Local governments and communities in 32 provinces of Luzon participated in a webinar that showcased various digital solutions to help them respond to challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Billed as #WeHealAsOne, the virtual forum organized by leading mobile operator Smart Communications discussed digital innovations in education, livelihood, and agriculture to help communities adapt to the new normal. More than 430 participants took part in the event where they learned from success stories of existing programs supported by Smart.
Riding a motorcycle to different learning centers in hinterlands, sustaining the attention of distracted learners, and handling a multi-grade classroom are just some of the challenges that Alternative Learning System (ALS) mobile teachers face every day. The COVID-19 health crisis has made it even tougher for them, as they had to look for ways to continue teaching their learners remotely.
To help the Department of Education (DepEd) – ALS of Butuan City continue teaching in the new normal, Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) conducted an online workshop on the implementation of the Dynamic Learning Program (DLP). 49 mobile teachers and education program specialists joined the first run of the virtual training, dubbed as DLP In Action.
Students of remote schools in Talayan, Maguindanao and Patikul, Sulu will soon benefit from digital learning made possible by Smart Communications’ School-in-a-Bag. Containing a laptop, five tablets, TV, a solar panel with batteries, and educational content, the learning package is donated to far-flung communities, especially those without electricity.
UBS Investments Philippines and the PLDT-Smart Foundation (PSF) recently turned over two School-in-a-Bag packages to the Department of Education (DepEd). These are part of the P1 million donation UBS made to the PSF last year.
Smart created the School-in-a-Bag to improve the quality of education in remote schools. Since launching the program in 2016, Smart and partner donors have delivered 38 School-in-a-Bag units to 65 learning communities all over the country. Each bag, inclusive of training for teachers, costs P100,000.
Because there are about 6,000 public schools that still do not have access to electricity, organizations and even individuals are encouraged to donate School-in-a-Bag units. Interested parties may send an email to [email protected]. (Press Release)
Eleven-year-old Sheran Bueramo walks through hills and forests to go to school in Tanay Rizal in pursuit of his dream to be an engineer someday. Bueramo, however, hopes to succeed in a technology-driven world studying in a school without electricity.
Rawang Elementary School is just one of over 3,000 schools in the Philippines – which serves more than 1 million students – with no electricity. Many of its students have not seen, much more used, a television, computer, or tablet that could help enhance their learning.
This is why Smart Communications launched the School-in-a-Bag. This is a backpack containing a solar panel for electricity, a laptop, tablet, mobile phone, pocket WiFi with starter load, LED TV, and learning modules. Smart targets to donate School-in-a-Bag units to 10 schools in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao this year, and hopes to get people and groups to add to this number via sponsorships.
“We don’t want children in remote areas to be left behind. We want to help them gain access to the wealth of knowledge out there through digital learning tools. But we cannot do this alone,” said Smart public affairs senior manager Stephanie Orlino.
Each School-in-a-Bag costs P100,000. This already includes the devices, learning modules aligned with the K-12 curriculum, training for the teachers, and delivery of the unit. Each bag will benefit hundreds of students in its projected working life span of five years.
“We encourage companies, alumni associations, rotary clubs, local government units, and individuals to pitch in to give children in remote communities a fighting chance for a better future,” Orlino said. She said interested parties can send an email to [email protected] for more details.
Discovering a new world
When Smart donated a School-in-a-Bag to Rawang Elementary School last July, Bueramo said he and his classmates were both happy and excited.
“Malaki ang naitulong ng School-in-a-Bag sa amin. Kahit kami ay nasa kabundukan, kahit paano ay naibsan ang kawalan namin ng malay. Nakakakita na kami ng ibang dimensyon bukod sa puno at bato (The School-in-a-Bag helped us a lot. Even though we are in the mountains, somehow our lack of knowledge has lessened. We can now see other dimensions of this world aside from the trees and rocks that we are used to),” he said.
Maria Asuncion Tongohan, a kinder and grade one teacher, observed that the School-in-a-Bag gave students a deeper understanding of the lessons. “We can discuss the subjects more thoroughly with them because there’s a visual component in the lecture. Instead of us just talking or drawing on the blackboard, the videos make it more interesting for them — especially for the little kids who want to see colorful visuals.”
Former principal Arlene Catampatan said, “Our students are not just interested in learning, they are also more behaved because they are attentive when they see these new gadgets.” She said student attendance has also improved.
Bag of hope
Dr. Margarita Consolacion Ballesteros, external partnerships service director at the Department of Education, described the School-in-a-Bag as a “bag of hope.”
“It is a bag for the future of our Filipino kids. Kids in provinces need more than kalinga (care); they also need opportunities to escape poverty. We thank Smart for paving the way,” she said.
Smart public affairs head Mon Isberto said the School-in-a-Bag program is part of the company’s overall efforts to use technology for development. “We try to see how technology can be put in the service of different areas of social and economic development, like education, livelihood, health, and disaster preparedness and response.” (Press Release)
Smart TechnoCart – a mobile digital laboratory donated to public schools to develop literacy among kindergarten students – won the Social Contribution Award at the prestigious Asia Communication Awards (ACA) ceremony held recently in Singapore.
Organized annually by London-based industry publication Total Telecom, the ACA recognizes outstanding performance by Asian carriers, multimedia content providers, vendors, and other communication service providers.
The TechnoCart, developed by Philippine mobile leader and PLDT unit Smart Communications, is a 2ft x 2ft cart containing 20 student tablets and a laptop, projector, and mobile WiFi for the teacher. The tablets are preloaded with the Batibot mobile application, the first educational app for kids in Filipino which is aligned with the kindergarten curriculum of the Department of Education.
In just a year, 29 public schools from as far as Pangasinan in the North and Tawi-Tawi in the South have received a Smart TechnoCart. Fifteen of these were donated by Smart, while the rest were sponsored by individuals and organizations who wanted to help spread the benefits of digital learning to more public schools.
Because the TechnoCart can be easily wheeled from one classroom to the next, each unit can reach up to 20 kindergarten classes or 250 students per day.
“The Smart TechnoCart introduces public school kindergarten classes to the benefits offered by tablets and relevant digital content. It is one of Smart’s many initiatives to use technology for the development of various sectors of society,” said Smart public affairs senior manager Stephanie Orlino.
“Since we launched the program last year, we have received a lot of positive feedback from teachers. They say their students’ skills have significantly improved, and that they have become more eager to learn,” she added.
Preschool teacher Violeta Bellen of Bacacay East Central School in Albay, one of the recipients of the Smart TechnoCart, shared: “Absenteeism has declined. One time, classes were suspended because of heavy rains. But a lot of the students still went to school. They asked me, ‘Teacher, aren’t we using the tablets today?’ I had to tell them to go home.”
“During our first grading lecture, my children were not really interested in reading letters and they didn’t even participate in our daily activities. Only a few of them could identify the letters or the numbers. But when the TechnoCart arrived they improved a lot. They really enjoy tracing letters using the Batibot app, and I am surprised they can now easily identify the letters,” said kindergarten teacher Hja. Shaiha A. Irahani of Datu Halun Laboratory School in Tawi-Tawi.
Aside from winning in the ACA, the year-old Smart TechnoCart program has also received a Gold Anvil from the Public Relations Society of the Philippines, and a Quill Award of Excellence from the International Association of Business Communicators-Philippine chapter.