Continued from GILAS: Public schools on the information highway (Part 1)
Internet access is a human right
The United Nations has itself declared that the right to access the Internet is a human right, because it is the right to access information. Also, studies in the US have shown that students who have access to high speed Internet access in their schools have better test scores in standardized tests. The students also show a better grasp of concepts learned in school. Part of this is attributed to the interactive nature of technology.
This is certainly a big step in the right direction. It’s certainly a breath of fresh air to have proactive efforts geared towards investing in the youth of our country come into fruition.
It is also a move that is over a decade behind other countries.
Internet access in Japan
In Japan, the government started studying the need to provide Internet access to schools as early as 1995, with full Internet access by the year 2000. The program resulted not only to more access to information, but it compelled students to further hone their English skills and led them to a greater appreciate of western culture. Today, the Internet is used as one of the resources used in teaching and learning in the primary level, middle school and all high schools in Japan.
Internet access in Singapore
In Singapore, the program FutureSchool@singapore was launched to help upgrade and revolutionize schools in the city-state. Some innovations include “student-teacher social networking Web portal; virtual reality tools to help bring subjects like geography and science to life; new-fangled textbooks that feature interactive learning objects, simulations and animations; and more.”
This move has helped teachers and administrators become more efficient since less time is devoted to administrative tasks and processes have been streamlined. Cloud computing, multi touch software and using technology to assess the performance of students are just some of what’s in the horizon for Singaporean students.
To support all this, the government has spent over $290 million on IT education. The government’s annual budget for public education in Singapore is at about $8.7 SGD billion.
For a country that’s smaller than Quezon City and with a lower birthrate and population, that’s a lot of money spent on education. This only shows the Singaporean’s commitment to invest in its people to remain a Tiger of Asia and is probably one of the reasons why it is one of the most advanced countries in the world today.
Internet access in US
US schools have been connected to the Internet as early as the mid 90’s and most by the end of the 20th century. In fact, US public grade schools now regularly use the Internet for research, get their homework and submit projects using USB cards and submit typewritten work using their computers at home. Public libraries in the US also have full free Internet access.
With increasing pressure to upgrade the quality of US public schools alongside with further cutbacks on spending on education, the need to fully utilize the Internet in the US education system is becoming more important.
Possible through cooperation
Back in 2005, it seemed like a pipe dream and an overly ambitious goal to declare full Internet access for all Filipino public high schools in the country. With an ever increasing population demanding more schools, more qualified teachers lost to jobs abroad, the perennial problem of adequate school facilities and basic school supplies and books, it seemed next to impossible to get the task done, much less achieve connectivity for at least half the country’s public high schools in less than six years. However, it looks like naysayers will have to eat their words.
The success of the program shows the wonders of cooperation and what the Filipino bayanihan spirit can do. It illustrates what we Filipinos can do when we put our minds to it, set aside personal interests and focus on the greater good. When the private and public sector work together and become proactive, great things can happen.
GILAS, local government units and other organizations actively sought donations from here and abroad to fund the project, raising over $1.5 million along the way. Some donations came in the form of technology, such as Toshiba Corporation’s annual donation of at least 100 notebook computers (10 computers for 10 selected schools). Others came from various development funds from the government. Private solicitations were also conducted abroad to benefit the program. A $13 donation is all it takes to get one student on the Internet.
With information comes responsibility. To ensure that the technology is used as intended, the proper safety protocols, regulating software and technology should be installed in the computers. The last thing we want for the high school kids to do is to surf inappropriate materials, start chatting with pedophiles or to start hacking into private websites or unleash another “I Love You virus” to the world.
In other countries, safeguards and parenting controls have been set up. For example, aside from the use of appropriate software, US legislators also enacted the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) in 2000 to limit the access of inappropriate material to children from Kindergarten to 12th grade levels.
Technology is also ever changing at a rapid rate. The equipment in these schools should also be updated constantly to keep up with the volume of information. Nowadays, computers and other technological equipment need to be upgraded or changed every two years. It’s simply going to be frustrating to try to work with a computer that constantly crashes, hangs or simply isn’t powerful enough to do what you want it to do. It’s like trying to download an entire episode of Glee using a dial-up network. This means money needs to be set aside for technology.
Also, personnel should be constantly present in the schools to help support and maintain the technology. Qualified IT people should become staples at all public schools. This is an employment opportunity that the government can tap into.
Skilled teachers needed
The skills of teachers should be upgraded. It’s not enough that they know who to teach science, English and math, now they themselves have to be technologically equipped to meet the changing demands of their job. They should also develop creative ways to utilize the resource at their fingertips, so that technology doesn’t become intimidating and they can use it to help lessons come to life.
Address basic issues
Finally, while the thrust to move towards the future is good, let’s not forget about the basics and fundamentals needed by our education system.
Infrastructure-wise, there is still a classroom and teacher shortage. Schools need to be attractive and enticing places of learning, not places where 70 to 80 students are jam-packed into a classroom or where there are no clean toilets. There should be ample books and school supplies for each child.
There is still a strong need to develop the basic reading, writing and math skills of our students. Our students are graduating and getting diplomas, but aren’t equipped with the necessary skills to become gainfully employed. Basic English skills, reading comprehension and spelling are in a sad state. The curriculum needs to be updated and we need to have more and better educators to produce a better educated population.
The need to push for the value of education must be emphasized to parents, rather than enticing parents to keep their kids in school simply to get a free meal.
Also, the DepEd needs to work on the high drop out rate of Filipino students. Even if they have Internet access in schools, it won’t do any good if our students can’t read and understand the information.
Let’s hope all the efforts of GILAS don’t go to waste. The information highway is here and many schools now have access to it. It’s now up to the government, parents, students, teachers and local communities to stay on it.
Photo source: Nigel Goodman, Flickr. Some rights reserved.