CEBU CITY, January 29, 2005 (STAR) By Ehda Dagooc  - Realizing the limitations of the government to fully develop the information technology sector, a consortium of topnotch corporations has stepped in and forged a partnership with the government to provide Internet access to high school students across the country.

This government-private sector initiative, called Gearing-Up Internet Literacy and Access for Students (GILAS), aims to equip teachers and students in the 5,433 public high schools throughout the country with the basic skills necessary to compete in the global information-driven economy.

GILAS, which is actively participated in by Ayala Corp. through its president and chief executive officer, Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, was formally launched here last Friday during the Pasundayag sa Sugbu welcome program for the 400 balikbayan delegates to the Third Global Filipino Networking Convention.

Although the government has started providing personal computers to some 2,000 public schools in the last two years, Ayala said the private sector sees that a lot of things still has to be done to expose the next-generation workforce to technology.

Ayala called on companies, organizations and private individuals to contribute to the cause by providing Internet connectivity to these public high schools.

Schools that already have a computer laboratory need an additional P100,000 to improve their facilities, while those without laboratories need at least P300,000.

"The needs are great. We are also calling on all individuals, corporations and organizations to join us in this project," Ayala said. P1.7 B needed Based on initial studies, a total of P1.7 billion or $30 million is needed to fulfill GILAS’ objectives. One of these goals is to bring computer laboratory projects of government agencies like the Department of Education and business organizations into a larger scale to connect all public schools to the Internet within the next five years.

In a press briefing, Sen. Mar Roxas III said only 40 percent of the country’s public high schools have computers that can be wired to the Internet and only four percent give students access to and training in the use of the Internet.

Companies such as the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co., Smart Communi-cations, Globe Telecom, Innove Communi-cations, IBM Phils., SPI Technologies, eTelecare, Intel Phils., Microsoft Phils., Narra Venture Capital, Integrated Microelectronics Inc. and SPI Phils. as well as organizations like the Makati Business Club, the consortium, the American Chamber of Commerce and the Ayala Foundation have pledged to provide much-needed funding, resources and management expertise to the GILAS initiative.

Department heads and leaders of local government units are also urged to take part in this worthwhile undertaking which will prioritize areas that already have Internet connection and supportive local government officials and school executives.

The project got support from the global community during the Third Global Filipino Networking Convention here last week, with some $20,000 in donations and pledges publicly announced before President Arroyo.

Ayala said the GILAS steering committee, composed of executives from the different supporting companies, believe the project will not only benefit the students and teachers but will also help develop the country’s skilled IT professionals who will help make the Philippines more competitive in the global economy.

Globe Telecom and PLDT have committed to provide free Internet access to the project beneficiaries during the first year of implementation. These schools will only shoulder Internet access costs on the second year.

The consortium also targets to deploy about 10,000 computers to priority public high schools this year, together with broadband Internet access capability. – Freeman News Service

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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