MANILA, June 28, 2005
 (STAR) By Angelina Goloy - In nearly half of the 107 colleges and universities offering electronics and communications engineering (ECE) all over the country, students are getting the next best thing to on-the-job training right on campus, in "wireless laboratories" equipped with radio base station facilities.

In several public high schools in Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao, teachers have been given basic training in information and communications technology (ICT) and are now downloading supplemental teaching material from websites and giving lessons using PowerPoint presentations as visual aids.

These developments are the result of two technology education programs of the country’s leading wireless services company – the Smart Wireless Engineering Education Program (SWEEP) and Smart Schools Program.

Begun by Smart Communications Inc. as two distinct community service initiatives, the programs are now "interconnected," with SWEEP providing the training resource for Smart Schools.

It is a logical move to the next level, an innovative and practical interpretation of connectivity, which is, after all, what telecommunications is all about.

"The idea is to mobilize SWEEP partner colleges and universities to form the training network for public high schools that become part of Smart Schools," says Smart public affairs head Ramon Isberto.

To be sure, Smart is only one of several corporate advocates of computer and Internet literacy. But it has chosen to focus on training because it is crucial to the sustainability of such programs.

How well the schools absorb the new technology, use it and build their own capability to maintain and manage the facilities will depend on training. "In the end, it is the people that matter the most," Isberto says.

Public affairs senior manager Sally Aldaba likens the link between the two programs to sibling relationship, with SWEEP schools playing big brother to Smart Schools. The former will look after the latter within their "area of responsibility," she adds.

For example, last month Mariano Ponce High School (MPHS) in Baliuag, Bulacan, became a Smart Schools beneficiary on the recommendation of the Bulacan State University (BSU) in Malolos, the first SWEEP partner school.

Angeles City National Trade School was recommended for Smart Schools by Systems Plus College Foundation.

Smart Schools was piloted at the Malabon National High School, Science and Technology Education Center in Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu, and Jolo National High School in Sulu.

Beneficiaries receive one year of free unlimited Internet access and connectivity, through the PLDT Group’s wide range of solutions, as well as hosting solutions, which include access to relevant online information such as curriculum resources, learning portals, e-groups, chatrooms, and e-learning multimedia materials, Isberto says.

To ensure long-term sustainability, he adds, the program will offer business training for school stakeholders.

Smart Schools is implemented through the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) with the support of the Department of Education and Microsoft Philippines Inc.

The PBSP facilitates the turnover of computers and coordinates ICT and related training. Microsoft, through its Partners in Learning Program, conducts Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) training for teachers in SWEEP schools.

These teachers, in turn, will train their colleagues from public high schools taken into the Smart Schools program. During the summer break, 39 teachers from Bacolod schools completed ICT training conducted by the College of Information Technology of the University of Negros Occidental-Recoletos, a SWEEP school.

To date, teachers from 31 SWEEP schools have undergone ICT training for Smart Schools.

Launched in March 2003 with the inauguration of the first wireless lab at BSU, SWEEP is now in effect in 43 private and state colleges and universities nationwide, with 26 more in the process of negotiation.

This pioneering industry-academe partnership raises the quality of ECE education in the country by making Smart’s expertise and facilities available to schools serving students from families across the entire range of income levels, from as far north as Ilocos Norte (Mariano Marcos State University) to as far south as South Cotabato (Notre Dame of Marbel University).

Earlier this week, the University of San Agustin in Iloilo became the latest partner school.

Aside from installing wireless labs for students’ hands-on training, Smart has fielded more than 1,000 engineers and technical staff to provide continuing education to faculty and students on the latest wireless technologies. To date, about 300 ECE faculty have been trained, and more than 5,000 ECE students have tried their hand, literally, at operating wireless equipment.

In just a little over a year, SWEEP schools had the opportunity to showcase their students’ aptitude in mobile communication technology when Smart launched the SWEEP Innovation and Excellence Awards last March. Wesleyan University’s "Smart Kiosk" bested 60 other entries, with those of Ateneo de Davao and Ateneo de Manila University winning second and third place, respectively.

Students also participated in a question-and-answer contest, billed "PalaECEpan," which BSU won. The second innovation awards will be given in February 2006.

Like SWEEP, Smart Schools covers the length and breadth of the archipelago, from Batanes National Science High School to Tawi-Tawi School of Arts and Trade. Fifty schools are expected to become part of the program before the year is over.

Technology upgrades so rapidly that the only way to catch up and harness its benefits is by learning to use it. While textbooks remain the basic knowledge resource, industry-tested expertise provides "real-time education."

Smart, recognizing that the most ardent patrons and purveyors of technology are the youth, has gone to their milieu, the schools, to promote its use responsibly and for their own benefit.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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