10 August 2007

A way forward for the Cyber Ed Project

My column for this week's issue of Vox Bikol. Last in a series.

SO, HOW can we make the Cyber Education Project (CEP) more attuned to Philippine realities on the ground? I already discussed opposing views on the CEP, its upsides and downsides, and the institutional requirements to make it work. Let me outline how we can move it forward.

Its core should focus on high school. The technology is best suited to high school students. At that level, having the country’s top scientists, mathematicians and educators as resource persons will make sense. And by doing so, it will dramatically bring down the cost, probably in the neighborhood of its original P5-billion price tag.

It should go hand in hand with the Dynamic Learning Program (DLP). If the DLP can work in a small peripheral school like the Jagna, Bohol-based Central Visayas Institute of the Bernido couple, it can work in most other rural high school outside the 1st and 2nd-class cities of the country. But the DepEd must reengineer its policies around the DLP.

It should be made optional for the elementary level. As it stands, the CEP is the wrong response to the wrong problem. This has two dimensions:

One, from the DepEd slides on CEP, among its premises is the poor holding power of the public school system -- that only 7 out of every 10 who enters Grade I will finish Grade VI (which I already discussed here).

If access is a problem, the proper response should be to address the factors that prevent parents from maintaining their kids in school, not a enormously costly multimedia project like the P24.6-billion CEP. It requires engaging local communities -- the parents especially -- to own the problem and help minimize dropouts.

And two, if a modern ICT-based distance education project were to work well at the high school level, one needs elementary graduates proficient in basic literacy and numeracy skills. And this requires going back to the basics -- the hands-on in-your-face effort to teach the child how to read, write and do ‘rithmetic. Nothing beats a classroom teacher, and parental involvement at home, in this respect.

But, if a local community -- say, a city like Naga -- were to demand to have the CEP serve its elementary schools, particularly the upper grades, because it can provide counterpart funding and its school heads are committed to make it work, then by all means DepEd should make the project available. This is the demand-driven criterion I was talking about.

It should work closely with barangay councils. The CEP to be thoroughly useful should have an alternative learning option, a strong ALS component to borrow the educator’s language. Hence, it should also provide for community, instead of school-based, delivery system that will capture all those that drop out of formal schooling.

And what better way than to work with the barangays, which are mandated under the 1991 Local Government Code (specifically Section 17.b.1) to provide information and reading centers. Jointly, the DepEd and the barangay council can put up a multipurpose ALS center that will both provide traditional (books, magazines, and newspapers) and modern (electronic reading materials) library services, with ALS modules to boot, powered by the CEP! In doing so, the cost of its upkeep can be shared because ownership over the project is shared.

The CEP, in its present configuration, will waste a huge amount of money because it tries to scale up nationally a modern solution in a haphazard manner. It lacks effective targeting and ignores fundamental realities on the ground, assuming -- wrongly, I submit -- that once built up, utilization will naturally follow.

But conceptually, the idea is sound. And fortunately, its deficiencies can be corrected. The problem is whether the DepEd, infamous for its insularity, will even consider opposing viewpoints and suggestions, especially constructive ones.