- Thailand’s rural areas are severely lagging in digitization, jeopardizing the government’s Thailand 4.0 policy.
- Existing informal education structures have a potential reach in the millions, but don’t focus on the right curriculum.
- dtac is working with the government to develop a curriculum that can quickly unlock new income streams in rural areas.
This is a guest post by Lertratana Ratananukul, Senior Vice-President, Head of Government Relations Division, at dtac.
Thailand may top internet usage charts, but it is also a highly unequal country where 40 percent of the population doesn’t have access to the internet. Many of these people are in rural areas, with limited access to the needed resources for them to acquire digital skills.
The Thai government actually has a very strong informal training network. The Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, for example, has 2,000 training centers around the country. The Ministry of Education has another 6,000.
In the past, these centers would focus on what the trainers thought was important, instead of focusing on the learner. They would teach Word, Excel and Powerpoint, which are good if you’re looking for an office job in Bangkok, but not so useful if you’re trying to sell the coconuts from your farm in Surat Thani.
“90% of Thai internet users actually access the internet from a phone. So the topic most useful to them is how to use a phone, not a desktop computer.”
What does a farmer want to know? Ninety percent of Thai internet users actually access the internet from a phone. So the topic most useful to them is how to use a phone, not a desktop computer: how to use it to get email, how to use facebook, how to set up a facebook page, how to take good pictures of your products.
To develop such a curriculum, dtac reached out to Deputy Minister of Education Gen. Surachet Chaiwong and the Office of Non-Formal and Informal Education under the Ministry of Education. We jointly created a curriculum of over 200 courses covering really basic things, like posting beautiful pictures of your products on a facebook page to grow your direct sales.
The Ministry of Education has 1.2 million teachers in its informal education network (known as Kor Sor Nor in Thai). So how do you train that many people in a few years? We approached it like multi-tier marketing. First, we trained a head teacher in each of the 77 provinces. Then we trained them together with 10-20 trainers per province. Those trainers then went on to each train some 300-400 teachers in each district. By the time you get to the sub-district level, that’s one million teachers. In fact, the program reached that figure in one short year, well before schedule.
“The secret is to incentivize the end user. If rural folk can see tangible results from their training, if they can leverage facebook and make sales, then they will spread the word.”
In the North, for example, we approached some rice farmers with the idea of going organic and connected them with the resources to make biofertilizers. Secondly, we helped them redesign their packaging. Finally, we helped with storytelling. Why is it organic? What are the benefits? And they’ve increased their sales dramatically now.
Beyond the curriculum, creating the right environment is also very important. Classes with rows of desktops are too intimidating. We’re now opting for learning environments with more of a startup-slash-co-working space atmosphere. We want people who have some time on their hands during the day, from motorcycle taxis to housewives, to feel comfortable enough to drop by, pick up extra skills and unlock a second source of income.
To grow our impact even further, the plan is to work with small businesses like cooperatives and local community enterprises in rural areas. This year, we want to bring 100,000 of them online. If they sell one million baht worth of products a year, that’s a contribution of 100 billion baht to the Thai economy. Along with dtac, four ministries are on board: the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives and the Ministry of Commerce. They have over 20,000 training centers in total.
If it is accompanied by a solid training program, the government’s Thailand 4.0 policy can lift incomes even in the most remote and underdeveloped areas of the country. Training is how we can turn digital transformation from a threat to an opportunity for all.Lertratana Ratananukul is Senior Vice-President, Head of Government Relations Division, at dtac.