Nº 2 2014 > Connect a School, Connect a Community project
Spotlighting Sri Lanka
Education to reach 8500 students in 33 provincial schools, with help from ICT
The Connect a School, Connect a Community project in Sri Lanka is helping to bridge the rural-urban digital gap and opening up economic opportunities for rural communities.
The project has been received with great enthusiasm by students and community members alike. Yeheni Shanika, a grade 9 student at Gonawala Vidyalaya School, Ginigathena, for example, had this to say: “I don’t have a computer in my home and my friends don’t have computers in their homes either. We now have our own computer lab at our school. So now I have the chance to learn with computers. The first thing I learnt was how to draw and colour pictures. Other than that, I learnt how to use dictionaries, the calculator and study the e‑THAKSALAWA online educational programme of the Ministry of Education. I found the Internet really wonderful and fantastic. We can search information and pictures, listen to music and watch educational movies. Occasionally, we get the chance to play computer games.”
Another example is from M.N.M. Akmal, a blind student at Zahira Primary School, Special Education Unit, Puttalam, who has benefited from the project. “The computer lab equipped for people with special needs gives us a great opportunity to learn ICT lessons easily and effectively. We can now improve our ICT skills and knowledge. I am really enjoying my classroom lessons, reading stories, listening to songs, among other activities. Since I can’t do these things at home, I am now even more eager to attend school.”
The project was launched in 2011, following its successful implementation in Nicaragua. That year 25 schools in the Akuressa, Southern Province education zone, each with an average of 100 students, were converted into community ICT centres after being connected to broadband Internet and receiving basic computer equipment. Following that positive pilot stage, the project took on a new dimension in December 2013 when ITU and the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) announced plans to extend its scope to nine provinces in all 21 districts countrywide.
The extended programme covered another 33 remote primary and secondary schools that currently have low connectivity and little digital literacy and benefited over 8500 students as well as the communities where these schools are located. It was formally launched by Sri Lankan Education Minister, Bandula Gunawardana, at a ceremony marking the opening of a primary school computer laboratory in Homagama, Padukka, Colombo District. During the inaugural ceremony, TRCSL Chairman Lalith Weeratunga said: “This school and rural community-oriented ICT project will be beneficial to the rural sector and, in the future, these schools will play a key role in the penetration of ICT knowledge into rural and remote areas of the country.”
The extension project was launched as a result of proposals made during the Multi-stakeholder Partnership Meeting at the Connect Asia-Pacific Summit held in November 2013 in Bangkok, Thailand. ITU and TRCSL are covering the initial funding of the hardware and software for the ICT centres. The schools will then take over the running and maintenance of the computer laboratories, with telecommunication operators providing broadband Internet connectivity at reduced rates.
Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Education Secretary, Anura Dissanayake, reasserted the ministry’s commitment to the project: “The Ministry of Education is committed to equipping teachers and students in Sri Lanka with digital literacy skills in order to empower them to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the global economy and the project will bring technology into the classroom and allow teachers to teach their students critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration skills.”
ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, who was represented by Dr Eun-Ju Kim, ITU Regional Director for Asia-Pacific, said in a statement: “This is a smart initiative which sets a milestone in driving ICT access to rural and remote areas and benefits not only teachers and students, but also the communities where they live. Such an innovative public-private-peoples’ partnership, which promotes school-based community ICT centres, represents an attractive, affordable, inclusive, scalable and sustainable step forward in providing digital opportunities for the people of Sri Lanka. This is certainly an excellent way forward to realize the Asia-Pacific Vision 2020: Smartly DIGITAL, which was endorsed in November 2013 by leaders at the Connect Asia-Pacific Summit held in Bangkok, Thailand.”
The Connect a School, Connect a Community project in Sri Lanka is a public-private-peoples’ partnership involving ITU, TRCSL, the Sri Lanka Ministry of Education, the Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, as well as various institutions and ICT equipment providers.
’’I would love to have a suitable career in the computer field in the future. So, I would like to give my warm thanks to ITU, TRCSL, and the Ministry of Education for giving us this rare opportunity,’’ concluded Yeheni Shanika.