Preliminary evaluations of the ICT programme indicate that a computer literacy programme of high standard is being implemented by the resource group.
The benefits that the resources in the computer centre have brought to pupils at NIVI are many:
These advantages are enjoyed by pupils until the end of lower secondary school. When they move on to the higher secondary school they no longer have the same access to computer technology. Five laptops were later given to the Jigme Sherubling Higher Secondary School by the project. During the second phase of the project there was discussion as to how future work might cater for the needs of higher secondary school students. The appointment of Leki Zangmo at the higher secondary school as ICT instructor for visually impaired students is a positive development in this respect. Leki takes computer literacy classes for classes 11 and 12 and helps visually impaired students after school.
Visually impaired adults who attended the vocational ICT courses, are very optimistic about their future education:
"The students have high hopes and expectations. They assure us that with the training, they will be able to download reference books via Internet, prepare better for the future; write their assignments, class work and project work, print and submit to the respective lecturers immediately. They feel that instead of depending on recording lecturers notes on an ordinary tape recorder or seeking assistance from sighted colleagues they can now independently take notes in class."
- feedback received from participants on the second in-service course.
Feedback from course participants also emphasizes the unique opportunity they have been given by the ICT programme:
"The trainees mentioned that none of them had availed such computer courses in the past. While they had typing skills using an ordinary English keyboard typewriter (as had been taught in the Institute) they had no knowledge about the use of a computer. The one month training had brought a pivotal change in their lives, be it in their studies, jobs or in their personal day to day lives."
"The training provided knowledge and skills which otherwise would not have been possible to obtain through studying the reading materials or by participating in regular training for the sighted. The provision of advice and techniques for the blind was extremely valuable so as to prevent irrelevant techniques."
Visually impaired teachers have also benefitted from ICT training. Many visually impaired Bhutanese are employed as teachers in ordinary school. Tshering Yedon and Pema Dorji, both teachers near Paro, were very appreciative of the help they had received on the in-service course and wished to make full use of the technology. They did however mention the lack of technology in ordinary school which prevents them using their new skills. They wish their pupils to submit work in electronic format, but their pupils do not always have access to a computer. In time they both hoped that technological progress would also allow visually impaired teachers like themselves to become more self reliant.
Access to computer technology is helping visually impaired in other occupations:
"The telephone receptionists realize that with these skills, they would now be able to prepare monthly reports, up-date the numbers of official and private calls, check and balance the amount spent for the telephone budget."
"The Buddhist Lama feels that he can now browse Internet and acquire more knowledge on his subject, support day to day work in the office of the monastic body, correspond and keep track with friends and relatives. "
- participants on the third in-service course.
The development and teaching of the ICT curricula at NIVI and the use of these curricula as a model for ICT education in mainstream school is very encouraging with respect to promoting ICT skills for disabled users in the future. Computer literacy among visually impaired users is steadily expanding through the introduction of computers to teachers and other visually impaired adults. Kuenga Chhoeygel continues his commitment to the work at NIVI and during the final year of the project took responsibility for ICDL training for other teachers at the Institute. Four teachers have now completed six modules of the ICDL.
The success of these initiatives should also be attributed to the hard work and dedication of the resource group. The close co-operation and contact with Norwegian colleagues, established during their initial training at MediaLT, enabled the resource group to achieve sufficient technical expertise and an understanding of how best to use this expertise in the work that lay ahead. Time away from responsibilities at home was also a key factor in their development from a group of five teachers from different backgrounds to a well organized resource group during the early phase of the project. The expertise and technology acquired in Norway provided the basis for further training and support when they returned to Bhutan. Through contact by e-mail, Skype, and online teaching they were able to receive continuous support from MediaLT allowing quick solutions to any problems that arose at the computer centre. Online teaching, a relatively new concept in this type of development work, proved to be a very effective way to update the resource group . As the resource group expanded, they were able to successfully pass on their expertise to newer members.
Some of the training, for example training in web design for a larger group, would have been easier "face-to-face". This could have taken place in Bhutan. MediaLT planned for a web course and DAISY course in Bhutan in October 2011 but after protracted discussions about the venue for the course, in Khaling or at a more central location in the West, the trip was unfortunately cancelled.
Adequate management of the computer centre at NIVI will be important for the future sustainability of the ICT programme. When the centre was first set up concerns were raised about the state of the school buildings. Subsequent work on the new administration building is a positive indication that the authorities want to support the Institute and improve conditions there. The Institute must maintain the computer building in a proper condition if the computer centre is to function well. Responsibility for the technical maintenance of the computer hardware, software and computer network at the centre, has now fallen to newer members of the resource group. The absence of Leki Zangmo, who was originally intended to manage the centre, was a recurring topic on the agenda at meetings held at NIVI and at the Department of Education during 2008 and 2009. Wangchuk travelled abroad in 2010 and the newest members of the group must now take responsibility for the centre.
The initiatives taken by the resource group to develop ICT education in school, and the success of the vocational courses for adults, deserve respect. Their hard work and dedication has laid a solid foundation for the future. Official recognition of the work, through the appointment of two members of the resource group, Tshering Lhamo and Pema Chhoeygel, to positions at the Department of Education with responsibility for Special Education, is a very positive signal that the authorities will support the ICT programme for the visually impaired in the future. The appointment of Pema Chhogyel demonstrates the very essence of the project, that computer literacy is a powerful tool that enables disabled persons to play a key role in society.
Another important result of the project is the founding of the Disabled People's Association of Bhutan. This was on the initiative of the visually impaired. They have formed a user network enabling professionals and teachers to remain in contact and stay informed about the latest updates to assistive technology. At a meeting with the Department of Education in Thimphu in May 2011, Magne, Einar and Nils discussed the possibility for a follow-up project to support the new organization and help them with further technological development.
In conclusion, the strategy employed in this development project, advocating the simultaneous transfer of knowledge and technology from a technological partner with the relevant expertise, has achieved good results during the course of the project. We hope that there will be future opportunities to use this strategy in other developing countries.