LEARNING IN THE ROOM FOR LIFE
Rural people deserve the same access to information as their urban counterparts, says Mr Hawker.
Rural centres use iPSTAR satellite technology to put university resources online and help bridge the digital divide
Story by SOMPORN THAPANACHAI
With a passion to bring better education to remote areas in Thailand and the assistance of the cutting-edge technology of the iPSTAR broadband satellite, Sat-Ed System Co is preparing to deliver its first learning centre in Nakhon Ratchasima. The learning centre, located at the provincial chamber of commerce office, is known as a "room for life". It will be equipped with 20 computers or television sets linked to the company's digital-library servers. Students will be able to search for course information stored on the servers, with a capacity of 240 gibagytes, the equivalent of 150 hours of high-quality video, according to John Hawker, the CEO of Sat-Ed System.
He said the company had worked with several universities to put the contents of their short courses in the digital library, so the learning centre would become the outpost for universities to reach people who could not leave their homes to take courses at universities in Bangkok.
Our digital library will have any type of educational information _ from English-language training, computer courses, nursing training to short vocational courses,'' said Mr Hawker.
He said the government could also use the site to educate farmers about new agricultural technologies as the digital library could be linked to television sets as well. At present the Thai Chamber of Commerce is the main supporter of the venture.
Mr Hawker said connectivity with TV sets would give people unfamiliar with computers a chance to learn because anyone can use a TV remote-control.
A similar learning centre could be set up in any province with an investment of around one million baht. Mr Hawker said the company was looking forward to working with partners who would like to help the improve education systems in their provinces.
Users of the centre will pay for access to information and the revenue will be divided among the content providers, Sat-Ed as a system provider, and chambers of commerce or businessmen who invest in creating the centre.
Information in the digital library can be updated every night via iPSTAR so users will always have access to the latest material.
The company recently concluded a project with a few chambers of commerce and is now discussing it with another six chambers in northeastern provinces.
Besides developing the learning centre in a city in each province, Sat-Ed wants to provide access to information to people in remote areas, beyond the reach of telephone networks.
Mr Hawker said rural people also wanted access to the same information, especially through the Internet, as people in the capital enjoyed. Therefore, small village learning centres could help narrow the digital divide.
Sat-Ed plans to set up village learning centres, with six to seven workstations that could be either computers or television sets. The centres would also act as IT hubs providing services such as facsimile, photocopying and printing to people in the community.
The company wants people with an information-technology background to operate each centre, which requires an investment of less than 400,000 baht. The projection of gross income is around 10,000 baht per month so the business could break even in about three years.
There are many computers left unused in villages after they broke down due to frequent blackouts or brownouts. The centre could help fix bring those computers into use again,'' he said.
Mr Hawker said the centres would have a learning environment fostered by face-to-face communications with other users in the "room for life''. This is different from e-learning via the Internet, in which some students feel left out and lack the will to finish the courses.
The company anticipates having around 20 city-learning centres by the end of this year and expects as many as 100 sites next year. It believes that 500 to 1,000 village centres could also be set up easily next year.
Mr Hawker noted that companies with nationwide branches that needed training could also use its system to conduct training at branches instead of sending workers to the head office.
Although Sat-Ed System was established in Thailand in June, it has worked in Thailand through its Singaporean office for over a year. The company also provides its system in Laos, Malaysia and Singapore and has a plan to enter Cambodia.