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Children in rural Nepal discover magic of www

world Updated: Nov 03, 2009 10:34 IST

Ask them the capital of Belgium and each of the 25 students, bubbling with excitement, clicks away on Google search. Within seconds, uncertain only of the pronunciation, they cry as if in unison, "Brussels!" They are Class 9 students in Jaljale village of central Nepal.

Until a week ago, the concept of a computer was alien to them. "It looked like a TV at first," said Archana, one of the students.

But Archana is already adept at video chatting and her peer Safal calculates how much his father earns in US dollars - thanks to high speed internet availability at the new wireless computer lab in their government-run Amar Jyoti Gaunpharka Secondary School in Pokhara district.

Their quest for knowledge using the world wide web (www) has only just begun. "I love using the computer. My grandparents send me to school with a lot of difficulty. I want to become a teacher some day," Archana told visiting journalists.

The lab was established as part of a project involving the local community, the education department, Nepal Telecom and NGO Room to Read. In the tough terrain where landline connectivity often fails, the lab has 3G CDMA broadband internet connectivity provided by chip manufacturer Qualcomm.

As part of this project, four more wireless labs were established last week in the Kaski and Kavre regions of Nepal and six labs in Can Tho Province of southern Vietnam.

Damodar Sapkotia, headmaster of the school, said: "We are extremely glad and thankful that this lab was established. We feel privileged that we are one of the first schools in the country where an innovative idea of using technology for furthering education is being implemented."

In addition to providing training to students about basic computer skills, each lab will also use technology to teach other subjects like English, maths and science.

"Access to online resources and educational materials can have a life-changing impact on students. Not only will they have connectivity that enables access to learning materials and communities for the first time, they will also have the opportunity to gain specialised skills and training," said Paul E Jacobs, chairman and CEO of Qualcomm.

Former Microsoft executive and Room to Read's founder John Wood said the project was all about providing opportunity.

"We want to give opportunities to children whose families face a cruel paradox - they are too poor to afford an education, but unless they have it they will always be poor. Now with the addition of technology and the internet, these children will have access to a whole new world," Wood told IANS.

He came backpacking to Nepal around 10 years ago and that's when he came across a school with barely any infrastructure. What struck him was that there were no books in the library.

"The principal told me that if I was so concerned I should bring the books. On my next visit that's exactly what I did - now Room to Read has established 750 schools and 7,000 libraries across the developing world," Wood stressed.

He added that to sustain the project, the computer labs had to involve the community who foot 20 per cent of the set-up and maintenance cost. "They need to feel they own the lab to use it."

At the Amar Jyoti Gaunpharka Secondary School, residents of the nearby area, students and parents contributed Nepali Rs 322,436 for the lab and the computer lab maintenance committee, after setting up the lab with a teacher, managed to save Nepali Rs 85,953.

As many as 10,000 of the 30,000 government-run secondary schools in Nepal are run by a community-government partnership.

Although the computer lab is in its pilot stage which would last three years, the government is quite hopeful of replicating the project on a much larger scale eventually.

"The government is not capable of sustaining such initiatives alone. So it is good that the people are themselves involved. I am happy that in this age young kids are getting equipped with new technology. These schools piloting the project have set an example for the rest of the country," Dipendra Bikram Thapa, Nepal's education secretary, told IANS.