Thursday, January 8, 2009

Scary Computers

The digital age comes to Nepal, with more than a little trepidation.

Kamal Prasad Sharma, aged 12, a student at Saraswati Secondary School in a small village not far from Kathmandu, was afraid when he saw a computer for the first time.

"I didn't go near it. I was worried it might explode and kill me. It was only when the teacher called me saying it was harmless that I went into the room, but I still hesitated."

Things have changed now, he adds. "I'm feeling much better. The E-library has helped with my studies...... It's not only that - we can also play games and have fun."

The general reaction was similar.

Kamal says his parents were very excited when he told them about the computer and came to watch the very next day.

It was not only Kamal. His computer teacher, Shankar Prajapati, says all the pupils were afraid.
"They all worried they would catch some virus and fall ill or even die. But now they are familiar with computers," he says. "Even we teachers are gaining knowledge from the E-library. It's really helpful for us, too. "

It's part of an ambitious project.

The E-library concept was initiated by Help Nepal Network (HeNN), a non-governmental organisation. Its goals are to provide literacy and awareness about the use of computer and information technology, and to set up one E-library in each of Nepal's 75 districts, which range from the high Himalayas to the hot plains.

.....HeNN is setting up the libraries with the use of what is called the Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP). This is a free and open-source (accessible to everyone) package which connects one powerful central server in the school, using the Linux operating system, to a number of diskless low-end computers. When linked to the server, each computer receives a full Linux desktop.

This reminds me of my first dealings with computers; the mainframe-terminal setup at the School of Mines back in the early 1980s. They seem to be fascinating just about everyone in Nepal.

In front of the little shops on the rough village streets, men gather to play cards and drink tea. But even they have developed a fascination for the computer. So the school has arranged some computer classes for them, too.

It's not easy to set up.....

Villagers and students carried the computers up and down the steep hills and valleys to the Shree Koldung Devi secondary school, nearly two hours' walk from the main road.

....but they think it will be worth it.

Roshendra Dhoj Khadka of Help Nepal Network is very optimistic about the E-library project.
"I believe this information and communication technology project is essential. It may not be a basic requirement, but it's a tool to uplift the health and education sectors."