Empowering a Nation with the Click of a Mouse

Doctoral Candidate-Alumnus Investigates How Nepalese Youth Utilize Technology

Jeffrey LeeWhen Jeffrey Lee (MA ’01), GSEP online master of arts in educational technology alumnus and current doctor of education in educational technology student, joined associate professor of education Paul Sparks on a month-long trip to Nepal, neither anticipated the dysentery, monsoon rains, rolling blackouts, and local protests.

Still, they resolutely traveled for hours by jeep to deliver computers to remote mountain villages as part of a project to promote youth leadership and social change through the use of technology.

“As jobs become outsourced and local job markets become global, it is important for youth in the 21st century to learn how to navigate their way through the world,” said Lee. “Facilitators such as social networking sites MySpace, Facebook, and Friendster, as well as Web 2.0 tools such as blogs and wikis, are penetrating Nepal despite its geographic isolation. However, Nepalese youth still struggle to keep up with the rest of the world while adhering to traditional customs. I feel strongly that technology is the greatest equalizer, and that is why I became interested in developing Youth Managed Resource Centers (YMRC), technology centers in rural Nepal through which the youth could promote community-based projects and learn technological applications simultaneously.”

Jeff Lee explaning

Nepal is a landlocked country enclosed within the rugged Himalayas and largely hidden from the rest of the world. The dramatic landscape creates significant obstacles to health care and education, including limited or delayed dissemination of information. Literacy rates are significantly lower in rural areas; those who live in remote mountain villages are often a day’s walk from health and education services. Formal schooling in Nepal is constrained by economic and cultural factors such as a bias against educating girls and a need for children to work at home or in the fields.

While studying how young people use technology in their daily lives, Lee hoped to uncover which efforts have been successful and which have failed. Nepal is dominated by deeply rooted cultural and religious traditions that have affected the way education is delivered, and Lee saw a need for a study such as his to assist government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, universities, and schools in making informed decisions in the fields of education, technology, and development. “At the YMRCs we demonstrated basic computer skills, as well as advanced applications such as video editing and presentation tools,” Lee described. “We taught the youth to be leaders and facilitators of technology. Students gathered weekly to use the center for various community projects, from preserving traditional dance to promoting better sanitation.”

Lee stressed that his research could have a profound impact on how the Nepalese government institutes education, and consequently on Nepal’s viability in an increasingly global market: “I have worked in elementary schools in Southern California for 11 years. I have seen firsthand the conditions of Title I schools in low-income environments, and have witnessed how technology can enhance the lives of the underprivileged. In a developing country like Nepal, technology is a powerful, liberating tool. Understanding how youth use technology is the key to Nepal’s future.”

To see photographs from Lee and Sparks’ research
expedition to Nepal, visit ymrc-nepal.org.

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