Nepal and the impact of open source

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Nepal and the impact of open source

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world with many gender, educational, and digital divides. Yet it is gradually being transformed by open source and digital technology. There's little question that as Nepal seeks to help its citizens become a part of the global digital economy, it faces a series of challenges: political instability, remote physical access, poor infrastructure, and rural poverty. In April 2012, the World Economic Forum released a report that identified Nepal as one of the least networked countries in the world, at the bottom of world rankings.

Access to secondary school education continues to be a major challenge in Nepal, especially for girls. Chronic malnutrition plagues about half of the nation's children. One of every three children in Nepal is a child laborer, with an estimated 2.6 million children between the ages of five and fourteen working in some capacity1.

For Nepalese girls, the situation is often bleak. The literacy rate for girls is 28 to 42%, compared to 65 to 87% among boys2. The majority of girls are humiliated, oppressed, and exploited in their daily lives. Public schools in Nepal require tuition. Many parents cannot afford to send their children to school; girls are often expected to give up school for work.

The direct impact of open source and digital technology may seem light years away to many, but the Nepal government and non-profit organizations (NPOs) are starting to make a difference in the lives of ordinary, rural, poor Nepali children, especially girls. Nepal's government educational plan, The School Sector Reform Plan, Open Learning Exchange (OLE) Nepal, the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), and other initiatives are making great strides in bridging the digital divide--despite the World Economic Forum's recent report. The Nepal government, OLE Nepal, and other organizations are helping to bridge the existing digital divide by providing digital technology and open source materials that are absolutely necessary in order for Nepal to achieve significant progress, which the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) has addressed.

Since 2009, OLE Nepal has distributed more than 2,500 laptops to 26 schools in Nepal and has been working to create open source materials to educate and encourage Nepali children, especially girls. OLE Nepal's main goals are to improve public education and reduce the disparity in access to education. Distribution of hardware wasn't enough to solve the country's digital dilemma, according to OLE Nepal. Creating open educational materials--with the help of local Nepali developers and programmers--has been key to solving the country's digital dilemma. In 2011, OLE Nepal teamed up with the British Council to host ‘Learn English Kids,’ a program teaching the fundamentals of the English language to Nepali children and adults for free. Nearly 3,400 students in 34 schools across Nepal have used the Learn English Kids software. Previously, the ability and materials needed to learn English language skills were scarce.

Initiatives like OLE Nepal and OLPC are giving poor rural girls, in particular, a chance at education and an escape from a life of poverty. The role of Nepali women and the use of technology are key to the country's potential and future. OLE Nepal realized the need for an open source, education-centered, digital library to help citizens cross the digital divide and improve the quality and access to education. E-Pustakayla can be installed at a school or community center without Internet access, opening a freely accessible source of information and education to all.

These initiatives have helped increase literacy rates and encouraged the creation of digital communities in Nepal. Sambad, for instance, is a research project on how technology can benefit non-literate or semi-literate people in Nepal. One option is to create digital communities based on audio or visual communications, rather than just text. These initiatives allow people in Nepal to participate fully in a digital society and are a source of empowerment and social change.

ALISON shows how open source is having a direct impact on the lives of ordinary Nepal people. ALISON is a free online learning resource for basic and essential workplace skills, offering digital courses, certificates, or diplomas for free to Nepali citizens. It has the support of the Nepal government.

The Nepal government sees the importance of digital literacy and the power of e-learning has to improve the lives of its people. It views ALISON and other programs as sources of empowerment for people in Nepal and gives hope for a more sustainable future with open source and digital technology.

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Carolyn Fox is an educator, librarian, historian, and an un/homeschooling mother. She lives in Massachusetts with her UK husband and son.


Wow, you really think we are pathetically poor, dont you?

Also about the open source transforming the life of the people is a lie. Nepal needs education more than anything, forget about open source. i don't think that the distribution of those laptops will help the country that much when more children are deprived of education.

And the government taking initiatives for open source is a lie too. I've yet to see anyone in a government office use a open source stware or an OS, or even knows of existance. Those small initiatives are negligible for any notable change.

The article makes no sense to me at this time.Many people don't know about open source and you write an article about transforming the country with it.
Btw I love open source and use it like ubuntu, gimp, evince, libre office, vlc and others. And I'm posting this with an Android Phone.

Hi Niroj,
Seems like you're misinformed about the education project OLE Nepal has undertaken. It's not just about distribution of hardware (i.e. the OLPC laptops), but much to do with integrating ICT (as a tool) into the daily teaching-learning experience so as to improve it. That's why OLE Nepal has a strong focus on local content development (bound with the national curricula, e.g. E-Paath, as well as development and archival of reference materials in the form of e-library). To learn more about the OLPC model OLE Nepal is following, please refer to "Tackling the Problems of Quality and Disparity in Nepal’s School Education: The OLPC Model" that can be found at and "How open source tools can create balanced learning environments" available at

Regarding the Nepalese government undertaking of Open Source as a lie, I would like to reinstate it as being too slow instead of being a lie. Moving to Open Source is like a paradigm shift and it'll take time; we can't expect it to be adopted overnight. But there has been some slow progress. I myself have organized and lead "Open Source migration and Training" for various departments and ministry of the Nepalese government.

Yes, you're true that many people are not aware of Open Source and its virtues; but a lot are aware as well. Or shall I rephrase it as people being too tied to their use of proprietary solutions that they hesitate to change. We still have a long way to go to have Open Source adopted in the mainstream. It's not that the current environment is sans Open Source, but just that we have too little share.

Hope you would take this on a positive note. Thank You.

Hi Abhishek Singh, would you like to do a follow-up post on this topic with a little more detail? Looks like you've got most of it covered with your comment.


thanks for your comment, Niroj.
i have no insights into the reality of this topic, but i have to say that the article seems quite like ... over-estimating marketing talk. Niroj seems to talk about observed reality, while the author seems not to be living in Nepal.
wikipedia states, that Nepal has a population of ~ 27 millions. thus, 2'500 laptops means about 1 per 10'000 inhabitants. generously calculating, that makes 1 per 1'000 poor children, and if they get used by mostly girls, it would be 1 per 500.
whether they run MS Paint or Tux-paint, MS Office or Libre Office ... i can not imagine that it makes a fundamental difference for this 1 out of 500 girls or even poverty or illiteracy in general. even though it surely does not hurt.
as Niroji, i am also a fan of Open Source and use it daily and pretty much exclusively. i am also sure that OS can heavily enhance or even safe lives, but we should not overestimate it. that would be a slap into the face for the Nepalis, in this case.

about the notion of the government steering or supporting this program: usually such stuff gets written to please the respective institution. in this case, they might have forbidden the shipment of the laptops, or could forbid the next shipment if they do not get portrayed in a very bright light.
you might read text in such a way: if things sound unrealistically good, it might be an encoding for saying that the reality is actually the opposite. though, i am absolutely and sincerely sure it is not the case here.

thanks for the article though, and 2'500 is better then nothing.
i guess this boosted the Open Source coverage of the country, measured per km^2 by 50% or so!
now MS will have to react, and ship 10'000+ windows powered machines to restore the natural order...
we might one day end up with a notable amount of laptops per child.

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