MANILA, JUNE 18, 2006
 (STAR) By Sandy Araneta - If the Department of Education (DepEd) has its way, Internet cafés will no longer just be havens for kids to e-mail, play computer games and hang out, but can allow students to further their education through tutoring and teaching modules.

The idea was raised two years ago in an effort to extend school services to popular computer cafés, now seen by many as places where students flock to cut classes and waste time.

The plan, according to DepEd officer-in-charge Fe Hidalgo, would offer an environment for kids to review for exams, research school reports, and maybe even hold private tutoring sessions with public school teachers themselves.

In a phone interview with The STAR, Hidalgo said she would raise the plan during the next executive committee meeting of the DepEd in Pasig City this week.

"I’ll be bringing this up. Yes, we are open to this kind of suggestion," Hidalgo told The STAR when asked about the suggestion made by Kabataan Party president Raymond Palatino that school administrators should consider forging a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with commercial Internet shops as partners in extending the reach of education.

Internet shops that cater to students who want to spend hours playing games can instead actually help students learn, Palatino said.

Hidalgo said about two years ago, the suggestion had been made in one of their DepEd meetings to come up with a MOA that would be signed by school officials, Internet café owners, and the local governments with jurisdiction in the areas where the service would be launched.

She adds this could help in solving one of DepEd’s perennial problems: the shortage of computers in public schools.

"I don’t know why it was not pursued. But I will take it up in our next Execom meeting," said Hidalgo. "It would be good to revive it and see how this can be done."

Hidalgo said it could be a joint venture to best utilize the time spent by students in Internet cafés. The MOA must emphasize furthering education in such cafés, and not just the attraction of games, she said.

She cautioned that they should "anticipate problems" that might arise from such a venture and establish clear guidelines. She declined to state what problems could arise.

On the other hand, Palatino said, instead of seeing the Internet shops as notorious game arcades that lure students and promote bad study habits, school and government officials should maximize the resources of these shops to address the computer shortage and improve the quality of education.

He made the suggestion amidst proposals to ban Internet cafés operating near campuses, saying the game dens can actually help reduce the computer shortage in public schools.

Palatino said that, instead of an outright ban, the solution to habitual "cutting of classes" among some students due to "addiction" to computer games can be solved by strict regulation, closer cooperation and monitoring between school administrations and computer shop owners.

"School officials should not treat these computer shops as enemies but as potential partners in education. In this day and age, our schools should experiment more with different means of learning," Palatino said.

With such an agreement, Palatino said, schools can promote interactive and alternative learning at a low cost while allowing the computer shops to operate near the campus.

He said this is a temporary solution to the computer shortage problem being experienced among all public schools in the country.

Palatino said Internet shop owners should do their share by prohibiting students from using computers during class hours, except during the allotted time for interactive learning and other subjects that require computer use.

Meanwhile, Palatino said the Kabataan Party is also pushing for the integration of computer games into the school curriculum.

He said the games can actually be beneficial to students and are an effective means of teaching and representation.

He cited a study by the Institute of Education in London University which revealed that "games literacy" could enhance learning and is a key skill for school children.

"Not all computer games are dense and violent. There are educational games and simulations which enhance critical thinking and can be venues for students to apply the theories and lectures they’ve learned in class at least through 3-D animation while promoting creativity," Palatino said.

"It is just a matter of being open to innovations, learning to adapt to changes and maximizing the resources available," he said.

The plan of DepEd could also help address another problem in public schools: computer illiteracy among teachers themselves. Studies showed that many public school teachers have "technophobia," or fears about using high-tech gadgets such as computers.

The minimal use of technology among Filipino public school teachers is mainly due to lack of skills, fear of technology, and perceived difficulty of learning to use such devices.

The DepEd has also been plagued by the lack of computers in public schools. Only a few computers are donated to public schools by private companies, politicians and organizations, which does not address the need of almost 18 million public school elementary and high school students.

There are more than two million elementary and high school students attending private schools.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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