08 August 2007

Cyber Ed Project: Upsides and downsides

OK, BEFORE I proceed, this Inquirer story this morning, among others, says that the Cyber Education Project (CEP) has not been finalized yet, and the requisite papers are still being pushed through the bureaucracy. Which is good since any discussion of its merits can hopefully make it better.

The upsides
Like this June 4, 2007 editorial of the Inquirer, I too can sympathize with the CEP and Secretary Lapus's bold vision, but for a different reason: the idea, I think, was inspired by this article written by Christopher and Marivic Bernido, the Jagna, Bohol-based PhDs behind the Central Visayas Institute.

About two years ago, I had the pleasure of working with the couple in trying to graft their Dynamic Learning Program (DLP) into the Naga public school system, with mixed results.

In part, the article says:

Suppose schools all over the country have simultaneous science periods, 7:30 a.m. to 9:10 a.m., what we call "science time." This allows students all over the country to listen to a lecture by a national expert teacher on TV via satellite. (For example, imagine having as Biology expert teacher the international awardee, Dr. Josette Biyo, for students all over the country.) Twenty to 30-minute lectures for general science, biology, chemistry and physics can be aired on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, respectively. Questions may be asked of the national expert teacher through phone, text messages, or e-mail. During the periods when students are not listening to the lectures, they will have learning-by-doing activities such as problem-solving exercises, reports on learning stations, concept notes and research, to be filed in their comprehensive portfolio. The same procedure can be done during "math time," 9:30 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.
The other thing has to do with scope: it is of course national, with bias towards schools outside 1st and 2nd class cities which are obviously in need of more help from government. Jess Mateo's slides (especially No. 15) place this at 90% of all public elementary and secondary schools in the country, representing at least 13 of their combined 17 million enrolment.

The downsides
Unfortunately, the 20-or so minute live classes is the only thing the CEP shares with the Bernidos' model. The differences are more stark:

Coverage. The CEP covers both elementary (22,855 or 62% of the total) and secondary (3,763 or 77%) levels; the Bernido scheme covers only secondary. Now, one must ask: wouldn't this technology fit high schools better, considering that elementary is supposed to focus on developing fundamental literacy and numeracy skills?

If I recall my conversation with the Bernidos right, the choice of high school as most suited for DLP has its rhyme and reason: it is driven by the fact that children of high school-age are at the peak of their creative and inquisitive powers.

Focus. One also must question the inclusion of elementary in the context of modern-distance education (MDE, shorthand for ICT-based distance education) of which China is a world leader. The proposed partnership with Tsinghua University is, I believe, in order considering its reputation that even the NASA (the US space agency) recognizes.

Unfortunately, my readings suggest that MDE, even in Tsinghua, is primarily intended for adults -- for their higher education and continuing education needs -- and not primary education. Resources on MDE here, here and here support this point.

Cost. If the inclusion of elementary (which, in my estimate, accounts for 85% of the total cost) is unnecessary, then question must be raised about the P24.6-billion price tag, considering that it originally was a P5.2-billion BOT project a year ago. This was the essence of the Inquirer editorial, which suggested to DepEd and Secretary Lapus: "Let's keep it real. Let's scale back the project, let's reconsider the funding, let's make the entire process transparent."

If the Bernidos in fact will have their way, it should not even be P5 billion but only a tenth of it:
Since we will be working within the existing DepEd and DOST infrastructure and organizational setup, the significant additional expenses will be the actual costs of yearly simulcast and the initial purchase of television sets for schools all over the country. The DOST and private networks may offer better estimates of the cost of televised lectures, videotaping and reproduction. (Lack of computers limits use of videostreaming technology.) For the cost of TV sets, we note the latest DepEd statistics (school year 2003-2004) of an enrollment of 5,025,956 in 4,830 public schools. For around 100 students per viewing cluster (1 TV), an estimate budget of P500 million may be needed. This amount (only about 7 percent of the annual net income of some large private corporations) is within feasibility margins. Additional sources may come from realignment of DepEd and DOST budget for training workshops (instructional materials, travel and accommodation costs for trainers and participants) since the science and math teachers will have on-the-job training throughout the school year in their own schools.
Ah, but of course: private individuals and corporations, unlike state agencies like the DepEd, do not have the luxury of soft budget constraint, which is among the arguments raised in the Fabella and De Dios paper.

What happens on the 6th year? Finally, the DepEd presentation is silent what happens on the 6th year of the CEP, assuming it is fully implemented and Lapus et al are no longer at the helm. Who will now absorb the maintenance and operating cost of the school-based equipment when ODA funding runs out? Who will shoulder the replacement cost for these equipment, considering wear-and-tear for the entire period?

Considering that the CEP is not entirely without merit, as can be seen from the above, my final post will suggest a way forward.

3 comments:

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achat xenical said...

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