KhmerOS: Cambodian project selected as one the two best development project that uses Information Technology to improve economic

The KhmerOS/Open Schools Program initiative - a Cambodian multi-stakeholder project - was selected as a finalist to the Stockholm Challenge/GKP Award, nominating it as one the two projects that best use ICT to produce economic development. The Sweden-based Stockholm Challenge Award is the most prestigious award for projects that use technology to support development in developing countries.

The Khmer Software Initiative (KhmerOS) is based in two simple principles: there is no economic development in countries that do not use technology; and, there is no widespread use of technology if the technology is not available in the language of the country.

As there was no commercial software in Khmer (Cambodian) language, Spanish engineer Javier Solá started the KhmerOS initiative in 2004, translating and producing free computer applications in Khmer language (word processing, spreadsheets, Internet software, e-mail, etc.), as well as training materials and large amounts of documentation. The Linux operating system was also translated to Khmer. Together with the Cambodian National ICT Development Authority, during 2005 and 2006 several thousand private and public sector teachers, as well as government officials, were trained on the use of the free and open source applications. Many of the central and local administration bodies started using the software in their everyday work, as using software in English was not a viable option.

In 2007, the Open Institute - the NGO that houses the project - and the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport signed an agreement to start the Open Schools Program - Cambodia. This new program aims at integrating the use of ICT in Education. The first activity of the program was to train teachers in all teacher training centers and all the high schools that have computers (28% of schools), and to use and teach Khmer language free software. A textbook was produced and is being distributed to all schools. Cambodia thus becomes the first country to only use free software applications throughout the education system.

The project has also produced Khmer script keyboards and several books in Khmer. In order to approach sustainability, the technology for the keyboards has been transferred to local computer vendors, who are already manufacturing and selling them. The content of the books is licensed to anybody who wishes to print it for a profit. Other aspects of the project are also looking for interested third parties that will turn aspects of the project (that now require funding) into businesses that make the system sustainable.

The KhmerOS initiative has reached its 2004 goal of allowing Cambodians to use computers in their own language. It has meanwhile mutated to concentrate its efforts on the education system. As part of the Open Schools Program, the Ministry of Education and the Open Institute will develop this coming year a Master Plan for ICT in Education, which will not only expand the use of computers to all High Schools in four years, but which will also allow the use of ICT to improve the quality of education by using multimedia and Open and Distance education, all in Khmer language.

For Javier Solá, founder and coordinator of the NGO side of the project, "The most important success factor of the KhmerOS project has been the ability of bringing together the development know-how of NGOs with the technological expertise of the Free and Open Source community and the experience and vision of the Cambodian government, creating a project that has interested commercial stakeholders, leading to the sustainable low-cost use of local language ICT in Education, government and local society, strongly reducing the digital divide."

The KhmerOS project is supported by the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation (AECI), Capacity Building Germany (InWEnt), and UNESCO.

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