Govt mulls overhauling students' tablet procurement methods

Govt mulls overhauling students' tablet procurement methods

The Education Ministry is mulling an overhaul of procurement methods for tablet computers under the One Tablet Per Child scheme.

The new procurement method, if approved, would be used to purchase tablet devices for Prathom 1 (Grade 1) and Mathayom 1 (Grade 7) students this fiscal year, said Pawit Thongroj, assistant to caretaker Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang.

The change was discussed during a recent meeting between officials in charge of tablet procurement and caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to discuss problems with the previous two rounds of procurements.

The first procurement was based on government-to-government negotiations between Thailand and China, overseen mainly by the Information and Communication Technology Ministry.

The second round was conducted by the Office of the Basic Education Commission through electronic auctions.

Under the Pheu Thai government's one tablet per child scheme, about 800,000 tablets were to be distributed to all Prathom 1 students in 2012, and another 1.63 million devices to Prathom 1 and Mathayom 1 students last year.

China's Shenzhen Yitoa Intelligent Control Co won a contract to supply 800,000 tablets to all Prathom 1 students in zone 1 and 2, while Thailand's Jasmine Telecom Systems Plc won a contract to supply 402,889 tablets to Mathayom 1 students and teachers in zone 4 covering the North and Northeast.

Both companies, however, failed to deliver the devices by last December as stated in the contract, or 90 days after the contract signing.

The procurement of tablet PCs for Zone 3 for Mathayom 1 students and teachers in the Central Plains and the South has been cancelled amid bid-rigging suspicions raised by the Office of the Auditor-General.

The winning bidder, Supreme Distribution Co, is appealing the cancellation.

"Due to problems in previous procurements, we have discussed changes to the purchasing method," Mr Pawit said.

The authorities have three options for tablet procurement _ using e-auctions, working jointly with computer companies to procure or produce tablets for the scheme, and buying the tablets for each school for common use in a so-called "smart classroom" in place of distributing tablets to students.

"Officials agree the third option is the most interesting one," he said, adding that a committee in charge of the tablet scheme will discuss the change.

Mr Pawit said the third phase of the tablet scheme could go ahead even though the government was currently a caretaker one because tablet purchases for this year had been endorsed before the Dec 9 House dissolution.

He said the Bureau of the Budget confirmed the tablet procurement can be changed if the budget is not increased.

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