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The Rigsum Sherig Collection

A set of offline educational resources being offered to schools for free

In what should expand the role of the computer in serving as a tool of education, the Rigsum Institute of IT and Management’s research lab, last week, launched a collection of offline educational resources.

The collection is being offered to schools free of cost.

Called the Rigsum Sherig Collection, the electronic learning technology offers two major resources: an encyclopedia and a library of about 2,000 educational videos.

A Dzongkha to English and English to Dzongkha dictionary, developed by the Dzongkha Development Commission, and a Dzongkha typing tutor, developed by Rigsum, are also included among other minor resources.

Games on academic subjects, audio books, an office suite similar to Microsoft Office, designed specially for children, and even a software that would introduce the seemingly complex world of programming to students in a fun and simple way, are included in the collection.

There are two aspects to the e-learning collection that is relevant to the Bhutanese context.  One is that it can be operated offline, that is, it will bring resources that are usually only available through an internet connection to schools, which have no or slow internet connectivity.

As of March 2012, only 36 percent of government schools had access to the internet.

The other aspect is that it should expand the role of the computer as an educational tool in the school, not only for students, but teachers as well.

Rigsum Institute faculty member, Galit Shmueli, said that a major motivator was seeing computers in Bhutanese schools only being used to teach IT subjects, such as programming. “But computers can do much more than just teach IT, they can help learn everything else,” she said.

Boaz Shmueli, another faculty member, explained that both teachers and students could gain from the e-learning collection.  For instance, he demonstrated this by playing one of the videos under the mathematics section.  In the video, a man explains how to perform multiplication in a number of ways.  Boaz Shmueli said that such a video could be a resource for math teachers, looking for other ways to teach.

The videos have been obtained from the Khan Academy, an online library of over 4,000 videos, covering math and science topics to finance and history.  The videos’ coverage ranges from simple to complex areas.

Boaz Shmueli also explained that three versions of the Wikipedia encyclopedia are included in the collection.  On whether Wikipedia is a reliable and accurate source for students to be referring to, he said that the three versions consist of articles that have been curated or collected and reviewed by hundreds of editors.

One of the versions is written in “simple English”, while another is designed to be “child safe”, suitable for students in the lower grades or classes.  One offers 47,300 high quality articles.

The other benefits of using these offline versions of the encyclopedia would be that users cannot go into “inappropriate” areas of the internet, requiring less monitoring by teachers, it was pointed out by the two faculty members.  It was also pointed out that some schools have bought the physical editions of some encyclopedias, and that access to the encyclopedia is limited, given the need to preserve the condition of the books.

Galit Shmueli said that Wikipedia offers the choice of not having to spend up to Nu 30,000 to purchase physical encyclopedias, and not having to limit accessibility since it is electronic.  She also pointed out that, given the images, animations, and links within Wikipedia, research becomes easier and more fun.

Passang Tshering, a teacher from Bajo HSS, Wangduephodrang, said that, while his school is categorised as one of the best, in terms of internet connectivity in Bhutan, 50 percent of the time the internet is inaccessible, and, when accessible, download and upload speeds are slow.

He said that he plans to use e-learning collection often, and that he will be sharing it with other faculty at the school.  He also plans to establish research boots in different areas of the school, from where students can access the e-learning collection.  Eventually, he plans to also share it with the primary schools in the dzongkhag. “One amazing thing is that it’s free,” he said.

Galit Shmueli explained that the aim of the Rigsum research lab is not profit.  She said that Rigsum has other sources of income. “This is part of the social responsibility of Rigsum,” she said. “We also believe in making these types of resources and information available to everyone.”

By Gyalsten K Dorji

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