Lhakpa Quendren

Frequent power outages, unreliable internet services, shortage of computers, and lack of budget pose significant challenges to the Digital Drukyul flagship programme in remote schools of Sarpang and Zhemgang.

In Sarpang, seven primary schools confront severe shortages of computers, with only 10 computers in each school. This scarcity leads to six students sometimes having to share a single computer for their lessons and projects.

Sarpang’s principal dzongkhag education officer, Pema Thinley, said that internet service issues continue to persist despite the telecom companies having increased their internet speed. “We have an agreement where the Bhutan Power Corporation (BPC) must immediately restore the power. The dzongkhag ICT and education sectors have to address any disruptions in WiFi and internet services.”

The lack of computers for both students and ICT teachers could impede the progress of 21st-century ICT coding, according to Pema Thinley.

The dzongkhag education sector faces challenges in procuring computers without support from the central agency and will continue to face the same challenges. Additionally, there is no budget allocated for the maintenance of non-functional computers.

In Zhemgang, three to five students share a computer, and despite using generators to run ICT classes or recharge laptops, the shortage of computers hampers progress.

Sonam Lhazin Lhamo, a sixth-grader at Tshaidang Primary School in Zhemgang, expressed gratitude for the CodeMonkey programme, saying that it allows them to think creatively through its various challenges.

“We learned different coding aspects such as loops, functions, conditional statements, arrays, and many more,” she said. “We are really grateful and happy for such a gift and we really enjoy learning to code through CodeMonkey.”

However, the shortage of computers delays progress and hampers the performance of the students.

Students also highlighted that the two ICT periods a week are insufficient to complete all the challenges on CodeMonkey. In the summer, irregular electricity and internet supply disrupt their interest and progress for weeks at a time.

According to the Zhemgang Dzongkhag ICT section, thick vegetation damaged the fiber infrastructure, and rodents like squirrels contributed to the problem by gnawing on the cables. A landslide washed away the BPC poles that the optic fiber runs through, making the restoration of internet services possible only if BPC repairs or replaces the damaged poles. Dzongkhag officials emphasize the need for sustainable solutions to address power fluctuations.

Zhemgang’s chief education officer, Pelden Wangmo, said that the dzongkhag education office provided data packages to five remote extended classrooms, in addition to the GovNet network. “The Dzongkhag ICT section immediately responds to complaints by raising tickets with the fiber network distribution team, and we continuously follow up on these issues.”

The dzongkhag’s education sector received 12 laptops from the Save the Children Country office, distributed to primary schools to help with the shortage.

To address challenges, the Sarpang and Zhemgang dzongkhag education sectors resorted to using generators, scheduling extra classes, and sharing an educational resource programme.

Despite budget constraints, the dzongkhag education sectors procure additional computers and manage maintenance costs based on the recommendations of the ICT sector. Schools have been managing the situation and successfully implementing coding classes. The CodeMonkey project has been implemented in all the schools in Sarpang and Zhemgang.

Pelden Wangmo highlighted that both day-scholar and boarding students dedicate two hours on weekends to catch up on their lessons. “In addition, extra classes are conducted when power is restored, and teachers use mobile hotspots to help with lessons.”

Pema Thinley added that the coding classes continue without compromise. “We have been able to manage the situation because the CodeMonkey programme is organised class-wise. Students from grade four to 10 need to attend IT exams.” Gewog officials also support restoring the network when damages occur due to lighting or other reasons in schools around the gewog.

According to the State of the Nation report 2023, all 526 schools are now equipped with computer labs connected to the internet. Besides, 511 labs have been connected to the internet under the Digital Drukyul flagship, bringing the total to 651 labs since 2019.