25 September 2007

Solutions right under our nose

THE SCIENCE Education Institute (SEI) is one of the 19 agencies attached to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), which has been operating on a budget of P2.4 billion last year and P3.5 billion this year. This amounts to less than 1% of the total (0.27% in 2006, and 0.31% this year to be exact).

Compared to DepEd's P126.8-billion (11.2%) or the DOTC's P16.4-billion (1.4%) budget for 2007, to say that the DOST's getting peanuts is putting it too kindly. To add insult to injury, it does not seem to enjoy the confidence of NEDA, the national government's gatekeeper of the ODA. Among others, NEDA evaluates any project for foreign funding through official development assistance (ODA).

Consider this story that appeared in the Inquirer last September 7, portions of which deserve to be highlighted:

The Department of Science and Technology (DoST) had proposed a broadband project but this was rejected by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), which wanted to build the network through a build-operate-transfer (BOT) scheme.

In 2001, (Science Secretary Estrella) Alabastro said they submitted a proposal to NEDA for the construction of a P5.2-billion Philippine Research Education and Government Network (Preginet) that would link up research and education institutes in the country.

But NEDA rejected this proposal, prompting the DoST to fund the project from its own budget.

“At that time, their view was that it has to be done [through the BOT scheme] and that there were many things that they wanted us to submit, which was very difficult for us to do...They just never approved it [DoST proposal] so, since we thought it was very important, we said: ‘Why don’t we do it slowly? Start with whatever small amount,’” she said.

Albastro said they were hoping to get funding from Overseas Development Assistance money but their request was never processed by NEDA.

“So, we went ahead and funded this locally. [We are funding ] this from our own legal budget and as of now, we have about 80 institutions in the network,” she said.
I am mentioning this to point out the following:

(1) Government, using its own resources, has put in place a broadband network without the need for a controversial, secretive $329-million loan from China.

Of course, 80 agencies is a far cry from the 25,844 barangays that the NBN proposes to cover using a Wimax-based network. But if it will scale coverage down, and leverage its P4-billion annual telecommunications budget to encourage private carriers to provide the same kind of service, powered by the same technology -- which is what government is now eyeing to do in the heels of the ZTE debacle -- there's no reason why it can't be done.

(2) Government, at the same time, can also come up with exciting ICT-based modules that are superior to the dull lectures that can be expected of the DepEd national master teachers through the more expensive $460-million Cyber Education Project (CEP) being pushed by Secretary Jesli Lapus.

I have been trying the Modules in Science in Mathematics for Elementary Schools, which consists of two CDs and a teachers manual, together with their one-CD high school counterpart entitled "Learning Resource Materials for Mathematics and Science for Secondary Schools." Both were prepared by the SEI under the leadership of Dr. Ester Ogena, in partnership with the Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI), a sister agency.

Dom Cimafranca previously alerted me to it in my entry on the CEP; several weeks back, I saw a colleague from the Bicol Science Centrum being interviewed about it on TV Patrol Bikol. This morning, I borrowed a set from Nestor Villanea, BSTC officer-in-charge; I'm bringing them home so that my kids can give it a try.

Offhand, I am greatly excited by the elementary modules -- they're more engaging, have plenty of 2-D animations, and uses characters from our lores to boot, like Mariang Makiling, Bernardo Carpio and Lam-Ang. The Macromedia Flash-based animated lessons are colorful, informative and instructive. Review questions are de rigueur towards the end, although improvements can be made on the audio.

The strong influence of the Lords of the Rings and Kingdom Hearts are evident, particularly characters that look a lot like the bow-and-arrow-armed Legolas, the axe-bearing Gimli and the keyblade-swinging Sora. Which are in fact a plus because kids will definitely love them.

Nevertheless, the high school counterpart, although equally informative, are -- too put it mildly -- a big letdown in terms of pizzazz and creativity. The people who put them together do not seem to be as inspired as the team behind the elementary modules. They definitely need a lot of improvement, presentation-wise.

Another downside (which is actually an opportunity, come to think of it, given Naga's edge in 2-D and 3-D animation) is the limited lessons covered. In Science, for instance, there is only between 8 to 12 topics available for every grade level (from 3 to 6); math has more or less the same number for all six grades.

I also believe the lessons for the first three grades will get across better if they were in Bikol; unfortunately, the lessons are mostly in English, with a sprinkling of Tagalog.

The problem with government, especially under this administration, is the lack of coordination among its agencies -- in both cases, the cash-strapped DOST has the demonstrated track record and expertise on the NBN and a promising product relative to the CEP, but it has largely been sidelined. Secondly, there's that bias to loan out humongous amount of tied money from foreign sources which are sure to send Johnny de la Cruz deeper down in debt, when proven, viable alternatives are there right under its nose.

But of course, it's not their personal money to bleed anyway. And there's lesser dough to be made on a low-budget agency like DOST.

4 comments:

DJB Rizalist said...

Perhaps it is wrong to rely on the govt for this. Lots of private publishing outfits are ready, willing and able to create and distribute better educational materials. Why wait for the govt? The reason many private publishers do not prosper is because of the attitude that we have to rely on the govt. Getting them out of the way is better than watching the weeds grow. Unfortunately we don't have that tradition yet of self-reliance. We just need to see it better, that the solutions are right under our noses and in front of our mirrors.

mschumey07 said...

They would rather have projects with huge kickbacks than work for the people. Would this CEP be accessible in "classrooms" under the mango tree?

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