- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 16, 2004

KHAN TAK MAO, Cambodia — It may be vacation time, but students still hang out at a small number of schools in impoverished Cambodia, lured by free Internet kiosks that can get them up to speed in cyberspace.

At a high school outside the capital, Phnom Penh, some students research Asian architecture, others check soccer results, and a few, such as Keo Nimol, 12, just silently watch.

“I don’t know how to use the Internet,” he confessed, peering over the shoulder of another student checking e-mail, though he has been dropping by since the project opened in April.

The four kiosks funded by the Indian government and spread around this war-scarred, mostly agricultural country, are designed to allow the poor to see the wonders of the Internet.

“The aim is to arouse students’ curiosity, encourage them to learn. It’s a self-learning process,” said Indian diplomat V.K. Sharma.

Students clamor for their turn to log on.

“I saw other people using it, and I just learned. It wasn’t very difficult,” said Hak Yoty, 16, perched on a railing as he browses using one of the two terminals.

Some 49 similar kiosks are open in India, and 30 have been installed in Egypt; talks are under way to set up more in Laos and the Philippines, said Ashoo Dubey, systems executive with NIIT, the company providing them.

On average, the kiosks cost $8,000 to $10,000. Access is monitored remotely from New Delhi, with only porn sites being blocked.

“It’s a new frontier for Cambodian children, accessing the Internet, e-mail, and seeing what’s online,” said Phu Leewood, secretary-general of the government’s top IT authority, which is overseeing the project.

Internet cafes are spreading in Cambodia, but with as much as half the population living on a dollar a day or less, the typical dollar-an-hour charge at urban areas outside Phnom Penh — more in remote areas — is formidable.

Another kiosk is to open soon in Cambodia, but overwhelming demand from students has the government ready to seek funding to erect kiosks at schools across the kingdom, Mr. Leewood said.

Kruy Kroeun, a teacher in Khan Tak Mao, said people from outside the community also flock here.

“All classes of people come — the poorest of people in our society, people wearing rags, they are coming and learning,” he said.

“At recess, students race each other to get here. Others come, they park their motorbikes and their bicycles, and they wait for a turn. … They just need to be patient.”

Access isn’t perfect: One problem, said Khen Hasda, 15, who came to scour international and sports news, is that female users are in a minority.

“There are too many boys and most girls dare not come,” he said.

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