The five-year Nu 2.05 billion project concluded yesterday 

ICT: It is estimated that at least 200,000 Bhutanese were impacted by the Indian government assisted Chiphen Rigpel project that officially ended, yesterday.

Begun in April 2010 with an ambitious goal to transform Bhutanese society into an IT enabled knowledge based one in five years, more than 125,000 Bhutanese including students, teachers, monks, and civil servants, among others, had directly been trained through the project till date.

It is also estimated by NIIT that more than 30 percent of the Bhutanese population was impacted by the project.

Chiphen Rigpel had six components that included enabling e-governance, empowering teachers and taking ICT to schools, enabling employability, furnishing tertiary institutes with ICT training centres, reaching the unreached, and e-waste management.

In all the six components, targets were either met or exceeded.

“All these figures have been checked, crosschecked, audited, so these are real figures, no exaggeration here,” information and communications secretary, Dasho Kinley Dorji said while addressing those gathered for the closing ceremony.

He also provided an example of the kind of changes that had occurred at the government level. One of the first activities carried out was a two-day training for some of the government’s top most officials. Three of these officials had never touched a computer prior to the training, Dasho Kinley Dorji said.

Soon after, they were using iPads, and virtual cabinet sessions were also being considered. “So it had that kind of very dramatic impact,” he said.

The Indian government chose multinational company NIIT to carry out the project.

NIIT Chief Strategy Officer, Udai Singh, said that the project’s largest impact would be felt through the schools. The project set up 168 computer labs in schools nationwide and over 100,000 students attended IT classes in the past five years. The project also jointly with the education ministry developed an IT curriculum that begins by class VII.

From next year, students who graduate out of the formal school system would have undergone all six years of the IT curriculum. “I’m confident … they should have no problem whatsoever working with computers and using them effectively for the rest of their lives,” Udai Singh said.

However, he added that he hoped internet connectivity in Bhutan would further improve so that students are provided with an opportunity to go beyond the curriculums of all subjects and a more ambitious learning transformation can take place in classrooms.

It was also pointed out that the project had also focused on training teachers to create their own content and upgrade curriculums, so that constant revisions can take place, and less reliance on outside agencies is required.

A survey carried out by NIIT in the last six months found that the majority of students and teachers are confident about using a computer without any supervision today. More teachers are also using them as teaching aids in the classroom.

Udai Singh said that the project impacting at least 200,000 Bhutanese is a conservative estimate. He said in reality between 120,000-130,000 directly learned from the project. These learners, for instance, school students would then go on to impact their parents or grand parents. “So really that is a multiplier effect that takes place, which is why conservatively we can say that 200,000 people have been impacted, when in reality, it could be a larger number,” he said.

As part of the project’s effort to reach the unreached it introduced 131 HiWEL playground learning stations, based on the Hole in the Wall concept, which the government combined with the community centres.

However, there was criticism that some of these playground learning stations were located in places that led to their underutilization. Udai Singh said that earlier this year, 13 stations were relocated to areas where they would be better utilized.

Some additional activities also took place. NIIT provided scholarships through the Youth Development Fund, and an inter-school IT skills competition was held earlier this year.

Udai Singh said that an internet based learning portal called NIIT TV would also be made available to Bhutan free of cost. NIIT TV will offer free training programmes to Bhutanese.

“Today after five years we can proudly say that we have successfully enabled Bhutan to achieve the objectives of this project and build a strong foundation for its continuing journey towards empowering citizens through ICT and building a knowledge society,” he said.

Indian Ambassador Gautam Bambawale, in his address, said that while large amounts of information are available today, the challenge is how to utilize that information in a useful manner. He added that those who would be able to access, analyse and use it productively would move ahead rapidly.

Chiphen Rigpel, he said, had attempted to teach as many Bhutanese how to utilize technology and move ahead individually, which in turn would allow Bhutan to move ahead rapidly.

“There is little doubt that Bhutan has indeed emerged as a knowledge based society with its people adept at utilizing these new technologies in their work-sphere, in their work place, in the classroom,” he said.

However, there are challenges that come along with such development, he said, for one, terrorism. “Let me state clearly from this podium that if Bhutan needs any assistance in the field of cyber security, India as one of your closest partners, would be perfectly happy to help,” he added.

The Indian government funded Chiphen Rigpel at a cost of Nu 2.05 billion.

Information and communications minister, DN Dhungyel, thanked the Indian government for its support and pointed out that Bhutan is where it is today, when it comes to IT skills, because of Chiphen Rigpel. Lyonpo also said the project was a model of cooperation between the governments of Bhutan and India.

Gyalsten K Dorji