Sabbatical Proposed Visit List

Sabbatical Blog
For links that can be blogged.

Places to visit during my sabbatical. This is a consolidated list from my sabbatical clippings and my Everynote clippings. There are additional visiting links in the sabbatical blog

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


Self-taught repair expert, programmer and radio ham fixes computers and then donates them to schools

Story by Karnjana Karnjanatawe in Chiang Mai 

Lua Preprakin, 73, fixes computers and other electronic equipment, even satellite dishes, for free. - KARNJANA KARNJANATAWE

A passing stranger might assume that he stores electronic waste under his wooden house, but in fact for more than a decade now Lua Preprakin, who will be 74 next May, has been fixing old and unwanted computers after which he donates them to those in need.

Although leaving school with just a Prathom 4 (primary) certificate, this handyman can fix any electronic equipment, from washing machines to LCD and plasma televisions, computers, satellite dishes or receivers, regardless of the problem. He can also write software programs, including applications to control heavy machines, billing applications or to manage robots.

Locals of Mae TaengDistrict in Chiang Mai call him Lung (uncle) Lua, is also an inventor. He once built a short-wave radio station and has many innovations to his name. He is an amateur radio operator, electrical engineer, Internet addict, mechanician, IT consultant, guest teacher, adviser to the Electronics Club of the North and a bookworm.

He is also a self-taught linguist who can read at least four languages: German, French, Chinese and English, after keenly reading electronics magazines, books and accessing web sites.

"I learned how to fix radios when I was less than 10 years old," he said, adding that when he lived in a temple in Lop Buri, he had helped by fixing the radio of an abbot after reading about electronics in books.

"After fixing one, neighbours sent me some more radios and amplifiers," he said, adding that he could do this because he loved mechanics and electronics.

His passion for reading always pushed him to learn new things, he explained.

Lung Lua points to several computers that he has already fixed and which are ready to be donated.
Lung Lua works on a PC to make sure it is functioning properly before giving it away.

"I had little chance to learn when I was young because my house was far from school." After leaving school, he helped his family as a farmer for three years before the chance arose to attend carpentry school when he was 15.

There, he could earn his keep while studying until he graduated six years later to join the army.

As a soldier, he then furthered his mechanical skills related to irrigation in Lampang for a year before becoming an engineer doing irrigation work, field survey work and maintenance. Finally, he was employed to oversee a reservoir at Phuping Palace in Chiang Mai.

"I am a lazy type of person so I invented machines to do my job. Then I had more time to work on other things," he said.

While working at Phuping Palace, Lung Lua developed a program to calculate the amount of water remaining in the palace reservoir.

His interest in computers began in 1984 when he was 53 years old when computers only had a few kilobytes of memory. Later he bought an Apple II computer for around 30,000 baht to learn how to use it.

He said he tried coding programs by following steps in a textbook, using that computer for three years before changing to a PC with a 5-1/4-inch floppy disk.

"When starting to code a program, we should start with a small application. After it is finished, we can add more features," he suggested, adding that if a programmer started to write an application by coding a big program, it would be difficult to finish it.

Examples of his software applications, some of which have been used by organi-sations in the North, include one to issue electricity bills, a program to manage heavy machines and another one to remotely manage and monitor public phones.

He has also taught students to use computers as well as offering a PC for public use. Schoolchildren always come to his home to play games after school.

"Students today are rather more interested in playing computer games than in learning how to program," he noted.

However, old computers are still useful for those who are just starting to study computer literacy.

Lung Lua selects the functional parts from several PCs to create a good reconditioned one, while he still keeps the malfunctioning parts for future needs.

When he first started fixing computers to give away as donations, he spent his own money to buy old PCs and then he fixed them before giving them away.

"If students have computer skills and can type fast, teachers will ask them to help type documents and this will be a chance for them to be close to their teachers," he said.

If Lung Lua can find a child who can type at 30 words a minute, he has made a promise to himself that he will find a functioning PC for him or her and provide it for free.

Now, many organisations have donated old computers to him to use for this good cause.

He checks out every computer personally. Wearing a comfortable T-shirt and shorts, he can spend hours checking the condition of each component in the reception area of his wooden house where he lives with his wife.

As a result, the area is chock full of equipment, with a mountain of computers, parts, peripherals and other electronic equipment.

"I check every part and stick a paper note on it. The method can ease my workload and I can choose good parts and integrate them to make a failed computer work," he said.

Based on the DOS platform, the restored computers that he donates do not require a hard disk to function. The system is booted from a floppy disk and so, as a result, he needs to show teachers how to use the machines.

He said he used DOS because it enabled the old machines to operated at low-cost.

"We cannot buy an old computer running Windows for 200 baht, but we can get a 100 baht PC or even a free PC that uses DOS. It is good enough for typing, even for doing presentations or for playing some games," he said.

He has donated a lot of computers, sometimes 10 or 20 sets, to various schools, vocational schools and organisations such as the post office in the North and to his old school in Lop Buri.

"I do not just give them away. I also make visits to the schools I donate to in order to find out if they are using them and if the computers are still working. If some parts are broken, they need me to fix them," he said.

When we visited him recently, Lung Lua was preparing another batch of 10 PCs to donate to a school on Children's Day next month, and this was an activity he had performed last year.

"I will set up the 10 computers in a school and let the children there play. Then, I leave them like that so that the school can use them," he said.

Apart from fixing electronic equipment, Lung Lua also has time to pursue his hobby of amateur radio. He said he had already made friends overseas and that he communicated with radio amateurs around the world using shortwave. He has also furthered his education by earning a degree from the Non-Formal Education Department.

"After I retired and was already well known, the department approached me to study," he said. He followed their suggestion and has already finished the Matayom 6 degree by learning from television.

In the age of 73, Lung Lua still strong. He said his secret was to do anything that allowed his body to sweat regularly. This was a good lesson he had learned by observing His Majesty the King while he had worked in Phuping Palace.

He also reads many magazines to keep himself up-to-date, including Chinese-language electronics magazines, CQ, HAM and 100 Watts magazines, research books or aviation-related books, such as those related to aeronautical radio.

At midnight, he uses the Internet to search for information until daybreak and then he spends around three hours sleeping each day.

"There are many things to do, while time is short," he said. "I will keep on doing things like this until I am unable to," he noted.



A Phitsanulok school and its students take their IT education on the road



Wangtongpittayakom School in Phitsanulok might be a remote school _ the majority of its students are spread thoughout this province some 380km north of Bangkok _ but that hasn't stopped it from helping other schools get a close-up look at modern technology.

The school runs a mobile classroom in an old green six-wheel bus nicknamed "Beetagen," and it's become popular enough that the Education Ministry wants to push the concept to other schools.

The high-tech mobile unit is equipped with 14 networked PCs that can offer Internet courses and high-tech activities to students and teachers in other communities, opening up a window of opportunity for them to touch, learn and play with computer technology.

"Children always run after our bus when we reach their schools. They shout and laugh," said Kunchalee Kanma, a Mattayom 6 (grade 12) student who has taught computer use to younger students for the past two years.

Kunchalee and 23 other students at the school take their turn to organise the mobile classes. Last semester they visited more than 20 schools and plan to visit another 52 schools this semester.

"Our schedule is fully booked until February next year," added Sureerat Thongphanlek, another Mattayom 6 student. "If there is a request, they need to inform us a month in advance."

What makes the mobile unit popular?

Somkuan Tubtim, the first computer teacher in Wangtongpittayakom School in 1995, believes it's because the students make the classes fun for all participants.

"We do not park our mobile unit and let children play with computers by themselves. We train our students and let them be trainers who can create interactive activities to educate and entertain younger students about computer technology," he said.

The students have developed activities that introduce students to computer hardware, games, Thai-language lessons through karaoke, mathematics and Internet use, while there is also a rack of computer books and magazines that they can access.

If a school they visit does not have Internet access, they will teach students there to learn how to search for information by using the intranet and digital library server on-board the bus, Somkuan said.

"Children like it because they are closely coached by senior students so they are not afraid to play or ask questions," he added.

There are also rewards for those who participate in the mobile classroom activities.

"The gifts are not fancy, but our sponsor is a nearby temple and they give us packs of instant noodles, cooking oil and large bags filled with small bottles of fish-salt," he said.

Wangtongpittayakom School kicked of the mobile unit in 1999. At the time, the old bus served only as a mobile library.

"Our school director had the idea for a mobile unit to bring knowledge to the community. We looked for a vehicle and found this one at Sirindhorn College for Public Health. They gave it to us for free," he said.

The school invested around 300,000 baht to fix and equip the bus, giving it a new coat of green paint and adding brightly-coloured animals on each side.

It went from being a mobile library to moving technology lab some three years ago.

"We bought five computers for the mobile unit and the bus then got a lot of attention from the communities we arrived at," Somkuan explained.

The bus has its own air-conditioner and a power generator running from the engine for places where they do not yet have electricity. There is also a television located in the front of the bus, which is used as a display, and 14 computers on four long tables.

The school is located 19 kilometres from the city and Wangtongpittayakom's mobile unit covers three nearby districts.

The school students have so far taught more than 2,000 younger students.

"We spend a day doing our activities or two if the school is far away," said Umaphorn Khaewwaen, another student who is a regular in the mobile classroom.

"The largest number of students we have ever taught was more than 200," she said, adding that while it could be tiring she still loved to do it.

"It offers me a chance to give my knowledge to others," she noted.

Wangthongpittayakom School is well-known for its strong focus on technology among locals, and recently changed its timetable to provide a one-day computer class each week for Mattayom 4-6 students whose minor is computers. As a result, the students can leave the school for a day without it impacting on other subjects.

Two computer teachers taught the students _ who are mostly girls _ how to set up a LAN, fix basic computer problems and provide training.

"The students will be graded when they are in the field," said Somkuan, adding that there will be a teacher and two assistants going with them.

All services are free of charge.

Before the bus leaves Wangtongpittayakom school, the students carry the computers down from a computer lab to set them up in the bus.

"We set up the system and make it ready for teaching. We create games and do everything by ourselves, even wiring all the cable and setting up the LAN," said Kunchalee.

Although the bus looks fine when parked, it is not trouble-free. When it rains, the students need to move the PCs to a classroom or hall of the school they are visiting because the roof leaks.

And when it is too hot, the old air-conditioner cannot keep up enough to cool the computers.

"We need to open all the windows and use electric fans to bring down the temperature because the bus is made of steal and is like an oven when it's parked in strong sunshine," Kunchalee said.

The bus does manage to get through all of the travelling, but often it has to travel across poor roads, forcing the students to hold the computers to prevent them from falling, Sureerat said.

To make matters worse, sometimes the computers don't work well because of all the shaking, and many times the rocky roads are a major cause of network malfunctions.

In addition, 10 of the 15 monitors that are usually used in the mobile unit are already in bad condition, according to Somkuan, who noted that it could take an hour before an image is seen.

"We have not yet had the budget to buy new equipment or to put in permanent racks to hold the computers in place," he said.

Although the school is the first to set up such a mobile unit and pioneer a concept that has the support of the Education Ministry, it is being held back by a lack of financial support.

The government has provided a new bus with tables and chairs, but it comes without computers _ and it hasn't managed to get the same support from students and teachers as "Beetagen."

"The problem is we do not have enough PCs. If we take PCs from our computer labs, we will not have enough PCs to teach our students in school," said Somkuan. "Although we have a new bus, we will not yet use it," he said, noting that he still preferred the old green one since it was a classic model.

In addition to the mobile unit, Wangtongpittayakom School teaches primary school teachers and locals on weekends about basic office applications and Internet access.

It also offers a free computer repair service to locals and runs a 60-hour computer repair class to a wide range of participants including monks, soldiers and the general public.

With its strong computer skills, Wangtongpittayakom School was given Internet support and training by the Internet Foundation for Schools and Community, previously known as ITPC Netday.

The foundation has recently teamed up with Cisco Systems to set up a wireless network class to train teachers in the school, as well as other schools in the North under the foundation's support, in networking maintenance skills and update them about new technology.

Cisco Systems (Thailand) donated a Wi-Fi access point and a few wireless access clients to the school, which is now implementing the network for testing.

Somkuan commented that he enjoyed having the new toy.

"If it works well, I might use the wireless technology for the bus," he said.

In the future, he aims to teach his students how to do coding, such as programming robots.

"It is a new technology which I would like my students to learn. It is quite amazing to see them move or walk," he said.

For information on the school's activities, tel 055-311-129.



Samsung offers digital hope to Thai communities, school


Hilltribe children will be one of the first groups of beneficiaries from a TechnoGital for Life Centre project in Chiang Mai to provide IT training to the disadvantaged.

Projects to help the disabled, youth and underprivileged gain access to technology in Thailand were awarded 1.6 million baht grants as part of Samsung's DigitAll Hope initiative.

Two projects were awarded grants here: Srisangwan School, which caters to disabled children, and the "Young Digital's Christian Association Technogital for Life Center" in Chiang Mai, a non-profit organisation that helps youths and underprivileged communities in the North.

A total of 13 projects from seven countries had submitted proposals for funding under the programme.

Bangkok-based Srisangwan School aims to help disabled students by developing their potential and encouraging them to lead an autonomous life.

The students are physically handicapped with different degrees of disability. Most fall into two categories: those with cerebral palsy and those with impaired spinal cords. Others have impaired joints, or have had no limbs since birth or as a result of an accident or bone cancer.

The school plans to use the funds for computer systems and learning equipment and an IT support centre.

Young Digital's Christian Association has some 20 volunteers who provide IT education and training to enhance the quality of life for youth and the underprivileged.

Since there is no permanent training centre, the volunteers use their own computers for any organisation that requests the services.

Over the past four years, more than 1,000 people have been trained. The association aims to use the funding to expand its education and training programmes.

Three other projects from Thailand were shortlisted for evaluation by the regional judging committee.

Thai Samsung Electronics will also give 100,000 baht each to the Thailand Association of the Blind, The Education Development Foundation and the Redemptory Foundation for People with Disabilities.

"I believe that each winning project under this community programme can enhance the lives of individuals and indirectly benefit their families and the communities they live in through the power of technology," commented Tea-Bong Choi, managing director of Thai Samsung Electronics.

IT training helps motivate inmates


Inmate Thanawat repairs a second-hand PC that will be distributed to schools in rural areas.

One of the few good things to come out of Thanawat's time in Bangkok Special Prison has been his introduction to computers. The distance learning student of Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University has passed a training course on computer repairs and has recently been working for the prison to fix secondhand computers before they are sent to schools in remote areas.

"I plan to study computer programming as soon as I get out of jail in the next seven months," said Thanawat, who landed his sentence for receiving stolen goods.

He says that the training has also helped him in other ways. "I can spend my time more usefully and I have better concentration when doing anything since I did the computer repair course," the 29-year-old said.

Nearby is Somchai, another inmate who passed the computer repair class. He will be free in around two years and said that he would like to be a computer animator in future.

Thanawat and Somchai are two of the 50 prisoners who attended the PC repair course this year, which was provided by Bangkok Special Prison to give prisoners computer knowledge and skills.

Before joining the computer repair class, they had to pass a typing and fundamental computer course.

Both believe that they have not only gained knowledge, but also feel better mentally from having joined the classes.

The training programme for prisoners started in 2000 with basic programs covering word processing, graphics and PhotoShop. It is part of the Information Technology Project under the initiative of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.

Besides Bangkok Special Prison, the computer courses were also launched at the Central Women's Correctional Institution in 1997, the Central Special Rehabilitation Correctional Institution in 1999, and Klong Prem Prison in 1998.

Department of Corrections director-general Nathee Chitsawang noted that the department planned to expand the programme to cover prisons throughout the country. By the year 2005, the program will cover another 20 prisons, with the Bangkok Special Prison used as a pilot.

Chachoengsao Central Prison, Ayutthaya Prison, and Ayutthaya Special Rehabilitation Correctional Institute will be the next to offer training courses to prisoners. They are now in the process of setting up the classrooms, while the IT Project of the Princess and the Thai Federation of Information Technology (TFIT) are now working to get computers donated by private organisations.

Tanapat Chandraparnik, director of Bangkok Special Prison, said that the prison has now trained around 200 prisoners, some of whom have since been released while others are continuing to study.

"It's quite hard to track the prisoners and see what they have done when they are released. But we have learned of one who opened a computer repair shop in the South, and another who could write computer programs is now doing computer repairs and programming for a department store in Bangkok," he said.

However, he said the prison was now facing a shortage of PCs, with many inmates enrolling. The training courses take around 250 to 300 hours, with two courses per year.

Last year the prison received some 20 PCs together with a printer and a scanner from the Princess' IT Project, with these set up for PhotoShop and other graphics programs.

The repair course was setup following the success of the basic courses and was first held in March this year in co-operation with Pathum Thani Technical College, with 25 inmate trainees and three officials attending. The second class finished recently and was attended by 24 prisoners and 14 officials.

Currently, some 84 secondhand PCs, donated by organisations through the Thai Federation of Information Technology (TFIT), have already been fixed by these students and have been sent to eight schools upcountry.

According to Science and Technology Ministry permanent secretary Prof Dr Pairash Thajchayapong, who is also deputy chairman of the IT Project, the scheme benefits society as a whole, as once the prisoners are released they can use what they have studied.

The IT Project also worked with the National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (Nectec) to train Central Women's Correctional Institution (CWCI) inmates to produce audio books for the blind using the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY). So far, around 30 DAISY audio books have been completed, and the target is to finish 100 books this year.

Last year, the CWCI could earn around 400,000 baht through prisoners doing typing, name card design, and restaurant menu designs.

"Such activities will also expand to other prisons," Dr Pairash said, adding that the scheme could be expanded by working with other organisations and academic institutes.

The IT Project is now looking to make the courses standard and giving certificates to students who pass or allowing them to do further study, Dr Pairash said.

Donations of used computers for the IT Project under the initiatives of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn are welcomed. For details contact the Thai Federation of Information Technology (TFIT) at 02-2165991-2.

Grow your own

Suthinan Pruchayaprut wants to go back to the garden, and take as many students with him as possible. He's setting up a university for farmers. Why? Because stupidity is just plain too expensive, he says.

Agriculture has been the backbone of Thailand since time immemorial _ but that backbone seems to have become more and more brittle in recent years. Many farmers have deserted their fields, and those who are still struggling on have had to seek new ways to extract more out of less. 'Outlook' focuses on two recent attempts to breathe new life into the farming sector

Stories and photos by VASANA CHINVARAKORN

In this huge, lush garden, the "trees of knowledge" are thriving everywhere. Limes blossom all year round, regardless of rainfall. Thousands of eucalyptus trees stand tall _ and the soil is, surprisingly, dark and rich with minerals. Bright green Lucy grass, with its soft velvet-like blades, looks inviting enough to munch or lie upon.

Right at this very moment, the gardener Suthinan Pruchayaprut points out, millions of termites, his unpaid workers, are gnawing diligently on tree bark. They are performing their duty, he says, to complete the cycle of nature, and bring richness back to the soil.

"We just have to learn how to uncover the 'codes'," Suthinan says with a smile. "Here I grow whatever I am curious about."

From the looks of it, Suthinan's curiosity is boundless. His plot is a sanctuary of thousands of different fruits, vegetables, shrubs, and grasses. The abundant bloom of citrus, for instance, is the fruit of years-long research: he finally succeeded in transplanting limes onto an indigenous, more drought-resistant plant called krasang. The 56-year-old native of Buri Ram added that he has several cross-breeding "experiments" in the works. Perhaps the krasang tree could be mixed with other citrus fruits like pomelo and tangerine, too?

"There is no end for what we can learn. Ironically, there is a disease that has been plaguing our country. I call it the syndrome of ignorance."

This bleak self-diagnosis has prompted the elderly man, called Khru-Ba (leader) by his Isan fellows, to come up with an innovative, ambitious plan. He would like to set up a university run by and for farmers.

With preliminary support by the Knowledge Management Institute (KMI), Suthinan recently completed the first stage of his project: drafting a manual on soil improvement.

Aptly titled From the Sky to the Soil, the book is not a dense, scholarly treatise on parochial techniques. Suthinan has been working with scores of farmers in five different communities in Buri Ram. They are, he describes in his book, his team of "professional researchers", who supply him with real-life data.

Despite little schooling, the Isan farmers reveal their tremendous power of observation and analysis.

Sompong Putthaisong had been fuming over theft of his bananas: a young inflorescence had been mysteriously torn away. A few weeks later, he discovered that the premature cut was beneficial: all the fruits from that particular tree turned out to be consistently large and tasty.

Thus more experiments on trimming and limiting the number of inflorescence for each banana tree came about. The result has been satisfactory so far. Several farmers in Sompong's group have started to copy the technique as well.

Sometimes these innovative farmers must endure initial criticism. Suprom Jaewkudrua said his mother-in-law used to complain a lot about his buying truckloads of human excrement to use as fertiliser in his rice fields. Sompong the banana experimenter has had a similar unpleasant experience: he almost had to break up with his wife.

"I consider myself to have married twice _ but to the same woman," he joked.

"She was mad at me for spending so much time out in the fields doing things she couldn't understand. But when she saw how I could grow mulberry plants so well that she didn't need to buy the leaves from the market, we patched things up very quickly."

Misunderstanding does take time to resolve. Suthinan said that a number of farmers had been encouraged to adopt monoculture of cash crops without realising the hidden costs _ the long-term impacts on soil, water, air, and minuscule bacteria.

Take eucalyptus _ the cause of much chagrin among Thai farmers. At one time, the large-scale promotion of the tree, notably for the pulp and paper industry, led to drastic deterioration of the soil and water quality _ and indebtedness of the farmers themselves.

A lot of this has to do, again, with time. Suthinan said the reason for what appears to be the fertility of his "eucalyptus forest" is because he does not rush things. Unlike other farmers, he allows most of the trees to continue growing for 10 to 20 years. Only then will the eucalyptus starts to "pay back" what it has taken from nature.

"But what we do has been driven by greed; we cut the trees every three to four years to feed the pulp mill. By the way, eucalyptus is not the only thing I grow."

In fact, Suthinan added, had he been better informed, he might not have chosen the Australian imported plant at all. Over two decades ago, when Suthinan returned to his family estate in Ban Pakchong village, he was led to believe that eucalyptus was the only suitable choice to deal with the aridity of the area. Only much later did it dawn on him that a few indigenous trees _ the likes of Yang (Dipterocarpus alatus), Pradu and teak _ can survive on little water supply as well.

According to Dr Sawaeng Ruaysoongnoen, a specialist on soil management in the Northeast, a test of the soil quality in Suthinan's farm was highly positive. The diversity of plant species, with little intervention by humans, allows nature to replenish herself without the need to buy fertilisers from the outside, he said.

Suthinan added his next project includes collaboration with the Ubon Ratchathani University to open an undergraduate programme in sustainable agriculture. He considers it to be the ultimate success if he can groom college graduates to go back and work as farmers in their respective villages. His previous effort with another institute has not yielded a good result, Suthinan added.

For now, Suthinan is content with drawing up the potential curriculum for his own university, which he calls Maha-cheevalai Isan. The atypical titles of his up-and-coming classes reveal his deadpan sense of humour: the "U-turn of Life", "Come Back Home Children", "How Much to Pay for your Stupidity", "No Illness _ Best of Luck", and "Live with Forest _ Grow the Forest".

The innovative scheme is, in a way, the offspring of Suthinan's multifarious ideas.

For the past few years, Suthinan has been working with several other prat-chao-ban (local wise folks) in the southern Isan region. They plan to recruit a network of a million families over the next decade.

The goal is to free those farmers from the debt cycle. Statistics from the Ministry of Finance showed an alarmingly high debt level among northeastern villagers, and Suthinan's hometown, Buri Ram, was among the top three ranks.

The grassroots movement has been slow and subtle, however. Suthinan said he could only reach a few farmers at a time.

The switch to non-mainstream mode of farming is a time-consuming process: the farmers must be willing to subscribe to a version of the self-sufficiency mode of economy: growing for one's consumption before selling the surplus to the market. On the other hand, the government's high-profile dumping of cash into the rural sector may only escalate the vicious cycle, Suthinan cautioned.

"There has been a lot of debate on what exactly sustainable agriculture means. Personally I think there is only one definition: the kind that allows humans to live with nature. But nowadays we are among the world's foremost users of toxic chemicals, which we spend billions of baht to import too.

"Do you know how many thousands of years it takes to earn a teaspoonful of nutritious top soil? How about the humidity? The sunlight? But we keep 'withdrawing' from our own account without awareness of potential consequences.

"I've been trying to counter such ignorance. This does not mean that rural folks are not smart. Quite the contrary. But the questions of the times have changed, and we have to create, analyse, synthesise both the old and new sets of knowledge in order to answer them. Otherwise, the price of stupidity will be too high."

City to open vocational centre to help poor

Governor Apirak helps the Por Teck Tung foundation hand out goods to the poor during its annual charity giveaway event. — KOSOL NAKACHOL

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration will open a vocational development centre to alleviate poverty, says Bangkok governor Apirak Kosayodhin.

Mr Apirak was speaking during the Por Teck Tung foundation's annual charity giveaway event where he helped hand out food and other items to the poor.

``You can see that there are so many poor people turning up to get giveaways which reflects the poverty problem among city people.

``This is why the BMA wants to set up a vocational development centre,'' Mr Apirak said.

The city will coordinate with relevant agencies and other foundations to help run the centre with the assistance and advice of those with expertise in vocational development.

Few other details were available, such as when the centre would open

Learning PC repair skills at an early age

OUT OF THE BOX: Initiative turns schoolchildren into accomplished repair technicians


Thapakorn Kamlangleui, 12, is not only keen on using computers, but so far he has earned as much as 30,000 baht from repairing PCs in his village in Buri Ram province in the Northeast.

Young Thapakorn was among several students, teachers and others involved in an initiative to teach PC repair skills in remote schools, who were introduced to the media last week by the ICT Ministry in conjunction with its latest project to provide refurbished computers for use in schools.

The Prathom 6 (grade 6) student of Baan Nongpai School has been interested in computers for four years _ ever since he first saw PCs in his school.

Curiosity made him a fast learner after his teacher taught his class how to use a drawing program when he was in grade 4.

Admitting that he was not a good student in other subjects, Thapakorn is top of the computer class and is one of only two students in Baan Nongpai School who can fix computers.

Two years ago, Buri Ram MP Perapong Hengsavat initiated a project to teach students computer maintenance skills when he donated computers to Chumchon Baan HaisokSchool. Later, Mr Perapong learned that the school also needed service support and so he contacted a friend in Lat Krabang, Bangkok, who sold refurbished second-hand computers from Japan, Mr Parkpoom Permmongkul.

Mr Parkpoom, 39, the owner of NCC Computer and whom the children called "Kru" (teacher), then set up a computer curriculum based on his experiences, teaching students how PCs worked, what the parts were and how to fix broken PCs.

The holder of a bachelor's degree from the King Mongkut's Institute of Technology, Mr Parkpoom said he believed that children could do this because it was not difficult, adding that he had taught around 100 students so far.

When the students understood computer basics, they could manage any problem, no matter whether the PC was an old or a new model, he said. Mr Parkpoom still teaches the basic computer class for free in Buri Ram and Nong Bua Lam Phu provinces.

Students have more confidence when they have computer knowledge, said Buri Ram MP Mr Perapong, who added that those who could fix computers could also earn money.

Chalermlit Oakanit, 13, and Wuttinant Chaithaisong, 14, both students from Chumchon Baan Haisok, are other examples. Chalermlit can earn around 5,000 baht while Wuttinant can save around 3,000 baht a month from his PC repair service. "Fixing computers is not difficult because I am interested in technology," said Charlermlit, who wants to be a repair technician when he grows up.

They charge no minimum rate for their service, and the amount paid depends on how much a computer owner wants to give.

Their customers live in their communities and they also support the computer classes by helping to pay electricity bills and sometimes learning to use computers along with their children, said Chumchon Baan Haisok School President Ubol Chaichanavong.

"We get community support because they know the benefits of technology," he said, adding that the school was also a role model as to how schools could initiate community support.

ICT Minister Dr Surapong Suebwonglee said these schools in Buri Ram would help sustain the "ICT Computers for Children" project, officially launched last Friday. The Ministry expects to receive around 100,000 PCs as trade-ins to be donated to 4,500 schools nationwide in May.

In conjunction with the Education Ministry it will train two teachers at each school in basic computer usage and in hardware maintenance skills so that the schools would be able to take care of their donated PCs. The ICT Ministry would also provide an Internet access for schools under the project.

Interested schools or donors can contact the project hotline at 1111.

Remote PCs
The Education Ministry plans to introduce 300 mobile PC facilities in an effort to bring technology to remote schools.

According to Keartisak Sensai, director of the ICT Bureau of the Office of Permanent Secretary, the project will see at least 20 of the facilities rolled out next semester, starting around mid-May.

Each mobile unit will have around 14 PCs and a teacher, who will show young students how to use computers.

"The project will provide an opportunity for children in remote areas to play with and learn about computer technology," he noted.

The government aims to provide computers and Internet access to every public school by the end of 2005.

Assumption e-learning centre gets high-speed infrastructure

Cisco Systems (Thailand) has teamed up with Datacraft (Thailand) to deploy a high-speed network for Thailand's largest e-learning center at Srisakdi Charmonman IT Building, Assumption University.

Asawin Kangvolkij, managing director of Cisco Systems (Thailand), noted that the 10-floor building also houses the College of Internet Distance Education, which started operations in mid-2004 and can accommodate 100,000 students per year.

Cisco networking will enhance Assumption's e-learning system in terms of speed and performance, enabling it to compete with international universities, added Asawin.

Somchart Kanha, general manager of Datacraft (Thailand), said the network deployed at the e-learning center will accommodate a wide variety of applications across the campus.

The network is composed of Cisco's high-end equipment including a full range of Cisco Catalyst LAN switches, Cisco Wireless LAN solutions, as well as Internet routers and wireless access points. The deployment also includes data protection and access control.

The total project cost will be over 40 million.

After hardware installation, Datacraft set up a special team to manage IT operations at Srisakdi Charmonman IT Building and will provide dedicated support staff and system engineers to provide assistance to the university for two years.

It is claimed as the biggest networking project ever carried out in the education sector, according to Mr Somchart.

HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindkhom blessed the foundation stone of Srisakdi Charmonman IT Building in June and will preside over the opening ceremony on August 20.

Srisakdi Charmonman IT Building covers about 10,000 square metres and houses over 2,000 PCs and an Internet Distance Conference facility.

Also located here are the VP-IT Office and offices of several IT associations such as Thailand Chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), Thailand Joint Chapter of the Computer Society, the Engineering Management Society of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), Thailand Chapter of the Internet Society (ISOC), Thailand Internet Association, Association of Thai Internet Industry, and Prof Srisakdi Charmonman Foundation.

Other IT-related units include a Catholic data centre, Internet-based radio station, four TV production rooms, digital library, IT curriculum centre, Internet and computer security centre, software testing centre, gaming data centre, study centre for social effects, software engineering centre, and an e-government centre.


Tew Bunnag, on Bangkok: "It could go either way. It could be made more solid, but it could crack."

A life abroad prepared Tew Bunnag to examine his native city and analyse it critically and lovingly


There is Jeed, a provincial girl who goes to Bangkok to search for her missing brother, only to be sucked in by the city's powerful allure herself. Jong is a financially comfortable businessman, practically a stranger to his son who drifts into drugs while his father casually indulges in extramarital affairs. And there is May, a garland seller who by a twist of fate tastes the high life but finds herself happier when she returns to hawking in the streets.

These are the colourful characters _ some disturbingly familiar _ that inhabit Tew Bunnag's collection of stories about modern Bangkok. Fragile Days is not a gay montage, but a gritty portrayal of the contradictions convoluting Bangkok society today.

The characters are painted with a sure hand, so it is surprising to learn that the author only returned to Bangkok five years ago, after nearly a lifetime abroad.

But then Tew has amassed enough life experiences _ twists and turns, up and down, full circle at times _ to inspire many books.

Born in 1947 into the aristocratic Bunnag family, young Tew grew up steeped in traditional Thai values and customs. At the age of seven, however, he was packed off to boarding school in England, as was the typical practice in well-to-do families of the time.

"But those first seven years were very vivid years," he said during a recent interview in Bangkok. "They stay with you for life."

Throughout his life, Tew never lost touch, staying in contact with family and friends, keeping up with local news, and returning frequently for visits.

In the nearly 50 years he's been abroad, he's had his share of adventure. He graduated from the University of Cambridge in 1968, then travelled widely, hitchhiking around Asia and Europe. During those years, this son of a privileged family did not want to depend on money from home _ not that they were offering, he chuckled. Instead, he worked odd jobs, did manual labour, painted houses, picked fruit, fished, worked in olive groves. It was a tough time, but extremely educational.

During those years, he deepened his spiritual practice, reawakened during university, after having first been ingrained at an early age by his devout Buddhist Thai nanny. Since university, he has consistently studied and practised meditation, as well as tai chi and yoga.

All of these spiritual interests were combined when he returned to Cambridge in 1975 to set up a holistic spiritual therapeutic centre, combining Eastern practices with Western psychotherapy. The idea, highly progressive at the time, took off and spawned other centres in Europe and America.

Five years ago, his mother's ailing health drew him back to Thailand. He now devotes his energies to working with Father Joe Meier's project caring for the Aids-afflicted slum dwellers of Klong Toey. He also teaches tai chi and writes, figuring he has "at least 10 more years of writing", including a novel soon to be published.

Upon his return, he found a Bangkok much changed from his boyhood. The picturesque town lined by limpid canals had given way to, as he writes in his book's epilogue, something akin to "a paranoid hallucination" of "unfinished skyscrapers standing like skeletons against the horizon" and "black-water canals bubbling with plastic bags".

It was not just the physical landscape that had changed, however, but the societal and cultural underpinnings of Bangkok, and of Thailand at large.

The book tries to make some sense of it all. He saw in Bangkok a fragility, hence the book's title.

"[Bangkok] could go either way. It could be made more solid, but it could crack. I always start writing with a question, and here it was, are we going to get by or will we break?"

Rampant materialism is perhaps one of the most glaring, and destructive, aspects of modern Thai society. Also challenging traditional values are foreign influences flooding in due to globalisation.

Tew recalls: "In my times, there was a sense of belonging to a homogenous culture that was pretty comprehensive on its own. [There was] this sense of being sufficient in our culture. We didn't actually want to be anything else.

"If you're growing up now, you define yourself in terms of many different cultures ...We define ourselves in a way both from our indigenous culture, which I think is becoming very loose ... but also things coming in from outside."

It's not that he has any objection to outside influences, or that he holds the homogenous Old Bangkok as his ideal. In many ways, the society back then was "feudal and unjust" with its much more rigidly stratified class system.

But something that Old Bangkok had was a sense of solidity.

"When I left [Thailand] ... there was a kind of cohesion. Shared values. People knowing where they stood."

Now, Bangkok society is on the cusp between old and new _ without quite knowing where it stands and where it is heading in the future.

"I think there are vestiges of shared values remaining. I think there's a tension now. People are not sure what to let drop and what to hold on to, what new values to take on."

He looks to his own life as a microcosm. He has experienced agonising crises trying to grapple with the opposite pulls of east and west. While he may have been sure of himself when he left, he recalls the great confusion he felt when visiting Thailand as a young man, after British ways had "overlaid" the Thainess.

It was difficult to simply shed what was acquired and come back to resume an entirely different life.

"Who was I? How was I going to affix myself, at what level in this society?" The questions confounded him.

To help assuage the inner turmoil, he looked back to his roots in Buddhism for spiritual guidance.

"Little by little, my sense of self started taking shape. It ceased to be so important whether I was east or west, as long as I knew who I was inside. I had never looked at it that way. Suddenly those things [bothering me] started to have less of an edge.

"Kindness is kindness, whoever you are. Badness is badness whatever you call yourself."

Given the insight he was able to personally find in Buddhism, what role could it, as one of the most deeply rooted anchors of traditional Thai culture, play in addressing, perhaps even sealing, the cracks in the wider society?

"I think Buddhism has a big role to play... [but] I'm not quite sure whether it's Buddhism as it is today, the cultural Buddhism of making merit and saying your prayers.

"I feel it has to be dynamised, energised into something that has meaning and relevance for people who live and work and not just something outside [in temples]."

The question of how to combine the spiritual life with the worldly life is age-old, and has come up constantly for him personally ever since his days setting up spiritual centres in Europe.

His take _ his personal view, he stresses _ is to draw on the concept of the boddhisatva, one who has attained enlightenment but remains in the world to help the suffering, as the bridge. More widely recognised in Mahayana and Tibetan Buddhism than in Thailand's Theravada branch, he wishes to emphasize this Buddhist concept, "not like a god or goddess out there to be worshipped, but [as a] spiritual warrior, if you like, neither male or female, somebody who lives the spiritual life in the real life".

What about those who believe that the truest form of spiritual practice is renunciation and ordination?

"I beg to disagree," he laughs mildly. But then he turns serious. "The world is burning. You've got to be [spiritually] committed in the world."

Critics claim this is easier said than done. An individual may want to live by a moral code, trying not to oppress others, but the larger system he inhabits _ global capitalism or corrupt politics, say _ perpetuates a kind of structural oppression.

"Modern life is full of contradictions," he admits. "There's no easy way out.

"You have to really look at your conscience, look at what you can live with, and be honest to yourself. If you can't live that _ if that contradiction is too great for you _ then don't live it, because you'll only break yourself up and you're going to spread more suffering around."

He is speaking from experience, particularly his dilemma over whether to return to Thailand after university. He felt guilty about not coming back to "contribute", but he couldn't see himself taking the traditional path of the returned elite and become a civil servant or businessman and the contradictions they entail.

Yet, he sees there are people able to turn the tables and still do good.

"The whole thing is to keep questioning, to keep evaluating your life and what you do. The key to everything is to be conscious of what you're doing and [have] that consciousness guided by loving kindness."

But first, one must build basic awareness of wider Bangkok society. Tew believes many people, particularly the privileged, have an extremely limited experience of Bangkok.

"They don't make an effort to see how the rest of the city lives."

What is needed, he says, is more consciousness of the widespread poverty, the environmental degradation and other social ills.

His own consciousness is raised by his work in the slums. "I feel very replenished. I feel really privileged. I've learned so much from working there," he says.

A precious part of the experience has been witnessing the wealth of the poor. He does not romanticise poverty, "but you know what? Sometimes you see the wealth of poor people and it wakes you up to the poverty of rich people. The wealth poor people have is the sense of community, the laughter, the contentment with the very few things they have."

By contrast, the rich who are on a campaign to consume are caught in an inexorable march that never ends. "Once you get on the whole acquisition wagon, contentment goes out the window. [There is] awful suffering in that gap between dreaming of acquisition and the possibility of it."

Having said that, Tew has met many "wise people" from his travels all over the world who have chosen to live simply, to be content with little. "That, to me, is wealth," he said.

Tew remains excruciatingly cautious about being seen as judgmental and of sounding sanctimonious.

That's certainly not the purpose behind his book. "In my writing I try not to dish out formulas or put down Thai society. That's not my point. I write from a love. From a love. A tough love."

It's a sentiment shared by many writers and social commentators who uncover the seamier sides of a society in hopes of galvanising change. Tew aims for something perhaps even simpler _ to provoke an evaluation of society. One of the strengths of the Western world is rigorous, constant evaluation of what's going on that is its safety net, he says. To him, that kind of evaluation is underdeveloped _ if not missing _ in Thai society.

"I wrote to contribute to the questioning," he remarked.

By bringing out larger issues through people and real situations in his stories, he hopes to make readers empathise and start evaluating their own lives.

Has he tallied the results of his evaluation? Can he answer the question he started with: Will Bangkok break?

He answers without a moment's hesitation. "I'm an optimist. I think we'll get by. I think there's a natural intelligence here, which is not about formal education. Thais have a lot of resources."

And perhaps the essential saving grace is namjai, kindness and generosity. "I think in Thai society there's a lot of namjai, which is what makes it in the end very livable, even Bangkok."

Ultimately, his use of the word "fragile" is optimistic, if cautionary.

"When I say fragility, I mean fragility, I don't mean collapse. [Bangkok] is fragile. It needs care."

What kind of care? Keep evaluating. Keep conscious. Keep kind. That is Tew's personal mantra. If Bangkokians follow it, they may yet survive these fragile days.



Schools get a broadband promise


A volunteer English teacher from Triam Udom Suksa School talks to a first-year student at Wat Pathum Wanaram School. ICT Minister Surapong Suebwonglee has promised to provide broadband Internet access to every school in Thailand by 2008.

The Information and Communications Technology Minister has promised to provide broadband Internet access to every school in Thailand and link villages in remote areas with broadband wireless connections based on WiMax technology by the year 2008.

ICT Minister Dr Surapong Suebwonglee said according to a plan to promote Thailand as an ICT hub for the region over the next four years, the government would improve ICT infrastructure, boost the skills of local people and support more Thai content.

To increase the accessibility and availability of the infrastructure, the ICT Ministry would work with the Ministry of Education to increase PC penetration in schools.

At present, the PC penetration in high schools is one for every 100 students, while in Singapore the ratio is one computer per 25 students.

"In the next four years we will reduce the ratio to one PC for every five students," he claimed, adding that the PCs would be tools for students to improve their IT literacy as well as develop their graphic and animation skills.

In addition, the Ministry also plans to use WiMax _ an upcoming broadband wireless standard _ to link schools and villages in remote areas to the Internet.

"I plan to ask the National Telecommunications Commission to allocate the 5GHz band as a public frequency for WiMax connections. The technology will be used to connect remote area people to the Internet wirelessly," he noted.

The ministry will also set up national ICT centres in Bangkok at Central World Plaza and in ICT Cities Chiang Mai, Khon Kan and Phuket to provide low-cost ICT training for students and the public.

There will also be a Thailand "knowledge center" portal as well as multi-language programs to translate Chinese and English language web pages into Thai by 2008, he noted.

In terms of government services, there will be a one-stop e-government project where all Thai citizens will be able to use their smart ID cards to securely access public services, he said.

And finally the ministry will promote the software and service industry in fields such as animation and multimedia as part of the vision to make Thailand a web services global hub.

"We have worked with Microsoft and Sun," the minister said, noting that 60,000 people would be trained for .Net technology and 10,000 Java certified staff would be trained in the next three years.

Microsoft will invest some 268 million baht over three years to support the project, called



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:


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.


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.



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.

Five universities to offer courses electronically

Published on August 01, 2005

Believing that learning is not limited to the classroom, the Commission on Higher Education has teamed up with five universities to offer online education via Thailand Cyber University (TCU) by the end of this year.

Pavich Tongroach, secretary general of the Education Ministry’s Commission on Higher Education, said that the TCU offers pilot online management education projects to more than 20,000 students, teachers and the public nationwide.

“We offered a pilot project earlier this year and now provide basic information-technology courses to enhance IT literacy amongst people,” said Pavich.

The commission and five universities would provide online education to the public and students who want to participate in the courses over the virtual network by the end of this year. The five universities are Chulalongkorn University, Chiang Mai University, Kasetsart University, Silpakorn University and Naresuan University.

First, the TCU will offer five to 10 online courses in subjects such as computer engineering from Chulalongkorn University and mechanical engineering from Kasetsart University.

Other online courses, such as knowledge management from Silpakorn and a tourism course developed by Naresuan University, are also made available.

The electronic classroom would allow students to register to study and access online courses though the Internet, anywhere and any time they want.

The TCU also offers an electronic library to give students and teachers access to information and digital collections over the Internet. It also provides a learning resources sharing centre, aiming to be a centre where students and teachers are able to transfer information without going to the university.

“This is an alternative that allow students and the general public to reach online courses themselves,” said Pavich.

Jirapan Boonnoon

The Nation


The boom has attracted hordes of vendors from elsewhere, while garbage is starting to pile up



1st Para

Koh Kret, a top tourist spot well known for its ethnic Mon culture, faces a major change that threatens to take away its charm, an expert and a civic leader say.

The change has come about due to booming tourism under a vigorous promotion campaign by the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

On weekends, the little island on the Chao Phraya river opposite Pak Kret district town in Nonthaburi, once dubbed the ``Amazing Island'' by the TAT, is now crowded not only with tourists. Vendors from elsewhere also rent space from the locals to set up their stalls selling a variety of trendy clothes, ornaments, handbags, toys, food and other items alongside pottery _ the local product famous for its intricate design and craftsmanship.

``The uniqueness of Koh Kret is dwindling and Koh Kret on weekends is becoming more like Chatuchak market,'' said Prasert Rithsamroeng, an adviser to the Thailand Environment Institute (TEI), who supervises the Koh Kret Sustainable Development Project, together with the Society for the Conservation of National Treasure and Environment.

The project is being funded by the Thailand Business Council for Sustainable Development.

To start with, the boom in tourism has led to waste problems that appear to be getting more and more serious for the tiny island community.

``After talking to the islanders and asking them to list urgent problems that need solving, the locals said garbage and floods were the most pressing issues,'' Mr Prasert said.

Chusawasdi Thanthuranon, a 47-year-old native of Koh Kret, said that it was irresponsible tourists and vendors who were to blame for littering.

``Some tourists are mindful of keeping the island clean, but some of them are not. And there are also vendors who come in the morning and go back in the evening with lots of money in their pockets, leaving piles of garbage behind for us to clear away,'' Mr Chusawasdi said.

Moreover, there has been a decline in the Mon culture as people's way of life is changing.

Gradually disappearing are the Mon-style dancing and old traditions. For instance, authentic Mon cuisine has become a rarity.

``The traditional desserts made by Mon people are tasty and not so sweet, unlike those sold to tourists that are brought in from elsewhere,'' said Mali Wongchamnong, a 77-year-old native of Koh Kret.

Pottery too, is on the decline. While tourists might still see a variety of handmade products on the island, most of them are from elsewhere in the country.

Some come from Sukhothai, others from Lampang and Nakhon Ratchasima. The products from elsewhere, while being much cheaper than ones produced

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.