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Empowering all Thais with technologies

Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn has contributed greatly to many facets of Thailand’s development, in the areas of education, healthcare, agriculture, arts and culture, and environmental conservation, among many others.

This article describes the work of Her Royal Highness in the area of ICT use in education. Extracts from the book, IT Princess, are included below.

September 2004

The IT Princess

The second daughter of His Majesty King Bhumibol and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn is well-known for her lifelong passion for learning and her ability to put her knowledge into practical effect. Her Royal Highness regularly offers valuable guidance in the field of human resource development, providing both knowledge and technology – and particularly information technology – to the people. It is her belief that IT, if applied appropriately, can be an effective instrument for research and development and for enhancing the quality and reach of education.

In a recent interview, the Princess expressed the view that the Internet, though beneficial and even necessary in some cases, should not be considered a panacea to be used across the board in education. In many cases, she pointed out, database and CD-ROM technologies may be more applicable since, unlike the Internet, they do not rely on access to telecommunication infrastructure. The Princess has always stressed the importance of effective utilization of available technologies.

Ever active in efforts to improve the lives of the Thai people, the Princess has initiated several rural development projects, of which the IT Project is just one. Managed by an Executive Committee led by the Princess herself, the main areas the project concentrates on include introducing computer technologies to school students, bringing in computer technologies for the disabled, and offering teachers access to and training in good-quality, commercially-available computer-assisted instruction programs.

The Princess is convinced that IT should be introduced into schools gradually, recognizing that it generally takes time to change the attitudes and perceptions of teachers and administrators, and to encourage them to become more accepting of IT. Many schools also still suffer from certain material constraints that make introducing IT difficult, if not virtually impossible. Uniquely then, the focus of the IT Project team is not on bringing in the latest technology, but on addressing the fundamental issues, which also includes the health and welfare of the students, before trying to install any new technologies.

The IT Project
Since its inception in 1995, the Princess’ IT Project has provided a model of how to apply technology to promote social development. Rather than seeing dissemination of IT as an end in itself, the project focuses on how to use the technology effectively and appropriately, particularly in rural areas, in order to achieve social and economic prosperity. Since education is an essential foundation for development, rural schools have been the primary target of the Project, although other disadvantaged goups, such as children with disabilities and prison inmates, have also benefited from assistance. In addition to IT assistance, the Project also helps with other basic necessities such as food, teacher training, books, and teaching materials.

The work of the Princess in the years since the IT Project’s launch has played a significant role in helping to raise public awareness of IT as a tool that can make real improvements to the quality of life of disabled and disadvantaged citizens. During the project’s lifetime, many significant milestones have been achieved, including the establishment of a Research and Development Center for Assistive Technology, and the Assistive Technology Service Center for People with Disabilities. The existence of these centres has intensified interest within the research community, and they have led to IT playing an important role in improving the lives of disabled people in Thailand.

For more (in Thai), visit the Project website. The site contains information about the Project and its associated programmes and activities, visual archives, manuscripts, and interesting related websites. The donations page gives details of how to make donations, either financial or in the form of computer equipment. The Project has many sub-programmes, some of which we highlight below.