While the devastating Ketsana typhoon disrupted classes in the Philippines for three full weeks, the best device which helped teachers and students stay connected was the mobile phone.
Muntinlupa Science High School – located in the southernmost city in Philippine National Capital Region – is still flooded, making it impossible for school to resume. The disaster has affected cable connections for phone and internet on the ground floor. “Not only is the campus inaccessible, many of my teachers’ and students’ homes are in flood,” said Principal Madeline Ann Diaz. This leaves mobile phones as the key channel of communication.
“Fortunately, 100 per cent of teachers and students have mobile phones,” she said. “A cell phone costs approximately $2000 Philippine Peso (US$40) here, which makes it affordable for everyone.”
Critical information from the school has therefore been primarily disseminated through mobile text messages. The same information is put up on community billboards at the city hall and repeated on radio every evening.
Students who have internet access at home have been receiving updates through Facebook, the school’s web site, and the division web site. “For this fortunate group of students, learning continues as teachers email reading assignments to them,” she added. “Many students have sent me their learning and enrichment plan for the past three weeks.”
The high mobile penetration rate and the critical role mobile phones have played in this crisis points to the potential for leveraging mobile technology for teaching and learning in the Philippines. Diaz says that she is interested to explore how learning and assessment can be effective, while managing the limitations of the length of each text message.
Text2Teach is one such programme in the country. The aim is to give teachers and students access to educational materials via SMS. These materials include videos, pictures, text or audio files. Launched in 2003 by the Department of Education, it has reached more than 700,000 elementary students from 203 schools. For example, fifth and sixth grade science teachers could download up to 120 three to five minute science videos – on subjects such as space, ecology, geology, or human anatomy – and connect it to a monitor in the classroom to play it during the lesson.
“My community has faced a very challenging situation. IT has helped and will continue to be instrumental in times like this when teachers and students do not have physical access to the campus,” concluded Diaz.
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