Yangchen C Rinzin

About a decade ago, an initiative called “Hole in the Wall” made headlines and caught the interests of the children.

The “hole in the wall,” short of (HIWEL), or play and learn stations (PSL) were introduced in about 131 community centres.

The two computers in metal boxes with a railing and corrugated iron sheets as a roof were installed as part of the Chiphen Rigpel project in 2010 near the gewog centre.

Hole in the wall was to help children acquire computer literacy without the need for formal education system. It was also to provide universal access to information, communications and technology (ICT) knowledge and infrastructure in the country.

The project never really took off. 

Today, a majority of the PSLs are left idle, are defunct or locked, defeating its purpose. Most of the systems have also reached the end of life. Many cannot recall when was the last time it was functioning. 

Only a very few still use the hole in the wall. Not many show interest to learn because the stations do not have many options.

The information and communication ministry (MoIC) had also carried out an assessment that found that PSL located near schools had not benefitted in places located far from the community.

In 2018, the former MoIC minister, DN Dhungyel, informed that the ministry would work on the modality to revamp the PSL in the 12th Plan, as a top priority. However, that looks impossible and the hole in the wall will no more be there.

During the meet the press session last Friday, the government shared its plan on how to empower citizens and transform public service delivery.

The government is trying to introduce Education Flagship and Digital Drukyul flagship to ICTise Bhutan in a big way.

The Education flagship aims to digitalise education with Information and Communication Technology (ICT) literacy while the Digital Drukyul plans to transform public service delivery and digitally empower citizens.

MoIC Minister Karma Donnen Wangdi said that although he was unsure what the former government meant when it talked about revamping HIWEL, the current government was focused on taking care of ICTisation with Digital Drukyul.

“I would like to think that it was similar to what we’ve planned right now,” the minister said. “There is no more need for more Hole in the Wall. Our youngsters have already moved to smartphones and phone applications.”

Lyonpo said there was today a need to look at bigger things in the context of 21 century ICTisation.

“So far, ICT has been developing on their own and in silo to meet their own local needs, which has become expensive financially and in terms of human resources,” Lyonpo said. “We end up accumulating a huge number of data, which is not good.  We need data that would help the government make decisions.”

Lyonpo said that Digital Drukyul was the solution. “Hole in the wall was a baby step towards ICTisation.”

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said that with the coming of education flagship, PSL would be like any other playing toy. “When the hole in the wall first came, I was using a simple Nokia phone with a flashlight. Things have changed now.”

Lyonchhen said that coordination from different sectors was important to implement ICTisation unlike Hole in the Wall that was implemented in isolation and failed.

“ICT is not just exposure or basic learning, but it should be real-time and continuity is important,” Lyonchhen said. “Compared with other countries that began digital drive, Bhutan is still at the bottom and this is because of lack of coordination.”

Education Minister JB Rai said there was a huge digital gap between rural and urban residents. Lyonpo said that although Hole in the Wall came with good intention, poor implementation led to failure.

“When we went around we found that PSL machines were in custody of gewog. They were locked and students were not allowed to play,” Lyonpo said. “A few were shifted to schools so that students could play.”

Lyonpo said that ICT would be one of the compulsory languages in the education policy, which is yet to formalise.