Campaign Report Part 2 – achievements and lessons learned

by Travel Paulie on August 30, 2010

Computers for Schools, Maesot, Thailand

On the 29th June I officially launched my PCs for Migrant Children campaign.  I had originally expected it to be a quiet affair with a few modest donations permitting me to purchase perhaps one or two computers at most.  It turned out to be far more successful than I imagined and it kept me very, very busy in Maesot right up until the morning I left (which was last Sunday – 22nd August 2010).

This article form part 2 of a 3-part series.  Please use the links below to jump to the particular section you wish to view:

Achievements

For the school you all saw in the walkabout video, P’Yor Taung, I left it with a total of 5 computers.  2 of them were renovated machines, while 3 of them were purchased using donated money and installed by me.  Another smaller migrant school will receive a purchased computer once the final installation steps have been performed.  Each computer purchased had the following:

  • 17″ CRT Monitor
  • P4 2.0GHz+ CPU
  • 512MB RAM
  • 40GB HDD
  • keyboard + mouse
  • speakers, headphone and microphone
  • language learning software for English, Thai, and Chinese
  • office productivity suite – word processing, spreadsheets, presentation software

Each of these bundles cost approximately ฿6500~7000.

Other provisions included:

  • UPS repair
  • printer repair
  • DVD-RW drive to replace broken unit
  • VGA graphics card to replace broken unit
  • electrical socket extension units
  • miscellaneous electrical items for the newly built computer/storage room

The total costs of all of these goods was approximately ฿29,000.  Further, before leaving Maesot, I provided an extra ฿6,000 to cover some other costs associated with ongoing repairs of hardware that have broken since installation.

One other important development was the training that I provided to one of my hosts.  He was keenly interested in learning about what I was doing with computers and through helping revamp his in-house desktop computer and laptop, and by delegating installation for one or two of the donated desktops to him, I have been able to create a fledgling IT support person in a community that seemingly has no-one capable of operating in this capacity.

To learn it all in a few weeks was a tall order, and while he has a long way to go, he is has come very far already and is learning a lot while taking on the challenges that these old computers are facing him with.  He is now by-far the only person I met in the community with the ability to reinstall computers from scratch with important drivers and applications.

So, the children with these computers now have basic IT exposure – I heard it was spoken by several of the students literally “We’re getting computers?  What are they?” – they will have a platform of English and Thai language-learning that will supplement their in-school classes and they will have the option to learn Office and productivity programs should they ever require these in the future (such as in university).

Lessons Learned

I’ll start with the smaller lessons first and work my way up to most significant.

  1. Computers, especially second-hand computers, break very easily in the environments such as this.  I figure it’s down to a combination of the dust and the heat.  This regular breakdown-repair cycle is both time-consuming and costly.  It sapped much of my time and mental space throughout the whole process.  I don’t know of any way around this however…
  2. It is very important to deploy computers configured in such as manner as to be practically unbreakable by the average user.  Most computers, even the one you are using right now, are setup so that the primary user has administrative privileges.  This is terribly bad practice and while I knew this “lesson” before entering this project, putting it in practice confirmed this.  It requires a bit more work in the setup stage, but it’s well worth it.
  3. Importing computer hardware into Thailand a complete pain in the ass.  Everyone with any past experience in the area will tell you this, and while I have experienced the same thing, I think the biggest problem is my lack of Thai language ability.  Nothing is really that impossible.  The problem is two-fold – Thai people can’t be bothered with the hassle, and no-one really could care enough to take the time necessary to understand the import and customs laws.  Perhaps if and when I am in a position to understand them myself I will hit a brick wall too, but I doubt it.  The money that could be spent to import good second-hand hardware (taxes, bribes etc.) must surely be less than the cost of new and even second-hand hardware.  The opinions of most people in this area is just too fatalistic for my liking.
  4. Computers use electricity.  This adds to the running costs of the school/institution that uses them.  Therefore if you, or I, independently decide to donate computers to already budget-strapped schools, taking this into account is very important.  This leads me on to…

… the biggest lesson I have learned is one that we all probably know already, at least on a conceptual level, and it is that the best people to determine the needs for a given situation are the people who are in that situation.  Sounds pretty intuitive, huh?  Well it is.  As outlined in my previous article, I arrived with the expectation of providing IT support and I discovered upon arrival there wasn’t any IT to support.  So, I decided to create some.  The problem is that I had very little understanding of the situation there, the cultural hurdles I’d be tripping over without knowing it, and no real understanding of the true needs of the children, the teachers, and the school(s).

What does this mean in regards to this project?  It means that I was spending money on computers, that I felt were needed to assist in the education and development of the children.  The advantages to having computers for learning are clear and have been discussed many times.  However, is it computers that these children really need?  I have discussed in several articles on the importance and relevance of English teaching in these migrant schools.  Computers frankly fall under the same discussion, though in a slightly different context.  I will write in the future about this, but for now I’ll just say that the money raised through this campaign, while it has provided IT exposure and an IT-learning platform that provides language-learning (Thai and English) supplements, I wonder could the money have been better spent?  Better spent how?  I’ll cover that in a future article.

End of Part Two

Okay, so far I’ve covered why I did this campaign, how much money I received in donations, what I achieved with that money, and some of the lessons I have learned in the process.  There is room of course to expand on the learned lessons and I’ll probably do so shortly, however I think the most appropriate thing to address next is plans for the future in this regards, and some photos/video to show the computers in the school itself.  These will be covered in part 3, to follow soon…

As always, if you have any questions, comments, or feedback either on this project or these articles, please feel free to use the comments section below.  I will try to address all questions/issues/comments raised as quickly as possible and as internet-access allows.  Thank you for visiting, and for you continued support.

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