New Thai govt embarks on free WiFi and tablets for schools program

Thailand’s new government, led by the Pheu Thai party, wasted no time pushing ahead with one of its more unique pre-election pledges, to equip schools and students with tablet PCs and free WiFi.

The Bangkok Post has more details:

The new Pheu Thai-led government wants the winners of the next third-generation (3G) licence auction to make broadband and WiFi service available to schoolchildren.

The requirement will accommodate the party’s One Tablet per Child policy and free WiFi under universal service obligation conditions, says Pichai Naripthaphan, a party policymaker.

Mr Pichai, who is in the running to be the new information and communications technology (ICT) minister, said the new government was determined to start delivery of the first batch of 800,000 tablets to primary-school students nationwide next May at a cost of 4 billion baht. For the project to succeed, a nationwide broadband and WiFi network must be available in schools, he said.

With 3G in the pipeline for more than three years, and still on the cusp of being rolled out, the general rule of thumb with providing technology in Thailand is patience, patience and more patience.

In principle I am a big fan of the (so-called) One Tablet per Child policy which has the potential to help break down Thailand’s digital divide and provide access to, and an understanding of, the internet for young children who might not otherwise get the chance until much later.

The measure is also aimed at digitalising and enhancing the curriculum across the country.

According to Pichai, the tablets will be priced around $100 with the Education Ministry set to “head the project” up.

It has been more than five years since Nicholas Negroponte embarked on the critically acclaimed ‘one laptop per child’ project which brought basic $100 wind-up laptops to children in developing regions.

Last year the Indian government unveiled a $35 prototype tablet PC which it hailed as “the answer” to Negroponte’s earlier efforts.

It will be interesting to watch the development of the project, can the government really stick to its 4 billion THB budget on this?

And Thailand being Thailand, will the contracts and deals be scrutinised to prevent malpractice or dodgy dealings?