of below $30.
  • Second, we will get the fat out of the systems. Today's laptops have become obese. Two-thirds of their software is used to manage the other third, which mostly does the same functions nine different ways.
  • Third, we will market the laptops in very large numbers (millions), directly to ministries of education, which can distribute them like textbooks.

Why is it important for each child to have a computer? What's wrong with community-access centers?
One does not think of community pencils—kids have their own. They are tools to think with, sufficiently inexpensive to be used for work and play, drawing, writing, and mathematics. A computer can be the same, but far more powerful. Furthermore, there are many reasons it is important for a child to "own" something—like a football, doll, or book—not the least of which being that these belongings will be well-maintained through love and care.

What about connectivity? Aren't telecommunications services expensive in the developing world?
When these machines pop out of the box, they will make a mesh network of their own, peer-to-peer. This is something initially developed at MIT and the Media Lab. We are also exploring ways to connect them to the backbone of the Internet at very low cost.

What can a $1000 laptop do that the $100 version can't?
Not much. The plan is for the $100 Laptop to do almost everything. What it will not do is store a massive amount of data.

How will these be marketed?
The idea is to distribute the machines through those ministries of education willing to adopt a policy of "one laptop per child." Initial discussions have been held with China and Brazil. In addition, smaller countries will be selected for beta testing. Initial orders will be limited to a minimum of one million units (with appropriate financing).

When do you anticipate these laptops reaching the market? What do you see as the biggest hurdles?
Our preliminary schedule is to have units ready for shipment by the end of 2006 or early 2007.

The biggest hurdle will be manufacturing 100 million of anything. This is not just a supply-chain problem, but also a design problem. The scale is daunting, but I find myself amazed at what some companies are proposing to us. It feels as though at least half the problems are being solved by mere resolve.

How will this initiative be structured?
The three principals at MIT are faculty members at the Media Lab: Nicholas Negroponte (a founder of the Lab), Joe Jacobson (serial entrepreneur, co-founder and director of E Ink), and Seymour Papert (one of the world's leading theorists on child learning).

Additional researchers include: Mike Bove, Mary Lou Jepsen, Alan Kay, Tod Machover, Mitchel Resnick, and Ted Selker.

Organizationally, MIT will work with a small number of companies of complementary skills to develop a fully working and manufactured laptop (50,000 to 100,000 units) in fewer than 12 months, with an eye on building about 100 million to 200 million units by the following year. Five initial companies who have committed to this project are AMD, Brightstar, Google, News Corp, and Red Hat. MIT will also work with the not-for-profit company One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), as well as with the 2B1 Foundation.

August 2, 2005

Govt to spend over B3bn on pupil's PCs

500,000 laptops to be given away in scheme


The government plans to allocate a budget of around 3.2-3.5 billion baht for the first 500,000 personal computers to be given free of charge to schoolchildren, said the new government spokesman, Surapong Suebwonglee.

Mr Surapong said laptop computers, developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at a cost of less than US$100 (4,183 baht), would be distributed to try to change the way primary and secondary students learn.

He said Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had ordered the Education and the Information and Communication Technology ministries to come up with the details and speed up e-textbook software development to complement the One Laptop Per Child scheme.

Mr Thaksin told a seminar for 101 administrators of Thai Rath Wittaya Schools on Tuesday that specialists from the US had said they could produce a personal computer costing $100.

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab, the full-colour, full-screen laptops will be Linux-based and able to use alternative power (including wind-up).

The specifications include a 500MHz central processing unit, a 1GB hard disk and a 1-megapixel display screen.

The computers will be WiFi- and cell-phone-enabled, with USB ports, but will not be able to store huge amounts of data. The prototype is expected to be available by year-end.

Thailand will join countries such as China and Brazil that earlier held initial discussions with Media Lab.

The Ministry of Education will this year conduct a feasibility study on the demand from Thai schoolchildren before beta-testing in selected lower-secondary schools, said Education Minister Chaturon Chaisaeng.

Minister of Science and Technology Pravich Rattanapian said that the National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (Nectec) could provide free Thai-language open-source applications to laptops in the scheme.

If implemented, the project will be Thailand's first large-scale effort to provide free laptop computers to schoolchildren. The Thaksin government's previous low-cost computer project sold desktop and laptop computers to general users for less than Bt20,000.

Nicholas Negroponte, Chairman and co-founder of the MIT Media Lab announced to the World Economic Forum the most recent plans of the lab: a research initiative to develop a $100 laptop computer, with a 12” one megapixel screen, 1GB hard drive, and 500Mhz processor.  Other features include some sort of innovative power (possibly wind-up), a plethora of USB ports, and a ruggedized exterior to stand up to the elements in harsher climates.  The machines will be WiFi enabled, and have GSM cell phone connectivity as well.

When answering questions about the lofty goals of the lab, Negroponte explained that the computers were like pencils; they are tools for the children to think with.  Studies have shown that there is a lot of value when laptops are used across a variety of learning and entertainment.

Negroponte expects the pricing to reach the $100 level through the large quantities of machines that would be ordered (marketing to groups such as educational ministries), and by developing technologies that will lower the cost of the display to less than $25.  Currently, projection technologies are the front runner, and it is expected that they can get the cost to under $20.  They are in early talks with China, whose 220 million students would be prime candidates for such a device, as well as a large enough order to really drive prices down.

The machines will run on Linux, and aggressively cutting the amount of redundant or unnecessary software will help keep the system running smoothly in meager storage space.  But the real innovation comes from their connectivity.  “When these machines pop out of the box, they will make a mesh network of their own, peer-to-peer. This is something initially developed at MIT and the Media Lab,” Negroponte said.  Most startling is the time frame for when they plan to have these laptops ready: the end of next year, or possibly the beginning of 2007.

If the MIT Media Lab can pull this off, it would surely be something worth of a Nobel Prize.  Education is the key to reducing crime, and fostering world peace, and that’s not just some hippie prognostication.  They admit that manufacturing in the massive quantities that it seems such a venture would require is a monumental undertaking, but that many partner companies are solving problems through sheer force of will.  This is a bonding of corporate and public need (the project is only expected to cost roughly $90 in parts, and factors in a $10 profit margin), and just goes to show that the interests of the many do not always have to be at odds with business.



'If you are not already mobile-enabling your business today, you're already behind'


When a customer of Prudential Life Assurance in Malaysia asks a sales agent what exactly his policy coverage is, the answer comes quickly and authoritatively _ from the company's database in Kuala Lumpur to the policyholder from the agent's smartphone.

In all, some 3,800 of Prudential's field agents are now equipped with Palm Treo 650 or 600 smartphones in one of the region's biggest sales force automation exercises _ one that Alex Tan, the project manager at Prudential, said was also saving the company the equivalent of six million baht a year in printing costs.

Using a combination of GPRS and SMS messaging and Palm smartphones, members of Prudential Malaysia's mobile-enabled sales force are more productive, making less than half the number of telephone enquiries they used to make and earning more commission than before.

Mr Tan also says that the Palm Treos enhance Prudential sales agents' image, in line with the company slogan "only the best carry the best."

He explained this the other day to delegates at a Palm Mobile Solutions event in Singapore where he was one of several speakers demonstrating business benefits derived from having a mobile-enabled workforce.

Today, most mobile applications are focussed around email and salesforce automation, but as awareness grows of the productivity gains that can be tapped, so companies are increasingly making smartphones available to employees, turning these "data centric converged devices" into one of the fastest-growing categories in computing today.

IDC figures project a 37 percent compound annual growth rate for smartphones for the period beginning last year through to 2008, whereas, by contrast, PDA sales are forecast to remain flat over this period.

"If you're not mobile-enabling your business today, you're already behind," warns PalmSource's director for carrier services, Hugh Fletcher. "It's now mainstream and the enterprise infrastructure was there," he says, adding that market research showed that almost 50 percent of Fortune 500 companies were now planning mobile deployments.

"Once you have real-time access to mobile email, you will never go back," Fletcher said. Palm calls it "the initial killer application" for smartphones.

Again, market research would appear to support this, and predictions are that enterprise wireless email users will grow from 3 million in 2004 to 4 million this year, soaring to six million next year, 14 million in 2007 and 39 million in 2008.

The benefits of a connected mobile workforce can be wide-ranging. Tom Garrison, general manager of Intel's APAC solutions group, said that Intel had gained two hours a week from each employee by mobile-enabling 80 percent of its workforce with notebooks.

Palm, which has now reverted to its original name after flirting with the moniker PalmOne following the acquisition of Handspring _ when it spun off the software arm into a separate company called PalmSource _ speaks of the concept of "found time."

Palm's Asia Pacific vice president Paul Blinkhorn said "the intersection of time, opportunity and inspiration will drive competitive advantage. All of us are looking for this in products or services."

Palm was looking at turning downtime into "found time," he said, giving examples of how time is wasted waiting for a meeting to start, at lunch or that which is spent standing in queues or waiting for a flight at airports.

But using a Treo 650, an employee can use this time productively, possibly to check email messages and tap out a response or to access a company web site and keep abreast of assignments.

Blinkhorn observed that 10 minutes gained each day by a worker earning a US$50,000 annual salary would save an employer $1,000 a year.

There are several choices of platform when it comes to mobile enablement: Pocket PC, RIM's Blackberry, Palm and Symbian-based smartphones are some of the major ones.

Palm executives cited market surveys that indicate that in the United States the mobile operating system most sanctioned by IT departments is the PalmOS, and PalmSource's Fletcher said that Palm's operating system presented an opportunity for an organisation to exert its own choices.

The PalmOS also connected to key enterprise solutions and there was middleware for many platforms and applications, with 34 percent of developers for the Palm platform now working on enterprise applications, he added.

Fletcher also said that IT departments needed to be proactive by providing smartphones to the workforce, as opposed to allowing users to go out and "mobile-enable themselves."

If they allowed that to happen, they would be responsible for all the security problems that this might introduce, including responsibility for confidential data should the CEO lose his phone.

Blinkhorn said that many organisations were now realising better efficiencies or were gaining competitive advantage by deploying smartphones.

Palm's customers in the region included Cisco, Starbucks, WalMart, Pfizer, IBM and Jurong Shipyards, with Prudential Malaysia's sales force automation being just one example of how the future of personal computing is becoming mobile computing.




Bangkok chosen as Worlddidac venue


Bangkok has been chosen as the venue for Worlddidac Asia 2005, the Asian region's showcase for educational innovation and technology.

Chainarong Limkittisin, director of Reed Tradex Co's industrial business division, the joint organiser, said the Oct 19-21 show is expected to attract a large number of people from education circles worldwide.

A similar event was held in Bangkok in 1995.

Worlddidac and BESA, the educational media association of England, considered Bangkok the most suitable venue for 2005 because education-related businesses in Asia, especially in Thailand, had grown in leaps and bounds, Mr Chainarong said.

Education media business operators in England were keen to take part.

The show will be a regional forum for executives and educators of all levels from all over Asia to see educational innovations for curriculum and educational institute management improvement.

Worlddidac Asia 2005 will be held at the Sirikit National Convention Centre.



City schools to have face-lift; bilingual courses on agenda


City-run schools, normally considered second-grade, are set to undergo a face-lift intended to put them on a par with prestigious international schools.

In a pilot project, Bangkok Governor Apirak Kosayodhin plans to turn three of 433 city-run schools into bilingual education institutes.

Wat Benchamabophit School and Wat Mahannop School have been selected to provide English while Samphanthawong School will offer Chinese lessons.

The governor said Spanish is next on the BMA's bilingual programme list.

``This is to reduce the large gap in foreign language skills among students at city-run schools,'' he said.

The city administration also plans to seek cooperation from Beijing in introducing a scholarship scheme _ similar in kind to AFS scholarship _ for both students and teachers.

Besides bilingual programmes, the city administration also plans to develop information technology and instal more computer units at 433 schools under its jurisdiction and hook them up to high-speed internet access.

``Our schools are usually viewed as prachabal [rural] schools to which well-to-do families won't send their kids,'' Mr Apirak said.

The agency is working with universities, international organisations and the private sector in developing basic education curriculum and training programmes, he said.

The governor will hold a meeting with school executives via broadband internet on May 17, the day the new academic year begins.

BMA schools can accommodate 83,000 students at all levels.

Mr Apirak said the city administration will this year continue to distribute free items _ uniforms, textbooks, stationery, lunch and milk _ to all students.

Sipa to launch free software programs

Ready for public to download in July


The Software Industry Promotion Agency (Sipa) plans to introduce 25 Windows-based, open-source, free computer software programs to the public in July, a move that is expected to save the country more than a billion baht annually.

Chairwoman Kruawan Samana said Sipa, which is a public organisation under the Information and Communications Technology Ministry, has initially developed 25 free software programs. They feature office, internet, graphics, multimedia, utility, web development and entertainment applications and will be ready for the public to download in July.

Mrs Kruawan said the open-source software programs to be introduced would benefit the government's project to provide schools nationwide with 250,000 computers and internet connections next year. These schools would be able to use free programs from Sipa and save a lot of budget money, which would otherwise be spent on purchasing software from foreign suppliers.

Sipa's free software project should help the schools save about a billion baht a year, she said.

Sipa would also help train university instructors from across the country to use its open-source software. They would later help train schoolteachers.

Mrs Kruawan said Sipa's open-source software project was part of the agency's attempts to promote Thailand's software industry, give people wider access to information, and increase their chances to become computer-literate. The attempts would eventually bring about e-government systems.

``Sipa has triggered the idea among Thai people that it is unnecessary to spend large sums of money on foreign programs every year. We allow the general public to further develop our programs, and this will help support our people, both young and old, who are software geniuses,'' she said.

``Our programs are public property and bear no copyrights. They can be developed into new applications for sale. This will expand our software industry. It is a win-win situation for everyone,'' she said.


More use of online learning


The Education Ministry plans to increase the length of time that Thais spend in school from an average of 8.1 years to 9.5 years in four years by intensifying online learning.

Deputy Minister Rung Kaewdaeng said yesterday that the 9.5-year goal of his ministry could not be achieved by 2009 as earlier planned if it adhered to the old method of increasing the time spent in education by just raising teacher numbers.

He said a teacher could handle only 40 students at a time, so simply increasing the number of teachers would not realise the goal. The answer was e-learning that could teach millions of students at a time.

Mr Rung instructed non-formal education staff to study the number of people reached by existing online educational programmes, the quality of remote educational services, ways to expand the services without compromising on quality and the amount of investment needed.

In another development, the ministry has selected 20 kindergartens and primary schools in Bangkok to pioneer brain-based learning in the upcoming school term.

Academics from Mahidol University and the National Institute for Brain-based Learning are training executives and teachers of the selected schools the techniques of this learning approach. Kasama Voravan, permanent secretary for the ministry, said brain-based learning applied music to stimulate development of children's bodies and brains simultaneously.

Santhad Sinthuphanprathum, educators' development director, said the pilot project would be evaluated initially in August. If the project is successful, nationwide curricula will change and revolutionise Thailand's education system.




Low-cost Windows hits Brazil

Sao Paulo, Brazil _ Microsoft Corp launched a scaled-back version of its Windows operating system in Brazil on Wednesday, hoping to get more people using computers in Latin America's largest country while cutting down on rampant software piracy.

Brazil becomes the first country in the western hemisphere to get the low-cost XP Starter Edition, which lets users run just three programs concurrently and has lower-resolution graphics.

The announcement came only weeks before Brazil's government is expected to decide whether the version will be included in a program aimed at helping millions of poor Brazilians buy their first computers.

Designed for first-time users, the stripped-down Portuguese operating system also lacks capabilities for home networking and multiple user accounts.

The stripped-down Windows is already being sold or will be soon in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Russia and India. At a press conference in Sao Paulo to launch the Brazilian version, executives did not say whether Microsoft would start selling the system in other Latin American countries.

While Brazil has a population of 182 million, only about 12% of the country's households have computers and a mere 10% have Internet connections _ and many experts say the numbers must be increased for Brazil to emerge from the ranks of developing nations and vault itself into the information age.

``We're determined to decrease digital exclusion and Windows XP Starter Edition is precisely what we need to help us in this effort,'' said Emilio Umeoka, chief executive of Microsoft's Brazilian division.

Umeoka said the timing of the announcement wasn't linked to the government's impending decision on whether to let Microsoft participate in the PC Conectado (Connected PC in Portuguese) effort to make computers available for about 1,400 reals ($538), payable in 24 monthly instalments of about 58 reals ($22) each.

That would make them more affordable for many working class families in a country where the monthly minimum wage is 260 reals ($100).

While Microsoft has been fighting hard to be included in the program, a big push by open-source software advocates is under way to keep the company from participating. AP



Four-year local wisdom course aims to increase self-sufficiency


Nakhon Si Thammarat Rajabhat University is inviting farmers to work their land and ``study'' for a degree at the same time.

Farmers who own at least three rai of land can apply for a bachelor's degree in local wisdom _ but they will not have to attend any lectures or sit any tests.

The four-year course starts in June and at least 20 farmers are expected to take part. Most learning will take place in the field.

Jaturat Kiratiwuttipong, vice-rector of the faculty of humanities and social sciences and initiator of the degree, said the course would be the first four-year university degree offered only to practising farmers who learn from hands-on experience on their own land.

Farmers must be aged 20 or above, and own at least three rai, which they will use for research, farming and development. They will get help from academics, community leaders and farmers practising in different fields, such as rice, rubber and fruit growers.

The course was inspired by the thinking of Mai Raeng community leader Prayong Ronarong, a Ramon Magsaysay Award winner for Community Leadership, who wants farmers to become self-sufficient and self-reliant. Its aim is to turn out self-reliant farmers, who would form the basis of a future self-sufficient community. It is also designed to keep competent farmers in their home provinces, people who could stand on their own feet and earn a living without moving to Bangkok or other big cities, Mr Jaturat said. He hoped that by the end of the course, farmers would be equipped with new farming techniques which combined local wisdom and modern technology in a practical way.

At least 20 local community leaders and experts in the province including Mr Prayong would act as advisers and help assess students.

Mr Prayong said the local wisdom degree would serve as good preparation for a future self-sufficient community because young people would learn from real-life experience.


Animation camp for teachers

The Software Industry Promotion Agency (Sipa) and the Office of the Basic Education Commission will work together to train 1000 teachers in animation and multimedia.

Sipa will host a training camp _ TAM Camp 2005: Training the Trainer _ and encourage teachers in the arts and related fields to add animation and multimedia skills. Participants would be required to produce e-curriculums for the teaching of students in the future.

Each school can send up to five teachers for the training camp.

Sipa will run the TAM Camp in four provinces: Phuket on March 21-25, Chiang Mai on April 4-8, Khon Kaen on April 25-29 and in Bangkok on May 9-13.

For further details contact Sipa at or 02-554-0452.



New teaching methods are keeping the young in touch with their roots

Mention ``classroom'', and what comes to mind?

Usually not trees, rivers, forests or the sky. When it comes to classrooms, most of us think of a room filled with rows of desks and chairs. But the College of Social Management (CSM) and the Alternative Education Network are finding alternatives to the traditional classroom.

The college is promoting the ``community school'' project where villagers, both young and old, can learn from each other.

``Communities in Thailand are so diverse. Hill top villages live differently from those along river banks. Each community has a wealth of knowledge and wisdom that it has accumulated as it has evolved and adapted through the ages,'' said Chatchawan Thongdeelert, director of the CSM.

``So the community can function like a classroom, where students learn about life and wisdom from community life. It's a living classroom. It should be the best way to reform the country's education system.''

To show how a community-based school works, the CSM is holding a ``Community School Fair'' at the Office of Museum and Agricultural Culture, Kasetsart University from April 1 to 3. The fair will introduce seven communities who are forerunners in the project and show how a student's knowledge can develop in their own community.

``Now students get well-educated but not well-versed in their community's ways. The education system has taught them to alienate themselves from their community, making them turn their backs on their roots,'' said Prapat Apaimul, a community leader of Mae Ta River basin, in Mae On sub-district, Chiang Mai.

``Those educated are taught to be employed. That's all right. But they must know their roots so they can return home to farming if they are layed-off,'' agreed Promma Suwansri of the Mae Pern Mae Wong Conversation Network.

``The elderly have been aware of the problems arising from various developments. So they came up with the idea of creating activities with their children so that they [the children] can learn about the community's traditional wisdom, otherwise, the knowledge can be lost,'' said Promma. ``The community school project aims to teach community wisdom to the young through the learning camps,'' he added.

The lively learning environment will be showcased at the fair, and on show will be activities such as organic farming, compost making, testing produce for toxic substances, clay house building and other traditional skills. The fair will demonstrate alternative ways of learning, and all the students in the project will participate, sharing their knowledge and opinions among the group.

``The activities will help the students develop their interpersonal and social skills,'' said Sririwan Sripen, the project coordinator.

For those interested, admission to the event is free of charge, and here's the schedule:


Text: Listing eight

Colleges that offer course materials online


When the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced an ambitious plan
to give away online materials for every course, officials wondered whether
other colleges and universities would follow suit.

The answer? Sort of.

Nearly four years after the start of MIT's OpenCourseWare project, several
colleges met to unveil their own plans to publish extensive sets of course
materials -- such as syllabi, lecture notes, and quizzes -- and encourage
anyone to use them freely. There is one major difference: No one other than
MIT is pledging to give away every course. And most of the newcomers expect
to convert only a handful of courses per year to an open format.

The main reason is money. MIT officials are spending $6-million per year on
the project, much of which is coming from grants from the William and Flora
Hewlett Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The project, which
has already published more than 900 of MIT's 1,800 courses, is being touted
as a success, as it has drawn downloaders from around the world who are
using the materials as models for their own teaching or to learn on their

Proponents say the main beneficiaries are in the developing world, where
students cannot afford textbooks and universities are looking for help
setting up courses. MIT officials say that the materials are also inspiring
more people to apply to the institute, as well as helping students at MIT
decide which courses to sign up for.

Though many professors at other colleges already create course Web sites,
the majority do so haphazardly, or in a way that is designed to be used only
by their students. Open courseware seeks to make sure each course's
materials are far more complete, and are presented in a way that makes them
easy for others to use.

The growth of these giveaways marks a major philosophical shift from the
mid-1990s, when many colleges and professors thought they could rake in
profits selling course materials online.

Colleges that have bought into the open-courseware concept say they would
like to give away everything, but that they cannot afford to put all that
material online and keep it up to date. Besides, one set of free materials
may be enough, so other colleges and universities are focusing on making
available only their signature programs or courses that are not taught by
MIT. Many of the new projects also have grant support.

"I'm not surprised right away that it's a little slow to take off," says
Frank Mayadas, program director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
"Regardless of the motivation and desire, it just isn't going to take off
like wildfire" because of the cost.

But Anne H. Margulies, executive director of MIT's OpenCourseWare project,
says that while MIT always hoped other colleges would follow its lead, it
did not expect many to give everything away.

"What we aspire to," she says, "is to work with other schools so we can
create a collective body of high-quality course materials."

Trading Tips

Representatives from MIT and six other U.S. universities that are starting
open-courseware projects met at MIT in February to trade tips on how to
manage their projects. Representatives from Chinese universities attended as
well, as did officials from, a coalition of universities in
Portugal, Spain, and several South American countries that is working to
translate MIT's course materials into Spanish and Portuguese.

The U.S. institutions represented were the Harvard University Law School's
Berkman Center for Internet & Society, the Johns Hopkins University's
Bloomberg School of Public Health, Tufts University, the University of
Michigan at Ann Arbor's School of Information, the University of Notre Dame,
and Utah State University. Ms. Margulies stressed that the meeting was
informal, and that no consortium had been created, though one may form in
the future.

Several of the colleges unveiled their first open courses at the meeting.
Among them was the Johns Hopkins University, which has two courses online so
far, and hopes to have eight more by April.

Sukon Kanchanaraksa, director of the public-health school's center for
teaching and learning with technology, says that many of the school's alumni
living in other countries already use the materials from Hopkins's courses
when they start teaching. "We're just going to make it one more step easier
for them to use our content in their teaching," he says. Officials hope to
make available 50 to 75 courses over the next several years.

James D. Yager, senior associate dean for academic affairs at the school and
professor of toxicology in the department of environmental health sciences,
says he thinks alumni and professors will support the project.

"People who come to public health are committed to really making a
difference in the lives of people," he says. "By and large academics,
especially in public health, realize that the availability of the content is
going to have a beneficial effect."

One focus of the meeting at MIT was developing strategies to keep the costs
of creating such course Web sites as low as possible.

Utah State talked about software it is building to automatically grab
material from existing university course Web sites and turn it into a form
that is more user-friendly to users outside the university. The university
has made the software open source, meaning it is free for anyone to download
and use for noncommercial purposes. Utah State won a $915,000 grant from the
Hewlett Foundation to support the software, and to assist other universities
that want to use the software.

"The idea is to make it as cheap and easy as possible" for universities to
start open-courseware projects, says David A. Wiley, assistant professor of
instructional technology at the university, which has six courses in an open
format. "We're trying to find a way to do this that can be sustained over
time without tens of millions of dollars of external funding."

Mr. Wiley's team has also built free chat-room software for open-courseware
sites that MIT now uses in some of its course sites. The software is
designed to highlight the most useful comments in an online discussion
without the use of a human moderator -- since universities do not actively
teach or support those who want to use the free materials. The software lets
anyone make a comment, and then allows users to rate how helpful each
comments is. The software then displays the most highly rated comments

"It's a way for the community to reward good behavior and positive
contributions made by the group," says Mr. Wiley. "But that rewarding is
done by the group."

Getting Permission

Copyright is another challenge in running open-courseware projects, the
meeting's participants say.

Many professors regularly use charts, graphs, or other illustrations they've
culled from textbooks or other copyrighted works in slide presentations or
handouts. Although using those illustrations in a classroom is allowed under
fair-use provisions of copyright law, universities must get permission
before putting the same materials online where anyone can see them. That can
take time and money because officials must track down who owns the copyright
and often must pay a fee to post the materials. One college decided not to
convert a popular course to an open format because it included so many
copyrighted items that it would have been unmanageable.

Another issue discussed at the meeting was how to make it easy for
professors to participate in open-courseware projects.

"If a faculty member perceives that he's going to have to be hitched to a
wagon that's going to run for a long time, he's not going to do it," says
Alexander J. Hahn, a professor of mathematics at Notre Dame and director of
the university's John A. Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning. "You have
to lower the threshold of time and energy required of faculty."

Representatives from the Hewlett Foundation have worked to get a diverse
group of institutions to participate in open-courseware efforts.

Last year foundation officials approached Vivian Sinou, dean of distance and
mediated learning at Foothill College, to encourage the district to join in.
So the district proposed creating an open-courseware project that any
community college in California could participate in, and it won a $124,000
grant from the foundation for the effort.

After months of development, the college unveiled its first eight courses in
January. Ms. Sinou says her staff tried to pick the best examples in the
college district's most popular subject areas -- "the ones that the majority
of community-college students go through."

Barbara S. Illowsky, a professor of mathematics and statistics at De Anza
College, teaches one of the courses, Elementary Statistics.

She says she has already received positive feedback, both from students who
want to brush up on concepts, and from professors who want to adopt some of
the materials for their own teaching. "I've had two faculty from different
community colleges ask me about it," she says.

Did she consider trying to sell the materials to a publisher or company
instead of working with the free-courseware project? No, she says, in part
because she says she was only able to create the online materials with help
from technical-support staff at the college.

"I really felt that this course was a really combined effort of a lot of
different people from our district." And, she says, "why not educate people

Eric C. Carson, a geology professor at San Jacinto College North, has
already made use of one of Foothill College's open-courseware sites in his

He says he prefers material on open-courseware sites over that found on
professors' Web sites. "There's some level of quality control and general
oversight associated" with open courseware, he says. "If I'm just strolling
around on the Internet and come across some random professor's Web site," he
adds, "it just kind of dilutes my confidence in it, and it makes me spend a
lot more time really sitting down and looking for what I like."

Many of the proponents of open courseware argue that making materials free
online is an important way to fulfill their institutions' public-service or
outreach missions.

Mary Y. Lee, an associate provost at Tufts University and dean of
educational affairs at the university's medical school, says the university
has a tradition of being involved in free-software efforts. Tufts is working
to put 11 courses, mainly from the medical school, online. "It's a natural
extension of work we've already been doing," Ms. Lee says.

Though officials hope the materials will have educational benefit, they
stress that they are not a substitute for taking courses at the

"We're not offering a correspondence course to become a doctor, no," says
Ms. Lee. She likened the materials to textbooks, noting that there is more
to an education than simply reading textbooks. "Most of the training in
medicine is actually experience with patients and small-group learning."

Still, some students who have found Foothill's courses have sent e-mail
messages asking how they can receive college credit for reading through the
materials. Ms. Sinou directs them to the admissions office.



Several U.S. colleges have started "open courseware" projects, in which they
publish extensive sets of course materials -- such as syllabi, lecture
notes, and quizzes -- online and encourage anyone to use them freely.

Carnegie Mellon University: The university has seven courses online in what
it calls the Open Learning Initiative ( The project
has received $3.4-million in grants from the William and Flora Hewlett

Foothill-DeAnza Community College District: In February the district posted
material for eight courses in a project it calls Sofia, Sharing of Free
Intellectual Assets ( The district is working with
other California community colleges to convert selected courses to an open
format and hopes to add about 25 more courses per year for the next several
years. The project is supported by grants from the Hewlett Foundation.

Harvard University: Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet &
Society is beginning an open-courseware project, and its leaders say they
are interested in developing new ideas for how to design and maintain such

Johns Hopkins University: The Bloomberg School of Public Health last week
unveiled a draft version of an open-courseware project
( ). Two courses -- "Understanding Cost-Effectiveness
Analysis in Health Care," and "Statistical Reasoning I" -- are up so far,
with eight more expected to be ready by April. The project is supported by a
$200,000 grant from the Hewlett Foundation.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Since 2001 the university has been
rapidly working to put materials for all of its 1,800 courses online. The
OpenCourseWare project (, which has support from the
Hewlett Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is expected to take
about seven years to complete.

Tufts University: Officials are working to convert 11 professional courses
to an open-courseware format. Two are from the Fletcher School of Law and
Diplomacy, and the rest are from the university's four health-science
graduate schools -- the School of Dental Medicine, the School of Nutrition
Science and Policy, the School of Medicine, and the School of Veterinary
Medicine. The university is using internal resources to pay for the project,
but is seeking outside grants to expand it.

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor: The university's School of Information
is working to convert about a dozen courses to open courseware. It is also
working to build free software to help professors turn their existing Web
resources into open-courseware sites.

Utah State University: The university recently unveiled the first eight
courses in an open-courseware pilot project ( The
courses were chosen to highlight the university's most unique or well-known
offerings. Programmers have also developed free software, called EduCommons,
to help produce the Web sites. The project is supported by a $915,000 grant
from the Hewlett Foundation.

SOURCE: Chronicle reporting
Section: Information Technology
Volume 51, Issue 26, Page A32

In almost all cases, we prefer that other organizations link to articles on
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Modern Bangkok from an ICT perspective

Why this IT journalist is talking to the art world

Don Sambandaraksa

A few days ago I was contacted by a lovely lady by the name of Miya Yoshida, the co-curator of the Lak-Ka-Pid, Lak-Ka-Perd: The Bangkok Invisible Landscapes art and film exhibition and seminar. Miya asked if I cared to deliver a keynote address explaining these ideas in the context of today's Bangkok. She had arranged to invite other experts in the field of sociology, urban planning, art and architecture to each explain not just how Bangkok had changed, but why.

I was to meet such luminaries as Professor Sarat Maharaj of Sweden's Lund University and London's Goldsmith College and Thailand's own Professor Apinan Poshyananda. Names which, I am assured, mean much more in the world of art than they do here in the pages of the Post Database. Also attending and exhibiting will be artists from France, India, Korea, Sweden, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

I have no illusions of being an expert in the field of fine art, though I do admit to delusions of one day publishing a photo journal on the other side of the Chao Phraya river, metaphorically of course, perhaps taken with my old 1981 Pentax Super-A, perhaps with a digital SLR if they can finally reach a decent resolution and get rid of the noise problems, or perhaps with my medium format Bronica SQ-Ai (yes, I have one of those too). But I digress.

As an outsider, I immediately felt this was interesting and challenging yet felt unsure of whether I knew enough of the matter at hand. I soon felt better once Miya told me I was to be the person who gives the audience an explanation of the whys and wherefores of modern Bangkok from a technology perspective. The best thing of all was that Miya specifically asked me to address it from a critical perspective, rather than the peaches-and-cream view that our leaders often subscribe to.

Being asked to elaborate on one of the things I am passionate about, and more importantly, asked to be critical about it, is perhaps the greatest birthday present I could wish for. All due credit to my co-conspirator here at the Post Database, Geoff Long, who guided Miya my way.

The question I need to answer is perhaps threefold. What has ICT done for Bangkok? What can it do and why it has not done so? And what ills has it brought upon us?

Returning again to my often quoted metaphor of the telephone, it is clear that mobile phones have given the residents of Bangkok the greatest advance since the discovery of fire _ more time to work and conduct meetings while stuck in our notorious traffic jams. Looking at the social divide, we see that pre-pay technology has given our migrant workers and the underclass the means of connecting to the world at large.

What has not happened here, but has happened in much of Europe and the United States, is the freeing up of the workforce through 2.5G and 3G data technology and the political reform that has graced South Korea. The problems it brings are that of privacy and the decimation of social manners _ with today's longer and longer talk times, being out of range is tantamount to admitting that there is something to hide, and I am sure that you will agree that many teenagers today seem to be constantly on the phone, lack face-to-face interpersonal skills and, by and large, tend to be somewhat annoying.

Another issue that comes to mind is that of online gaming. Way back when Ragnarok was making the headlines for the damage it was doing to our youth, creating a generation of Internet zombies, a friend asked me if it was in fact an IT problem. No, I reasoned, it was not. The problem was a social one. Our children were escaping from the real world for the online world not because of the evil technology, but because real life was really so stressful and depressing.

One topic I must ask the urban planner in the seminar is the challenge of wiring up Bangkok and getting people online. It has been suggested that South Korea succeeded with its VDSL Internet roll-out, piping 54 Mbps into apartments across Seoul, because most people lived in neat and compact apartment blocks that could easily be wired with fibre to the building and short-range (but fast) VDSL within it. The wiring task they faced is quite different to the sprawling, old metropolis with aging and sub-standard telephone copper that is called Bangkok. Still, with the limited number of fixed lines, do we need copper-wire DSL at all? Should we adopt fibre to the home? Wireless? Satellite?

The issue of the effect that technology has on art is also one which I find close to my heart. Are we to believe the rhetoric of the incumbents that digital media only promotes piracy? Is the Napster (the original one, that is) truly evil? What of Morpheus (currently gasping for its last breath in court)? And if Apple's iTunes are the future, why are we left out? Is our culture of software piracy turning the country into a pariah state?

On the other hand, are we to believe others who claim that digital media creates new opportunities and lowers the cost of entry to a market that is monopolised by only a handful of promoters and media companies? Has the MP3 file format truly made it possible for any new artists to break into this most select of clubs?

These are just some of the issues that I will explore in my keynote address this Saturday (12th March). The exhibition itself runs from the 11th of March to the 15th of April. You can find more information at and I look forward to seeing you there, cheering on an IT guy caught in-between artists and filmmakers.

Don Sambandaraksa is an open source advocate who is doing his bit to advance awareness of the difference between free speech and free beer in the corridors of power in Thailand. Email:

Microsoft releases plans for activities in Thailand

Published on February 21, 2005

Microsoft (Thailand) has announced that its business direction this year will focus on encouraging local software development, continuing its commitment to lifelong learning, working with partners to increase business value to customers, and delivering integrated innovation though its .Net technology.

Managing director Andrew McBean said the company would work with the government sector and partners, as well as the education sector, to utilise Microsoft’s technology to enhance ICT literacy.

Microsoft this year will also focus on SMEs along with government and state enterprises, since they are high-potential markets. It now has 2,100 SME partners and plans to double this number by the end of 2005, McBean said.

Chief marketing officer Chanchai Phansopha said the company planned to set up a business productivity centre and a new business unit called the public sector department to take care of the government and state-enterprise market.

Moreover, the company this year has a strategy to debut Windows Server 2003 64-bit edition, Windows Server 2003 release 2, SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005 to the market, and to release a new software product code named Longhorn Server to the market in 2007.

McBean said the firm last year had revenue growth of 36 per cent over 2003. It served 3,553 customers and distributed 615,5112 software licences to enterprises and SMEs. It had millions of users logging on to Messenger, Hotmail and, which hit 1.4 million users per month, with over 195 million pages per month viewed on MSN.

He also said that 65 per cent of software developed in Thailand used Microsoft’s platform as its primary development tool.

Meanwhile, the firm offered 40,000 Windows 98 licenses free of charge to 1,500 schools nationwide and set up three community IT centres with local NGOs to develop IT skills.

“Thailand is full of creativity and imagination. This year we will continue to invest in ICT and work closely with key government bodies and our partners to develop the industry in Thailand and services to our customers,” said McBean.

Charnchai added that with the high growth potential in the Thai software market, the company expected to grow by up to 30 per cent this year – a growth rate that will be maintained until 2008.

In addition, the company received Bt25 million from Microsoft headquarters to join with government agencies for training and promotion to develop Thailand as a Web services hub. The four-month project starts next month.

Jirapan Boonnoon

The Nation


ICT center popular across the ages

ICT Learning Centre finds an audience among young and old alike

Story by Chaiyot Yongcharoenchai and Karnjana Karnjanatawe

The newly-opened National ICT Learning Centre is proving to be a popular hangout not only for youths, but also elderly people who want to keep in touch with computing and Internet technology. Visitors to the centre will also soon be able to add new media technologies to their list of things to learn, with plans to introduce by March a new range of training courses for people interested in producing animation and multimedia content.

The centre on the sixth floor of Central World Plaza on Ratchadamri Road attracts some 600-700 visitors during weekdays on average and 1,000-1,200 on weekends, including government representatives and student groups.

The ICT Learning Centre officially opened on October 30 last year with a 90 million baht budget from the government, which went to renovating and equipping the 3,000 square metre location.

National ICT Learning Centre director Rachadaporn Tinaphongs noted that the centre had attracted visitors across every age group since it had opened. "It was a surprise to see senior citizens here because we had never targeted them before. Mostly, they are here during weekdays and they want to learn basic computer usage," she said.

One familiar face is a 75-year-old man, who often arrives from his home near Lumpini Park with a friend of the same age to use the Internet.

"We have been here many times to surf the Internet because the speed is fast and the place is clean," he told Database.

The two have learned how to use a computer by joining one of the training courses at the centre, while he noted that there is also staff on-hand to give assistance when needed.

Parents with children are also regular visitors. "We are here almost every day," said Tawan Saetang, a father of two, who brings his daughter and son here to play games.

"The place is quiet, unlike other Internet cafes. I want my children to learn about the Internet and know how to use computers. They are happy and I am also happy because children can use the Internet for free and the price is cheap for me," he said, noting that the location is also convenient.

Compared to the charges of other Internet cafes offering broadband service, the service fees at the ICT Learning Centre are low. The price is 10 baht an hour for adults (aged between 22-60 years old), five baht for young adults between 18-21 years, and free of charge for those who are under 18 and over 60.

There are 140 stand-alone PCs with soft seats and 30 Sun Ray thin-client computers at stands surrounding the Internet cafe area.

According to director Rachadaporn, the centre has something for the whole family, with parents able to use the Internet while students access the library and children can watch the latest in animation. It also houses training and conference rooms.

The ICT Learning Centre was established last year as part of an initiative by the Information and Communications Technology Ministry to create a learning centre for ICT where young people could spend their time after school or during summer holidays.

It is also part of the ministry's plans to boost ICT human resources and comes after initiating the GoodNet project, a group of learning centres where youths can learn basic software and PC operations, education programs and access broadband Internet.

The idea is also being looked at by other countries. A minister from South Africa visited the centre because the government there has a plan to set up an ICT centre and wanted to learn from Thailand. In addition, some local officers from Nakhon Si Thammarat, Phuket and Chon Buri plan to offer some services under a similar model, particularly the Internet cafe and e-library.

For example, an Education Service Area Office in Nakhon Ratchasima will set up an e-library and training facilities to advance the skills of 14,000 teachers.

"We want to build up a centre to develop our human resources for 200 schools in two amphurs under our office coverage," said educational instructor Yuttasak Jannaronk. "We have already prepared a two-storey building for the purpose. The visit to the centre will help to give us new ideas," he added.

At the centre, the services are divided in four e-sections. The first one is e-content and comprises an e-learning facility and e-library service.

The director said there are some 2,000 general, business and IT textbooks from here and abroad, while a kid's corner provides books for children. There are also some rare text books sponsored by eight IT suppliers including Adobe and IBM.

"We aim to have 5,000 books and we will have a committee to decide on book rotation from each shelf, while the business partners will be asked to handle their own shelves in order to bring more variety to visitors," Rachadaporn said, noting that the centre plans to rotate books every six to seven months. Some of the books will be exchanged with the Thailand Knowledge Park, which will soon open next door.

"We also plan to use a smart card to allow members to borrow books in the future," she said.

Sakunthip Nakdee, a second year student of Rajamangala Institute of Technology, says she always comes to the centre for the Internet and reading books.

"There are plenty of books here. I can spend all day here and never get bored because there are so many thing to do," she added.

The ICT Learning Centre also houses training professionals in its e-Training corner. For those who want to increase their skills or get certified, there are multimedia courses provided by Apple Computer as well as animation and graphic design courses offered by Imagimax Animation and Design Studio.

Open source, interactive English courses and basic computer literacy courses are also provided.

Rachadaporn pointed out that the centre also provided facilities including seven training rooms and a conference room for 280 people. People can rent the space and beverages and lunch can also be served.

The rental service is one of the centre's plans to find sufficient income to cover its monthly operation costs.

"We are a government agency but we have a structure to find our own income. It's not for profit but we want to have sufficient earnings to hire people, pay the rent and utility fees in the future," she noted.

The National ICT Learning Centre also has an e-Expo area for hosting events, surfing the Internet, and watching animated movies in the only 4D theatre in town. The theatre has 48 simulation seats and is equipped with special effects that make the audience feel like they're in the action.

The theatre shows short animations from here and abroad every day. They also have a rating system, so that parent's can ensure their kids do not watch unsuitable content.

"It is interesting and fun. When they dropped flowers on the screen, flowers also dropped from above. We have never experienced anything like this before," said one audience member after a screening.

When walking out of the theatre, there is a technology showcase area called the e-Technology zone. The zone is a drawcard for the young generation and the tech savvy.

"I like to play (mobile) games here," said Poojade Sottianantachai, 16, who has been standing at Nokia's booth for an hour.

His friend Worayut Huayhongtong said they like the centre because the services are varied. Besides, they can charge their mobile phones for free while spending time on the interactive mobile games, he added.

The e-Technology zone includes the latest technologies from CA, IBM, Nokia, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, Oracle and Cisco Systems.

The director said the centre plans to rotate the technology showcase and have a monthly concept in order to keep it up-to-date.

In the future, the ICT Learning Centre plans to implement Wi-Fi hotspots at its coffee corner and in the library. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology will also be implanted in books, while smart cards will be used for library membership as well as for stored value so that visitors can pay for services.

She said the management team also plans to enhance its e-learning courses to serve the government's e-learning portal initiative.

"More activities will be organised here in future. We will recruit high school students to be tour guides and assistants for visitors and customers," she added.

ICT Minister Dr Surapong Suebwonglee also plans to set up one more ICT Learning centre in Bangkok as well as in the three ICT Cities _ Phuket, Chiang Mai and Khon Kaen.

Education is not only in the classroom, the minister said, noting that the National ICT Learning Centre will be a step towards the country's goal to develop a knowledge-based society.



Taking the Pulse of Technology at Davos



DAVOS, Switzerland

NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE, the technology guru from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Laboratory, prowled the halls of the World Economic Forum holding the holy grail for crossing the digital divide: a mock-up of a $100 laptop computer.

The machine is intriguing because Mr. Negroponte has struck upon a remarkably simple solution for lowering the price of the most costly part of a laptop - the display - to $25 or less.

He has been a passionate advocate of using digital technology to improve the quality of life and erase economic barriers in the developing world since the early 1980's, when he took Apple II computers to Senegal with his colleague Seymour Papert.

Now, in partnership with Joseph Jacobson, a physicist at M.I.T., he wants to persuade the education ministries of countries like China to use laptops to replace textbooks.

He has not yet found a customer. Indeed, his mission has been complicated at Davos 2005 because the digital divide and the information technology industry are no longer the center of attention at this annual intimate gathering of the world's most powerful and wealthy.

The digital power elite remain in vogue. Bill Gates of Microsoft, Eric Schmidt of Google and Carleton S. Fiorina of Hewlett-Packard played prominent roles, as usual, at the January forum. There was a distinct shift, however, away from geek chic and toward traditional star power: Richard Gere, Sharon Stone, Angelina Jolie and Bono took center stage.

The rush to close the digital divide began in earnest at Davos in 1998 during the height of the dot-com era, driven by American executives like John Chambers of Cisco and John Gage of Sun Microsystems. Committees were formed, money was committed and during the next three years the idea of digital equity became a rallying cry for the world's dot-com elite.

"It was really cool, but in the end we got nothing done," one executive candidly acknowledged.

At the time, Mr. Gates was a notable skeptic, arguing that it was more important to address basic life necessities - health and food, for example - before connecting the world's poorest citizens to the Internet.

Although he was widely criticized for his remarks then, he now appears to have been vindicated. Mr. Gates was in the thick of the plenary discussions at the 2005 Davos forum - considering ways of eliminating poverty and disease that do not encompass information technology.

In a late-evening discussion Jan. 28, however, he acknowledged the shift in emphasis: "I think it's fascinating that there was no plenary session at Davos this year on how information technology is changing the world."

Despite technology's absence from center stage, there was a general consensus that many of the technology companies have dug in for the long haul with significant education initiatives in countries like Jordan and Egypt, with support from companies like Microsoft and Cisco.

Mr. Negroponte said that he had found initial backing for his laptop plan from Advanced Micro Devices and said that he was in discussions with Google, Motorola, the News Corporation and Samsung for support.

The device includes a tentlike pop-up display that will use the technology now used in today's rear-projection televisions, in conjunction with an L.E.D. light source.

Mr. Negroponte said his experience in giving children laptop computers in rural Cambodia had convinced him that low-cost machines would make a fundamental difference when broadly deployed.

"You can just give laptops to kids," he said, noting that they quickly take advantage of the machines. "In Cambodia, the first English word out of their mouths is 'Google.' "

Advanced Micro, Mr. Negroponte's first backer, brought its own low-cost computer initiative to Davos 2005. Hector de J. Ruiz, the chief executive, said that the company believed that its new Personal Internet Communicator, or PIC, might have a broader market than just developing countries.

At the 2004 Davos forum, the company started an effort to give half the world's population access to the Internet by 2015. Currently, about 12 percent of the world is connected.

Now, Mr. Ruiz said, Advanced Micro has been working with a variety of mainstream applications for low-cost computing, ranging from inexpensive Web surfing terminals to digital cash registers.

The PIC, which sells for $185 without a monitor and comes with a stripped-down version of Microsoft Windows, is housed in a rugged sealed case without a fan.

"With very minor alternations we can create a variety of new platforms," he said.

The box, which Advanced Micro hopes to shrink to the size of a deck of cards soon, has generated a good deal of interest. But the availability of an inexpensive device that can do the work of its higher-priced cousins will undoubtedly create challenges for high-technology companies as they try to sell low-cost versions of hardware and software products that are far more expensive in the developed world.

Several people at the conference, for example, suggested that Intel had shied away from inexpensive laptops for fear of cannibalizing its fastest-growing market. An Intel executive, speaking at the conference, responded that the company believed in offering computer users a wide variety of options.

Mr. Negroponte said he was confident that his computers, which run the free Linux operating system, would find a ready market as early as 2006.

"China is important because there are 220 million students," he said.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company |

Chiang Mai shows its broadband credentials


Chiang Mai _ Chiang Mai has marked its first year as an ICT City with a high-speed metropolitan network using TOT Corp's fibre optic network.

Information and Communications Technology Minister Dr Surapong Suebwonglee said that Chiang Mai was the first province to support connections of up to 100 Mbps.

Within February, the 10km-radius service will be extended to cover a 50 kilometre radius in 10 amphurs of Chiang Mai, including Mae Rim, Sansai and Jomthong.

"When we have high-speed connections in place, people will better understand the benefits of being an ICT city," he said, noting that the government would promote its e-services while the high-speed connection could also support e-business among the private sector.

"The ICT Ministry has already handed over two million smart ID cards to the Interior Ministry. These will facilitate card holders when using e-services of the government, such as registering new companies or applying for study loans for students," the minister said, noting that the cards would also be distributed in three southern provinces, Bangkok and the other two ICT Cities, Khon Kaen and Phuket.

In addition, the government will fund a budget of 362 million baht, part of which will be spent establishing an ICT Park in Chiang Mai.

Dr Surapong said the ICT Park would be a technology and education centre with high-tech infrastructure and facilities to encourage students and the public to gain more knowledge in technology. It would be like the National ICT Learning Centre in Bangkok, but there would also be services for software developers including an animation studio.

The government wanted to emphasise that it is seriously promoting the animation and multimedia businesses and also aimed to develop Chiang Mai ICT City as an animation and multimedia hub, he added.

The ICT Park will be set up this year.

TOT board chairman Sathit Limpongpan said that TOT Corp had already implemented a fibre optic connection throughout the province and was working with Internet Thailand to provide the metro service to businesses.

At present, there are 576 ports available for the same number of customers and TOT will add another 624 ports this year, he said.

"We are supporting the government's Chiang Mai ICT City project with a budget of 500 million baht to upgrade our infrastructure and to provide new services," he said.

Beside the metro network, it will also add 17,148 fixed line numbers to its existing 15,108 base, increase its ADSL service to 14,000 ports and implement 4,682 ports for a digital data network and virtual private network.

TOT is also looking at providing an Internet data centre, Internet gateway, 3G mobile network as well as wireless broadband service based on Wi-Max technology.

"Chiang Mai will be the first province to have wireless high-speed connections, allowing users to be connected anywhere," said TOT vice president Arnon Tubtiang.

The service would be the second phase after providing the metro network, he said, adding that Wi-Max would support convergent communications and allow TOT to provide voice over Wi-Max as well as offering value added service to its fixed and mobile phone services.

The service would cover a 30 kilometre radius, he said.

However, TOT still has to make a decision on the radio frequency, between its existing 2.4GHz band or the 3.5GHz band suggested for Wi-Max, which would need approval from the National Telecommunication Commission.


E-learning for everyone

Thailand's proposed cyber university could help the disadvantaged get an education


Surasak is 27-years-old and works in a small firm doing photocopying, but in his free time he's something of a mechanical whiz. He repairs his own appliances as well as those of his neighbours, and his company has hardly had to pay anything for copy machine maintenance because it's something that Surasak has learned to do.

But like many Thais, he does not have any formal education and no prospects of going to university or gaining other qualifications. When it comes to fixing things, he relies on his natural ability or gets ideas from old magazines and books that he can get his hands on.

However, a plan by the government could see Surasak _ and the many Thais that are in similar situation _ gain access to educational opportunities in the hope of finding a higher-level job.

The Office of the Commission on Higher Education has recently proposed the "Thailand Cyber University," a government initiative to increase education opportunities by providing low cost, life-long education to students and the general public online.

While many universities in Thailand already offer online courses, they are generally offered to their own students. Few live up to the real potential of e-learning by making them available to anyone at anytime and from any location. They also follow their own procedures rather than having a common system and standards.

Dr Anuchai Theeraroungchaisri, a committee member of the Thailand Cyber University project, said providing a system that allowed for courses to be transferred or learned across different institutions was difficult.

However, that's the goal of the Thailand Cyber University (TCU), which is based on collaboration among the universities. A central concept is that universities can share the e-courseware of others.

"All students can learn here together, while the universities can jointly develop the course syllabus," he said, more importantly adding that all of the content will be open for the general public to access.

The collaboration could save resources and costs for the universities. In addition, it would help the institutions that are short of lecturers in some subjects to be able to have online courseware that is of a standard level.

The Commission on Higher Education provides a caretaker role for government universities throughout the country and has a policy to promote learning via the Internet. So far it has developed the Inter-University Network (UniNet) _ IT infrastructure that connects the universities to the Internet.

Along with setting up UniNet, it is involved in developing courseware, a learning management system, and e-library.

The TCU has a goal to provide e-learning to the public _ at any age and with any career _ via the UniNet.

It will be free of charge for individuals to attend.

TCU is seen as a continuing strategic project to promote quality distance learning from the universities to the public. It is part of a goal to move towards a knowledge based society, as well as share academic resources and people.

The commission has already granted funding to universities developing the courseware and so far there are around 150 subjects being prepared for online use. Some 100 topics of the content are general or fundamental subjects that are available in every institution, such as science, biology, chemistry and social science, while 50 topics will be provided from engineering faculties.

By September of this year, Dr Anuchai said there would be some 300 topics available through UniNet.

Another e-courseware module covers fundamental engineering and was developed by Kasetsart University's engineering faculty. This courseware has also been run in a traditional classroom setting to help students with the lessons.

The Commission Office has also contracted CU's Continuing Education Centre to develop the Learning Management System (LMS), which provides an online content management system and student management system.

"Every subject that has been developed by the universities and institutes will be conducted on the same system, using the same database," Dr Anuchai said. "For example, Chulalongkorn students who would like to learn courses from other universities can do so and will also be accredited. Likewise students in other universities can do the same," he pointed out.

E-learning relies a lot on technology and a good quality of infrastructure, Dr Anuchai said, noting that the growth of Internet, electronic devices and networks had driven infrastructure and made it more distributed in the rural areas.

Other factors making e-learning possible were cheaper PCs, computer modems and telephone lines. "These are the physical factors that have to be done first, and now it is the process of transforming the content into courseware _ that requires an effort from the education sector," he said.

TCU will be the central agency for coordinating with the universities and academic institutions to develop the online courseware that will be delivered via the UniNet.

TCU is supporting the universities in areas such as e-learning objects, e-courseware for self-paced courses, collaborative courses and supplement courses. It also provides them with a virtual library covering e-books, e-journals and e-thesis. Accredition and content will be covered by the universities and institutions.

The Office of the Commission on Higher Education has developed an e-library called the Thai Library Information System (ThaiLIS), a centre of knowledge resources for students, instructors, and the general public where members can borrow books across 24 universities.

The ThaiLIS database covers reference books, the union catalogue, a digital collection, e-journals and an e-book directory.

ThaiLIS is linked to the Thai Library Network (THAILINET) and to the provincial university library network (PULINET) on the UniNet.

TCU will be a multi-disciplinary school _ a centre of e-learning that covers all systems of education, including formal education, non-formal education as well as informal education.

The newly-launched TCU is now open for informal education, while modules for other subjects will be added by the end of this year. Certification for the online courses is expected to be ready over the next year, according to Dr Anuchai.

In addition, the The Office of the Commission on Higher Education and the universities are now working out regulations for online learning. So far, there are no laws supporting students who have passed distance learning courses.

In future, Surasak and many other Thai people will have a chance to access a broad range of resources and learning modules from universities throughout the country.

It is expected that TCU will better promote relevant education to all students.

So now people like Surasak, who has learned how to deal with machinery and appliances through his natural talent, can complement their abilities through more formal learning.


Lessons from Baan Sam Kha

Primary school teacher shows how technology can help a village _ with a little outside help

Story by Karnjana Karnjanatawe in Lampang province

Primary school teacher Srinuan Wongtrakoon helps a student use the computer.
A student gets on top of this computer problem.
Many students are happy to use computers as an educational tool. — KARNJANA KARNJANATAWE

Srinuan Wongtrakoon, a primary school teacher in Sam Kha Village of Mae Tha in Lampang, is proof that you don't need to be a computer expert to introduce computer classes to students.

Instead, she sought out the expert help available at the Non-formal Educational Centre in Lampang to train her and her young students in basic computer usage even before they had a computer lab of their own.

Now that they have a computer lab, she and her students can help adults to learn computers and the Internet after school, during weekends and over the summer holiday.

"Children can do many things and learn quickly if they have the chance," said Srinuan, who has taught every subject at Baan Sam Kha primary school for more than three decades.

She believes in child-centric learning methods and made a point of bringing some students with her whenever there were computer training classes at the Non-formal Educational Centre.

When Srinuan first used the computer given to her by a friend in 1995, she realised that it would be an important educational tool for her students. So instead of keeping it for her family, she gave the computer to the school.

"I brought the computer to school so that the students could play with it," she said, adding that they learned the basics of the computer through this.

However for the villagers at the time, mostly farmers some 40 kilometres outside the city of Lampang, the computer was something new.

The village is surrounded by mountains and forest and there are no fixed telephone lines to any of the homes and only two public telephone lines to the school, while mobile phone network coverage is rarely found.

Baan Sam Kha is the only school in the village and at present it has 43 students and only three teachers _ hence one teacher must teach every subject. One takes care of grades one to three, Srinuan teaches the higher grades four to six, while the four kindergarden children are taken care of by the school head.

While the classes are all under one roof, this does not confuse the children. "The students know what to do," Srinuan said, noting that they make a plan of their lessons for each subject and class.

For computer classes, the students have one two-hour computer class each week. They share their studying time together and those who have higher computer literacy, such as students in grades five and six, always help their juniors.

Athipong Kirika, 12, said he has used computers for two years and can also use the Internet, including email and web browsing.

"I like visiting my village web site ( I also use Hotmail and know how to install computers," he said.

Today in his morning computer class, he is concentrating on the screen, navigating the software with ease. "I am doing my assignment and writing a story about a grateful dog by using the Microworld program," he said while choosing a dog from a graphics list and pasting some trees to make his animated story. He also knows how to do simple coding to make the dog move from left to right.

Microworld is an application developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and donated to the school by the Non-formal Educational Centre, Lampang branch. It is a computer-aided-instruction program that can encourage children to use their imagination to tell stories through many colourful animated characters.

The students learn to create a story and organise their ideas in a Thai language class before moving to an open-air computer lab next door to use the Microworld program. Some juniors also write down their stories and create a presentation in PowerPoint, while others are learning how to type.

"With Microworld, the children can indirectly learn how to type, use a mouse and learn English language at the same time," said Srinuan.

She said that it is a very good program and thanked Dr Suchin Petcharak of the Non-formal Educational Centre for providing it. Since 1997 he has supported the program as well as donated five computers to the school.

Dr Suchin also asked TOT to install a telephone line for the school in order to let students use the Internet after they received some basic Net training in 1999.

However, all has not been problem free and the introduction of Internet brought worries for elders, parents and monks.

There concerns are documented in a book called Lessons Learned from Sam Kha Community, printed by the National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (Nectec). The village headman, Channong Chantrajom, said he did not like computers and Internet because it was a sign of capitalism and could bring harm to the villagers.

But Srinuan and her children proved that they could take advantage of the technology for the good of the village.

In 2001, she and 45 youngsters including some primary school students and a number of village teenagers attended a 10-day computer camp organised by the Non-formal Educational Centre.

"It was a good opportunity not only for the children to learn how to take advantage of computers, but also their parents, who visited them at night to learn how to use the Internet along with their children," she explained.

The students help villagers by using the computer to manage the community financial records as well as for running a community bank.

Since the computers were old, sometimes they were also in need of repairs, but once again they turned this into an opportunity. "We asked staff at the Non-formal Educational Centre to help fix them. When they disassembled the parts, the students also had the chance to learn how to fix the hardware," she said, noting that some of her best computer students could ease her workload by fixing basic hardware problems.

"I do not know much about this, but the students know how to handle the problems," she said.

Eleven-year-old Chanakan Yutharaksanukul is one of a number students to pick up computers quickly. He always assists his younger classmates to find programs, repair hardware or help his friend finding computer parts to fix the hardware problems.

There are now more than 10 PCs in the computer room, which is called the Constructionism Lab and was set up by Cement Thai through the support of the director of the Siam Cement Group, Paron Israsena Na Ayudhaya, and some of the villagers a couple of years ago.

Another problem the school has found is the cost of the Internet connection.

They use to pay 3,000 baht a month for TOT's service, but this disconnected three or four times every hour, Srinuan explained, adding that the connection was later changed to a satellite via the IPstar service, but the cost was high.

"We used it for three months and could not cover the expenses, so we changed the connection back to a service from Karnchanapisek (sponsored by TOT corp to support the SchoolNet project of the National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre). "But the service was not stable so we again changed the connection back to satellite two years ago," she said.

For the first year, the service was free of charge.

However, now the school needs to find a budget to cover the service, which costs 2,675 baht for a 750 kbps connection. The school manages to recover some costs by charging those who use the Internet at 12 baht an hour. The service is available after school and during weekends.

Meanwhile, the students are continuously updating their computer skills through the Non-formal Educational Centre. The centre loaned them a computer and video recorder for a year after they had undergone a video editing course.

One group of grade six boys learned how to develop video presentations. They have been working with teenagers of the village and a computer teacher at the Non-formal Educational Centre of Lampang to develop more than 10 video documentary programmes.

The short documentaries are all about their village, such as how they dry roast bananas _ the top product of the village _ how to make the popular Phai Maew dish, and how rock dams are constructed to preserve the water in their forest.

Chanakan, one of the video production team, said he and his friends shot the film by themselves as well as used the software for editing.

"I like video editing. I also want to be more skilful in this because I think that I can earn money out of it," he noted.

Apart from video editing skills, Srinuan helps her students to study the Northern Lanna language.

"The Lanna language programme is essential because many elders here still use the language. We also have some 300-400 years old herbal medical treatments recorded in Lanna language. When my students know the old language, they can communicate with the old people and also translate the old local knowledge into Thai," she noted.

The school got a free copy of a Lanna language software program from Payap University. Unfortunately, the program is not complete so it has a problem with fonts when typing some characters.

Srinuan is still searching for the complete program as well as other needed software, such as a mapping program in order to create a village map and let her students know where their houses and where the houses are of those who have specific knowledge, especially village elders who sometimes become guest teachers to share their experiences with the young generation.

In addition, she is looking for some English language and CAI programs.

"Although our PCs are old, we can still use them or borrow computers from others. The more important thing is to develop our children's skills and minds," she said, noting that nothing is more important than human development.


Computer firms feel pinch after boom


The government's low-cost computer project caused a sudden boom in computer sales in mid-2003, but some firms were forced to cut prices drastically to compete.

The executive of a domestic computer assembly firm, who spoke on condition of anonymity, likened the impact of the so-called Ua-arthorn computer project to the collapse of the financial sector in 1997. Her firm was still recovering.

The government urged local manufacturers to make cheap PCs for low-income earners and the poor, to increase sales and lower the ``digital divide.''

Previously poor people found it hard to afford computers, and in the government's view the market needed a shove to get PC prices to fall. Today, some computer firms are asking whether the government was right to intervene.

After the one-month campaign, the government was able to list 150,000 people as new computer users.

But one year after the boom in sales, some firms say the computer market has turned quiet with sales volumes falling at many companies. The assembly firm executive believes the Ua-arthorn project is partly to blame.

``Our firm was once admired for selling a large number of computers, but under this price onslaught we could barely survive,'' she said.

Her firm had to cut PC prices to compete with Ua-arthorn PCs, but was left with a heavy burden in after-sales service for which the firm alone, not the government, picks up the tab.

The company, which did not join the project, was forced to cut its basic computer price from 19,900 to 15,900 baht to compete with the 10,900 baht offered by the government and its allies at Desktop PC makers.

The firm cut its prices despite the fact that the Ua-arthorn computers offered by the government and its partners were basic in extreme, and offered less than conventional low-cost computers.

Despite an increase in sales, she said, the sharp drop in the price of computers made the company unable to bear the cost of hardware, spare parts and software expenses, included in after-sales service.

The government stimulated demand across the market, but the company alone had to deal with after-sales costs.

``That's why we felt like we lost as we sold more,'' she said.

The post-computer Ua-arthorn period was a hard time for her company. She was forced to downsize her business to survive, a setback she had never experienced before.

The Information and Communication Technology Ministry (ICT) ran the project. Spokesman Chatchai Khunpitiluck said it was intended as a ``market shaker,'' to force manufacturers to cut prices.

Previously, he said, the market lacked a stimulant, and many poor people found it hard to buy PCs. He insisted the government's intervention had worked.

``I think companies are probably wary now. They are afraid the government will launch the Ua-arthorn project again,'' he said.

Mr Chatchai admitted the project hurt some firms, but insisted sellers would be happy in the end because of the increase in demand, driven by low-cost computers.

``Many lost interest as the project was viewed as another political campaign while businesses initially crticised us but later fell silent as their markets grew,'' Mr Chatchai said.

The number of computer users jumped last year, which the government says is evidence the campaign worked. In May, 2.2 million people were using computers, but at the end of the year that had increased to four million.

One computer programmer said the specifications of an Ua-arthorn computer are too low to be compatible with new software, which requires more computer efficiency.

However, some consumers are happy with the Ua-arthorn version.

``My son likes it,'' said Nongnuch Sansomruan, mother of a 10-year-old boy.

``He uses the computer to print his school reports and search for OTOP products.

``And when he's at home, I can control his internet use,'' she said.



Allowing others to `fail successfully'

Vanida, the CEO, is having lunch with Kitti, a senior executive reporting to her. ``Kitti, I notice that you never turned your mobile phone off, even in the meeting room,'' she says. ``You always excuse yourself from the meeting room when you see a particular incoming call number. Who is calling you? Why is it so important?''

Kitti replies uncomfortably: ``Nothing. It's personal. I am sorry.''

Vanida smiles and is silent for a moment before continuing. ``Kitti, we have worked together for a while. I consider myself your elder sister since I am a few years older than you. Would you mind sharing your concern with me? What's going on?''

Instead of criticising Kitti for improper manners in the meeting room, Vanida has decided to use the phi-nong (elder-younger sibling) approach. It works in Kitti's case and he agrees to explain his situation.

``I hope you aren't angry with me,'' he begins. ``It's a call from my daughter. She moved to Australia to attend high school a few months ago. This school is very strict and has lot of assignments and homework. When she was here, I helped her with her homework. I have only one child. She is everything I have.

``She calls to get advice on her homework since I told her that she could call me anytime. At night, I don't have enough rest since I have to help her do some mathematics and English homework and fax it over to her. I don't want her to fail.

``Sorry that I don't manage my time well,'' Kitti concludes with a guilty shrug.

Vanida expresses empathy. ``Your story sounds all too familiar. I think I can imagine how difficult it is for you. I have a daughter studying in the United States as well and I used to do a very similar thing to what you're doing. She has been studying for an MBA. She did not have any work experience since she went straight from a bachelor's degree to a master's programme. Hence, when she does case studies, she cannot contribute much. Besides, when she doesn't understand something she is afraid to ask her teachers. I did help her on case studies and even went so far as to do a report and e-mail it to her. But I've stopped helping her for quite some time.''

Kitt asks with surprise: ``Why? Don't you love your child anymore? Or do you think your work is more important than family?''

Vanida explains with smile: ``I do love her and still value family as much as my work. Fortunately, I have an American friend. He had noticed how I helped my child. One day he gave me a book The Power of Failure by Charles C. Manz. He marked a particular page for me. I'll share it with you.

``It was a story of a man who was watching a butterfly struggle to break out of its cocoon. After making some progress to work its way through a small hole, the butterfly appeared to simply stop its efforts. For some time, it seemed to make no headway, so the man concluded it was stuck and decided to lend a helping hand by forming a larger opening in the cocoon with scissors.

``Afterward the butterfly emerged easily but with small, shrivelled wings and a swollen body.

``It turned out that the struggle to emerge from the cocoon would have forced the fluid from the butterfly's body into its wings, a necessary process for enabling it to fly. As a result of a man's well-intentioned `help', he had interfered with nature's life-strengthening process. The butterfly was now doomed never to fly, but to crawl around with its swollen body and shrivelled wings for the rest of its life.

``Many of our failures in life present us with the same kind of challenge that the butterfly faced. Learning, personal growth, skill development, courage, persistence, the potential to empathy, and a host of other desirable life assets can be gained from failing successfully. We cannot hope to become really successful in our lives unless we learn to fail well in a way that prepares us for greater success. If we get caught in the trap of trying to avoid challenge and backing away from our setbacks, we cannot earn the valuable lessons that we need to learn.''

Kitti listens attentively: ``That's so inspiring. But I am afraid my child will hate me.''

Vanida continues: ``Kitti, there is a saying, `No pain no gain'. It's our fault as parents that we `spoon-feed' our children too much. In my case, I told this story to my daughter. I apologised for spoiling her in the past. Our children are smart enough to `get it'.''

``Look around us. We have some staff who are well educated and come from wealthy families. They are yiab-kee-gai-mai-phor (scared to step in chicken manure). They lack patience when faced with adversity. The persons who should be blamed are their parents.

``Would you like to be blamed in the future and also make your child weak? It's your choice.''

Kriengsak Niratpattanasai is the founder of TheCoach, specialising in executive coaching in the areas of leadership and cross-cultural skills. He can be reached at 02-517-3126 or

Scrap rote-learning, teachers told

Encourage students to think, speak out


Teachers should do away with traditional rote-learning by embracing student-oriented classes and promoting joint learning between teachers and students, says Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Speaking at a gathering of 1,000 teachers on Teachers' Day yesterday, Mr Thaksin said it was time for teachers across the country to brainstorm ideas on the education system, ahead of a national workshop he planned to hold after next month's election.

He wanted teachers to focus on student-centred learning and cited a move by Gloria de Souza, a primary teacher in India, who pushed for changes in the education system which has shifted from rote-learning to joint learning.

He urged teachers to stimulate their students to dare to think and speak out in this new era when a lifetime of learning and participation was essential.

If most students dared not to give their views, student-centred learning would not work.

On the other hand, if students dared to think and speak out, joint learning would result.

Mr Thaksin promised to increase emphasis on social development, education reform, the development of teachers and students after the next election.

Mr Thaksin said the change from teacher-centred learning to student-centred learning could not be done overnight, but it would take more time.

He said the government was in the process of setting up a public organisation to develop children's brains and learning and revamp the curriculum to match their brains.

``I will devote more time to develop youths and education. It's a pity that we have spent most time solving other problems in our first four years in office. From now on, we will focus more on the social issue and the development of students and teachers. After the election, I will hold a workshop to discuss education management.

``I will preside over the workshop, in which teachers' welfare, curriculum revamps and better management at the Education Ministry will be on the agenda,'' said Mr Thaksin.

Meanwhile, teachers in the three southernmost provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat say they are happy with increased security put in place at schools in the troubled region, where classes re-sumed last Monday.

Sanguan Intararak, secretary of the Narathiwat Teachers Confederation, said all his members want on Teachers' Day is not better welfare but safety.

Teachers have been given the name of a military or police officer responsible for their personal safety, which had helped teachers feel more secure.

They could call the officer if they felt they were under threat.

Computers in schools `under-used'

Many teachers unable to even operate them


Half of the computers distributed by the government to primary and lower secondary schools are left lying around like rubbish or are under-used, a study by the Education Council has revealed.

Researcher Suttanu Sauries, of Chulalongkorn University's education faculty, said yesterday the study found 20% of the computers were either broken or obsolete. Another 30% were rarely used because teachers were computer illiterate and could not teach students to use them.

Around 200 primary and lower secondary schools, private and state-run, were included in the nationwide study to assess the efficiency of computer-based teaching. About 5,000 questionnaires were sent to school administrators, teachers, students and parents.

Mr Suttanu said superficially there seemed to be enough computers in schools. The ratio was one computer to eight students. In some regions, he said, the figure was better. Schools in the South had a ratio of five students to a computer.

But on-the-spot assessments told another story, he said. Half of the computers were not usable or fully utilised. Some southern schools still ran Chula Word, an outdated word-processing program designed at Chulalongkorn University, or programs even older, he said.

Mr Suttanu said about 63% of teachers were able to perform basic tasks such as switching on and off the computer and using some popular programs.

But teachers demonstrated low skills in other areas of computer technology, he said. Fewer than 30% had email addresses, knew how to maintain a computer or were even able to access the internet.

In Thailand, only 7% of teachers graduate with computer degrees. However, these graduates are headhunted by private firms, Mr Suttanu said.

He said the survey found students relied on computers mostly to type reports and homework, or to play online games. Very few bothered to log onto the internet.

Mr Suttanu said it was not so important how many computers the government gave schools, but it must train teachers and school administrators to make the best use of these resources.

The computers are a tool for breeding knowledge, he said. Proper training of teachers was essential.


Nectec to trial WiMax upcountry


The National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (Nectec) will run a wireless IP phone pilot project at Samkha village of Mae Tha in Lampang.

The project will cost around one million baht, with financial support also coming from the Asia-Pacific Telecommunity.

Nectec director Dr Thaweesak Koanantakool said the one-year "Rural Wireless Broadband Access" project aimed to determine the real investment costs for implementing telecommunication infrastructure in remote areas.

"We want to prove to the National Telecommunication Commission the real cost of implementing telecom service in rural and remote areas," he said.

In accordance with the Universal Service Obligation (USO) of the Telecom Bill, telecom operators will have to contribute to the USO Fund, which will be managed by the NTC.

In order to know how much one telecom operator should give for USO, Nectec started the pilot last month to find out the real costs.

"We know that USO is a problem worldwide in terms of the digital divide. Wi-Fi and WiMax will be the answers to help improve communications in remote areas," Dr Thaweesak noted.

Samkha village was chosen because there is no telephone service available and because the village is surrounded by mountains and forest. The cost to provide regular telephone lines to the village is high.

Nectec has previously worked with the villagers as part of a project to provide IT facilities to the local school and promotes a community radio project that is now used for broadcasting information and updated news to villagers.

Dr Thaweesak said Nectec chose wireless broadband access technology because it would be a future mass communication system. In addition, the technology could support both Internet access and telephone service.

During the first phase, Nectec implemented wireless IP phones in five locations. A satellite link via an ipstar connection delivers Internet access to the school, the house of teacher Srinuan Wongtrakoon, who oversees the school's computer lab, a village temple, a health station and a retail shop of the village.

Samkha village is located 42 kilometers from Lampang city. There are 152 households and only one primary school.

Srinuan said the service had worked well during the first 10 days.

"Everyone was so excited because the voice is clear. Making a call within the village, such as to the health station, is also free of charge," she noted.

She said a call to an outside area such as to Bangkok is also cheap at three baht per call.

However, voice transmission consumes the bandwidth of the school's satellite link, she noted.

Dr Thaweesak said although voice consumes high bandwidth, the cost of bandwidth will be cheaper in the future.

At present, Nectec is helping improve the service quality after the communications system was broken recently.