The concept of a tele-center was born in Thailand during 2001-2002, when the first computer literacy initiative was launched. By 2007, a national tele-center project was spearheaded by the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT). From 2007-2009, the MICT established 260 tele-centers of which 82 tele-centers are in Northeast Thailand, 62 are in the North, 46 are in the South, 44 are in the Central region and 23 are located in the Eastern region of Thailand.
The tele-center is generally directed by the CEO of the organization where the tele-center is located (e.g. school, temple, Local Administrative Bureau, etc.). A community board is also created to help advise the tele-center management on lead policies and to increase the transparency of the tele-center’s activities. The board members often provide moral support and some supervision of the tele-center, if requested. The management team intends to strengthen the role of the community board to be more concrete and participatory, which is expected to improve operations.
The MICT sponsors the equipment procurement, training of operators and operational costs for a period of one year, after which tele-centers are expected to be self-sustainable. The operators are expected to promote participation, conduct training and enable people to become ICT literate.
Models and programmes vary widely. Some prototype models that have been found to work well include:
1) The Wat Sakate tele-center: a youth-based telecenter -- In August 2007, a youth-based tele-center was established inside a temple located strategically near a market. The tele-center was a private initiative of the temple, and was started with private funding. The tele-center has three objectives: (1) to divert youth from playing games at cybercafés, (2) to create a learning environment through ICTs, and (3) to attract more people to join the temple.
Initially, the teenagers avoided the tele-center in the temple, but after two years they started coming regularly. Today, many of those young people manage the center and educate people from all age groups.
The tele-center has 21 computers. It is open every day from 7 am to 9 pm, and the average number of daily users is 30 during the week and about 100 during the weekends. Users buy coupons for 10 Baht (USD 0.3) each and use them as they wish (one coupon buys one hour of service). The majority of the users are younger than 21.
2) The Wat Potikaram tele-center: a community-based/home worker-based telecenter -- In August 2008, a temple-based tele-center was set up to accommodate a variety of small-scale enterprises dealing in local products (e.g. silk). It promotes business development and also has a local cooperative bank managed by the community. Although the main customers of the center are the local enterprises, the center also draws youth (through their schools) and adults. Some out-of-school youth also come to the center.
The tele-center provides weekly training on computer and Internet use, and it also invites external trainers to train users and staff on website development. The telecenter has 21 computers, and it operates seven days a week, from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm. There are, on average, about 30 users during the weekdays and more than 100 during weekends. The tele-center charges 10 Baht (USD 0.3) per hour as a service charge. However, students may work on their assignments and use the computer laboratory for free.
3) The Khonsawan telecenter: a school based telecenter -- Also in 2008, a school-based tele-center was opened to expose the schoolchildren to ICT knowledge and skills. The tele-center manages and sustains itself through the use of the school infrastructure and does not intend to introduce a user fee. The management believes that the tele-center should serve the people, since the center is situated in an institution that offers free education.
The tele-center conducts free basic training for the local communities, for which it charges a nominal fee – 100 Baht -- to cover the training materials and refreshment costs for participants coming from outside and those requiring advanced training in ICT.
The tele-center is open seven days a week and operates for nine hours a week, Monday through Friday (4 pm to 5 pm), and Saturday and Sunday (8 am to 12 noon). The average number of users is approximately 15 per day on weekdays, and on weekends there are about 60 users. On weekdays, users are students who come to the center after school hours. Unlike the weekdays, weekend users are a mix of secondary school students, government employees, and other community members.
The school has more than 250 students (ranging from grade one to nine), and aims to bring more parents on board to make them ICT literate. The center employs a variety of strategies to promote its services among the community, including community radio broadcasts, interpersonal communication and even peer pressure. Students are encouraged to bring their parents, and those parents are urged to bring their neighbours.
4) The Ta-ong telecenter: a local administrative office-based tele-center: In July 2008, this tele-center opened in a local administrative office. Most users are teenagers; a majority of them are boys (predominantly 13-18 years old). The students (from primary and secondary schools) constitute about 60 per cent of users, with the rest being community members, government staff or handicapped and illiterate children.
The tele-center has 21 computers, which are used by about 40 people each day, free of charge. The center is open 56 hours a week -- almost every day, including weekends from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. To generate awareness within the community, management contacted non-formal schools to promote the tele-center among the students, on community radio and through community announcement centers.
It is estimated that currently one-third of all users overall are women. Most female users are home workers, teachers, female youth and children, or female community leaders and development groups (e.g. Housewife groups, Farmer groups, Saving groups, etc.).
At the beginning, most of the clients were men and boys. However, the ThaiTelecenter movement has been working to create more income-generating activities for all groups, including home workers and youths. The centers have found that providing access to these groups, including the poor and others who are invisible in their communities, give them a voice, allowing them to take a greater part in the tele-centers' activities, and in the community in general.
Although they began as one of the least-represented groups, women are currently more visible and are openly eager to be involved in all the tele-centers' and communities’ activities. Participation from female youth also continues to increase. Because women and girls are the ones that produce home-based products, the creation of additional economic activities has improved negotiation among women at the local community level.
ThaiTele-center has trained some 5,000 home workers from all over the country. The beneficiaries are trained and then integrated with the tele-center operators to enable them to work together. Three thousand more home workers, most of whom are women, are slated for training by the end of 2010. In addition, training for the previous beneficiaries is planned so they can become trainers themselves within their own groups and communities. It is estimated that one third of the beneficiaries have gone from trainees to trainers, and they have also started to train other groups, including men’s groups.
In order to ensure women’s interests and priorities are maintained within the ThaiTelecenter, the current policy is to empower one-third of the tele-center’s operators and home workers (who are mostly women) to be leaders, trainers and active contributors throughout the tele-center’s activities.
Although the tele-center movement is still young, it is thought that ThaiTelecenter has made some very important breakthroughs in encouraging people to visit tele-centers and use ICT services. MICT’s effort has not only made ICT services available across the country, it has enabled the initiative to mature rapidly and ensured than many people have joined the information society.
Some ongoing challenges include: (a) a lack of holistic and continuous support for some activities; (b) creating awareness within the community; and (c) integrating ICT tools into the lifestyle of the community to serve the adult population and local businesses. Once these issues are addressed, the tele-centers will be free to create customized services for the communities they serve.
At the national-level, the main difficulty going forward is ensuring sustainability and proper utilization of services. To address these concerns, MICT is developing holistic and collaborative activities aimed at improving the sustainability of Thai tele-centers. MICT wants to:
Support more community trainers;
Strengthen the network regionally, nationally and internationally (to share resources and best practices);
Create a support database to drive policy issues; and
Support more social network systems to be used for development and communication purposes;
Continue its development services in community e-commerce;
Create more systematic Thai Telecenter Academy; and
Creating the Thai Telecenter Fund.