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Only a third of government schools have Internet access

While the internet was introduced to Bhutan more than a decade ago, the majority of schools in Bhutan still lack access to the world wide web.

According to statistics maintained by the education ministry, only 36 percent of government schools had access to the internet, as of March last year.  This translates to 229 schools of 635.  In contrast, all 26 private schools are connected to the internet.

It is also pointed out that most schools are connected via dial-up modems, which is considered an extremely slow connection by today’s standards.

Education ministry’s IT programme officer, Kinley Gyeltshen, said most schools have not been connected to the internet, given their remote locations and challenging geographical terrain.  He also pointed out that “limited budget” is another factor.

The lack of a clear ICT road map or vision for the education ministry has also impeded its progress to connect more schools, according to Kinley Gyeltshen.  However, he added, plans are underway to have in place an ICT master plan by this year.  He said, the education ministry hopes the government will fund 30 percent of the required budget to develop the ICT master plan.  The rest will be requested from the Temasek Foundation, a Singaporean philanthropic organisation. “We’re very positive that the foundation will help us,” he said.

As per the information and communications ministry’s national broadband policy, the aim is to achieve 100 percent internet connectivity for all academic establishments by the end of the next five-year plan, he added.

In the meantime, the education ministry, with the assistance of the information and communications ministry, and the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA), connected 35 higher secondary schools.  He said that the education ministry has also written to BICMA to connect the remaining 15 higher secondary schools.

Five schools were also connected wirelessly through the support of a Japanese foundation last year, he pointed out.

In the past few years, Bhutan Telecom data cards or dongles have also been distributed to some schools.  But slow internet access speeds using the data cards continue to be an impediment, according to Kinley Gyeltshen.

The education ministry has also requested the department of information technology and telecom to allow schools located nearby community centres to be able use the infrastructure as access points.

In terms of computer availability and access, every school with power supply has at least one to two computers, said Kinley Gyeltshen.  As of March last year, 136 of 527 government schools, mostly primary schools, had no electricity supply.

But, as a result of the Chiphen Rigpel project, Kinley Gyeltshen pointed out that each secondary school, or 168 schools, is now “fully equipped” with an IT lab.  For lower secondary schools, an IT lab consists of a minimum of 12 computers, while for higher schools it is a minimum of 15-20 computers, he said.

The education ministry is finding it challenging to supply computers to schools.  In the 2011-12 fiscal year, the education ministry supplied 587 computers to schools.  But this number was halved for the 2012-13 fiscal year as a result of its proposed budget being slashed in half.  Provided only Nu 10M, the ministry was able to supply only 261 computers, along with peripherals, such as printers and scanners.

Kinley Gyeltshen said the ministry has proposed a Nu 25M budget to supply computers in the next fiscal year.

Based on a survey conducted last year, out of 409 schools with internet access, 155 provide access only for school administration, which in some cases does not include teachers.  A total of 245 schools provide internet access for both teachers and students.

In 553 schools, there are 3,046 functioning computers, and 903 non-functional computers, the survey found.

Gyalsten K Dorji

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