MANILA, June 6, 2005
 (STAR) By Ann Corvera  -  Who says only cellular phones can reach remote nooks of the country?

From a barrio boy who dubbed his PC "Thirteen" to students of the Guinness Book’s acclaimed "world’s largest secondary high school," the information and communications technology highway is steadily wending its way to public schools all over the nation. And guess who’s catching up fast with the private sector in adapting to the fast-changing IT landscape?

With the secondary level serving as a jump-off point for a student’s choice of pursuit, the need to equip the youth with computer know-how as early as possible, at this time, is a must. "These are high school students soon going to graduate and they will be able to apply this knowledge (when they reach the tertiary level)," Japanese Ambassador Ryuichiro Yamazaki told NetWorks during this year’s Best Practices Awards of the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) Personal Computers for Public Schools (PCPS) project.

"Elevating IT standards will help improve human resources in these areas and not only help in nation-building but also in enhancing the country’s economic competitiveness in the long term," stressed Yamazaki, who along with former Trade and Industry Secretary, now Sen. Manuel Roxas II gave out the honors last May 25 to PCPS recipient public high schools which have adopted "best practices" in the use and application of the computers donated to them under the government-initiated project.

Supporting the PCPS objective of expanding IT access in public schools, upgrading students and teachers’ IT literacy and catalyzing community development through IT is the Japanese government which has provided funds under its non-project grant aid program amounting to some P600 million for each phase.

Satisfied with the impact of the project, the Japanese government is now studying the approval of the budget for Phase 3 wherein the target number of schools is around 1,000 more or some 10,000 personal computers for distribution, DTI director Dita Maralit told NetWorks. Batanes To Tawi-Tawi So far, more than half a million high school students have benefited from hands-on computer training using the 32,240 brand-new PCs distributed to schools from Batanes to Tawi-Tawi since the project began in 2001. The computers were equipped with updated software like Windows XP. More than 24,000 high school teachers also underwent training in computer technology, trouble-shooting and preventive maintenance both in Phases 1 and 2 of the PCPS project. A total of 2,228 computer laboratories were also put up in public high schools.

Reducing the computer backlog in public schools is just one aspect of the PCPS, the measure of its success in raising the IT literacy of teachers and students alike is gauged through the Best Practices Awards which, according to Maralit, is based on DTI’s assessment of which schools have utilized to the fullest the computer equipment provided them. "Since they started getting the computers, they should have addressed certain problems and undertook activities to improve their environment and enhance their skills, and we saw that there are computer laboratories that are doing well and are well taken care of."

The DTI is the lead agency of the project, with the Department of Education, the Department of Science and Technology and Department of Finance as partners on the government side.

On the technological training aspect, Intel Philippines provided a 10-day, 10-module IT training program for teachers at no cost to the government. Microsoft Philippines, for its part, arranged a software assistance package in the form of substantial discounts for software purchase. Meanwhile, ConnectEd.ph, a consortium of private IT companies, corporate foundations and industry associations, provided interconnectivity and other parallel efforts to selected PCPS schools.

"Networking is not part of the project, but organizations like the Makati Business Club are given a list of our schools and they help in connecting them (to the Internet). Networking is usually done in urban areas because they have telephone lines unlike in far-flung areas," Maralit said. ‘Thirteen’ There is no better way of relating the impact of the PCPS project than to learn of the stories of the students who have benefited from it. And a finest example comes from an essay about the "buddies" Julius Aniceto Cebreros, a barrio lad, and his computer whom he fondly named "Thirteen."

Cebreros’ piece emerged as the national winner for the Visayas in the PCPS Student Essay Writing Contest in 2003 and appeared on the DTI’s Computer ng Bayan newsletter this year. Now a fourth year student at the Taft National High School in Eastern Samar, Cebreros recalled his special bond with the PC numbered 13 at his school’s computer laboratory, and how it "helped open new worlds" for him in what he described as "the intricate puzzle that is the modern world."

In another inspiring story, students of the Rizal High School in Caniogan, Pasig City gave testimonials on how the DTI project helped them cope with the challenges associated with IT-related changes. In Phase 2 of the PCPS project last year, the "world’s largest secondary school" since 1993, as listed by the Guinness Book of World Records, received a computer package of 10 PCs, a modem, printer and other peripherals. The computers were also equipped with multimedia CDs and headphones "to facilitate a more interactive way of learning."

According to the DTI, the PCPS project has so far led to a computer backlog reduction in public high schools from 69 to 29 percent. Some 13,000 CD courseware or instruction materials for Math, Biology, Chemistry and Physics were distributed. More importantly, a larger part of the countryside has gained from it.

And the winners are…

This year, the much-coveted top PCPS awards went to Bicol’s Polangui General Comprehensive High School, which bagged the "Best Computer Laboratory" honor; and the Tupi National High School in South Cotabato as "Best IT-Based Learning School."

The selection process started as early as February this year with stakeholders like local government units, parents and the students themselves nominating a particular school. Winners on the provincial level competed for the regional awards, then on to the national level.

The PCPS project began in 2001 initiated by Sen. Roxas, then the DTI secretary. "He has been hankering about the development of IT in the country," Maralit said, citing the trend of Filipinos seeking greener pastures abroad not only in the medical field but in IT as well. "We cannot stop them from leaving, so his idea was to continue developing IT in the schools here... Then he had a chance to talk with the Japanese ambassador and, together with the Department of Finance, they considered the grant from Japan and cooked up the idea of addressing the lack of PCs in public schools. This was in 2000 and the project was approved in June 2001."

Phase 3 of the PCPS project is awaiting the Japanese government’s nod and the DTI is optimistic it would soon get another P600-million grant. "I do believe that this is a very good project and we are seeing the results," said Maralit.

Yamazaki agreed, citing the "good example" being set by the winning schools. "We certainly hope we can reach out wide enough… to have as many schools as possible benefiting from this project."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved