In the middle of an armed conflict, Sat-Ed Systems is delivering educational video on demand and other broadband services to nine local schools in the south of Thailand.
The area is the Deep South of Thailand where separatists are fighting the Thai army. The insurgents are fighting a guerrilla war against the government infrastructure and one of their favourite targets has been schools and teachers. School buildings have been the targets of bombings and teachers have been targeted for assassination from drive-by motorcycle shootings. Against this backdrop, Sat-Ed Systems decided to trial the concept of providing teachers with video clips to illustrate lessons. These brave teachers continue to go back to the school day after day even though they are at great risk...
The first step was to source content for the schools. Sat-Ed aggregated culturally sensitive educational content for the schools from its content partners. Sat-Ed’s goal is to first look for existing content and then, if necessary, create content if none exists. Through their partners, Sat-Ed was able to obtain content that enhanced the educators’ ability to teach while ensuring that it fitted into the curriculum and was sensitive to the Islamic religion which is predominant in this area.
Building upon the research of the Jasper Project from Vanderbilt University, Sat-Ed focused on delivering content that would not replace teachers, but instead would enhance their effectiveness by delivering short video clips highlighting visually what a teacher is trying to impart. Using these video clips in tandem with the curriculum, the student is more likely to learn and retain knowledge. The Jasper Project proved that students that are taught by educators in conjunction with video enhancements learned more quickly, retained that knowledge and felt better about the subject matter. This is not a replacement of the educator but simply a tool. It might be clips of a frog being dissected for a biology class or a chemical reaction for a chemistry class or news clips of events in history. It has also been used to great effect in language courses as well using native speakers in the clips.
Sat-Ed has decided to use a digital system to deliver the content. As the system is based upon IPTV protocols, teachers with no computer or ICT experience can instantly access the material using a common TV remote control and TV in the classrooms.
The real challenge was delivering the content cost effectively in a zone of armed conflict. Using DVDs or VCDs is an obvious way to deliver the material. However, in the area Sat-Ed is working, anyone on a motorcycle can be a target. Caching of content within the school by satellite is actually cheaper than making and delivering DVDs direct to schools. The second problem with using DVDs and VCD is that within the school they can often be lost, damaged or misplaced.
Content is delivered and updated by satellite. Using Sat-Ed’s Head-End uplink in Bangkok, the content was delivered via satellite to the nine schools. There it was received by digital libraries and cached. The Sat-Ed Digital Library is a proprietary satellite receiver, video on demand server, a web cache, a Digital Rights Manager, a reference library and a bandwidth “multiplier.” The digital library is able to play out different video streams to 8-12 separate classrooms at a time as well as manage 50 PCs. Each digital library can be updated as often as necessary and old content can be removed and new content can be added. This is done remotely through the satellite and is effective and efficient.
The third step was training the staff to use the digital libraries. Sat-Ed hosted a weekend training session for the nine schools and brainstormed with the headmasters and their staff on how to best use the technology for their needs. They were also trained extensively on the use of and troubleshooting of the digital libraries. These digital libraries are built to military specifications to be rugged and durable and need little or no maintenance.
The final step was to implement the system and continue its use. At the end of six months a consortium of three Thai universities did a comprehensive study to determine the effectiveness of the system and found that seven of the nine schools were using it extensively and found it a great help and that the students showed dramatic improvement. The other two schools had been slow to implement and had not used it often or effectively.
One year into the project, the Thai government is in discussions to expand the project and some of the schools have even begun producing their own content to share with others. The project will expand to include more schools and a deeper penetration of existing classrooms.
On a final note a small story. As the headmistress of one of the schools called Sat-ED a few weeks after training, a passing motorcyclist fired repeatedly at the headmistress. She escaped injury but the person standing next to her was seriously injured. The headmistress reiterated her commitment to the project and vowed not to let the violence stop her children from a good education. Sat-Ed provides the technology but the real heroes are the teachers and staff of these schools working under extreme conditions.
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