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Digital Inclusion, Education IT

School ICT project on track

Despite a change in government following a general election in May, the Philippines’ iSchools Project is on course to computerise 1000 public schools across the archipelago. Project Manager Toni Torres said that while incoming regime would mean new priorities, she was confident the project would meet its target.

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“It is a reality that a change in government will usher in a new direction with new priorities,” Torres told FutureGov. “What remains unchanged is the growing network of enabled state universities and colleges, and the beneficiaries of the iSchools Project. Since the project’s shelf life is about to end this year, we are confident that advocates for the improvement of basic education will support a new lease of life for the project.”

The project, now in its fourth year of implementation, aims to “bring Filipino high school education into the 21st Century” through the integration of ICT into teaching and learning, according to Emmanuel C. Lallana, a former Commissioner at the Commission of Information & Communications Technology (CICT), the agency leading the project.

So far, 680 schools have deployed computer labs and 8400 teachers have been trained. In addition, 300 staff from state universities and colleges have been trained for specific project functions, such as document writers and lecturers.

For the remaining 320 schools, teams and procedures are in place to handle the roll out. However, some key obstacles need to be overcome.

One is internet coverage.

“When we first recognised the issue we created a more comprehensive assessment to identify which schools already had capable ISPs available in their areas. Since connecting to educational resources on the internet is at the heart of the iSchools Project, we felt we had to prioritise schools that have capable ISPs available in their area,” said Torres.

However, some schools that passed the CICT’s assessment still do not have an internet connection. So the project team began collaborating with the ISPs directly. “Luckily, the ISPs see the social value we provide, and have been very supportive,” Torres added.

“While we have tried to address this through assessment, some of our schools that passed our assessment still do not have connections. With this, we had to directly coordinate with the ISPs. Luckily, the ISPs see the social value we provide, and have been very supportive.”

Change management is another key issue.

“We still have to reorient the 19th century mindset of some of our education specialists. We have to improve infrastructure. Providing computers and the internet is not enough. Issues that crop up are the sometimes inefficient PC-to-student ratio. Good PCs are deployed, but are they enough for the school population?”

Meanwhile, the CICT is pushing for the “participatory” development of content through blogs and other social media. “We want to see how the recipients respond to our training by allowing them to produce educational content to share with others. For us, this is one way to gauge how much our schools learn from the ICT training we give them,” Torres noted.

The project has not been made easy by the location of the agency driving it, the CICT, which does not have regional offices.

“The Commission is severely limited in its reach particularly in the far flung areas of the archipelago,” said Torres. “Thankfully we were able to partner with state universities and colleges, which made deployment of equipment and training much easier - college staff handled troubleshooting once the units had been deployed.”

With one year to go before the project is due to be finished, Torres is confident that all will go according to plan.

“Despite some difficulties inherent to projects this large, we feel that our objectives are slowly being realised,” said Torres. “We can probably attribute this to our emphasis on community ownership and responsibility, plus our commitment to provide quality ICT-for-education training.”

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