LAMITAN, BASILAN, March 17, 2006
 (BULLETIN) By MELVIN G. CALIMAG - In this town known for strife more than anything else, the whole community – from students and teachers to the lowly farmers – is starting to tap the power of information technology to make their lives more bearable if not easier.

Unlike in the recent past when farmers here would travel for hours on sea and land just to check the selling price of their agricultural produce, they now use the Internet to access this valuable information.

Also, if teachers then had to manually compute the grades of their students, they now use Excel spreadsheets to calculate grades instantly – a welcome relief given the huge number of students that these hardworking government workers handle.

These developments are indications that the information technology revolution has reached this part of the country and that its image as a ravaged warzone is but a pure misconception.

Most people remember Lamitan as the town where the notorious Abu Sayyaf bandits staged a gruesome siege of a local hospital after military men cornered them with their hostages whom they seized from the Dos Palmas resort in Palawan.

But slowly, that horrible impression of the town is beginning to fade and replaced with a vibrant community eager to jump on the opportunities offered by information technology.

The main conduit for this change is the Lamitan National High School (LNHS) which has generously opened its computer laboratory to community members by giving them access to its facility.

"But primarily, it’s the students who will benefit from this because they now have unlimited resources through the Internet. The computer laboratory makes up for the lack of books that we have in our library. The Internet is now our virtual library," said Pilarita Dahandal, principal of LNHS.

"With these resources, we’re now in equal footing with the rest of the country," she beamed.

The school official also recounted how hard communication was before the arrival of the Internet.

"The memos coming from the regional office of DepEd (Department of Education) in Cotabato took weeks to reach us here in Basilan. But now with a click of a mouse, we can the see memos instantly."

Checking money inquires through their GSIS e-card has also become painless for the teachers, Dahandal added.

"We just input our e-card and code number in the website. If we see that money is available, that’s the only time that we travel to the city to get it."

In the capital city of Isabela, also in Basilan, the same image makeover is also taking place, with various community stakeholders -- students and teachers, parents, laborers and traders, and the local government unit — all wanting to share the benefits of being connected to the World Wide Web.

Their main gateway to the information superhighway is the Basilan National High School, where the Internet laboratory is more advanced than that of the only other Internet café in town.

In Zamboanga City, the urban center located just a few kilometers off the island of Basilan, people converge at Ayala National High School to learn about the basics of computer technology. The trainings that the school has provided have, in fact, landed them jobs in the locality.

This technology revolution is credited, at least initially, to the Growth and Equity in Mindanao -Computer Literacy and Internet Connectivity (GEMCLIC) of the United Sates Agency for International Development (USAID), a program that gives computer equipment and Internet connection to schools with Muslim student population in Mindanao.

But since the grant for the Internet satellite connection was only for a limited period time, the schools have racked up huge bills since the expiration of the grant. Their recent inclusion, however, in the Smart Schools Program offered a way out of the problem.

The Smart Schools Program community service initiative that promotes information and communications technology in the education sector through Internet access, online content, and teachers training.

Lamitan NHS, Basilan NHS, and Ayala NHS were the most recent additions to the Smart Communications-sponsored program, which also counts 34 other schools partners nationwide.

All the three schools are now connected to the Internet using Smart WiFi service, which works through a Smart WiFi antenna installed at the school building housing the laboratory. The antenna is directed to the nearest Smart cellsite to get the Internet connection signal.

The service is being given for free by Smart for a period of one year. However, the rates that will be charged to the school after that is much lower compared to the satellite fee they had under the previous program.

The schools also received additional computers and peripherals to complement the existing equipment in their laboratories, which came largely from the PC for Public Schools program of the Department of Trade and Industry.

Meanwhile, GEM has tapped their Cisco-trained personnel in the areas to set up the Internet network of the equipment.

On top of Internet connectivity, teachers in these schools will also receive trainings on basic computer technology as well as workshops on project management so as to ensure that they can maintain and sustain the facility. They will also be part of an emerging online community of teachers nationwide.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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