, NOVEMBER 27, 2006
  (STAR) Education woes in our country become almost rhetoric every year, come June, when classes start. Fortunately, there are always more ways than one to help change our educational landscape, and any effort to help mitigate the situation is very much welcome. One such effort is the GILAS project. For its part, the GILAS project aims to close the technological divide that exists between developed and developing countries.

GILAS, which stands for Gearing Up Internet Literacy and Access for Students, is a multi-sector initiative led by Ayala Foundation that aims to wire up all the country's public high schools to the Internet by 2010.

Recognizing the great disparity between students who have the opportunity to study in private schools, and thereby have more access to learning facilities and resources, and students who have no choice but to study in public schools, Ayala Foundation, in 2005, came up with a project that aims to provide Internet connection to all 5,789 public high schools in the country. All that within a timeframe of only five years. An ambitious goal in such a short time - sounds too good to be true, but no need to worry. Even if the project was launched only last year, there have already been a lot of individuals and organizations that have given their commitment to ensure that there are enough resources for the project to push through. They form a consortium of leaders coming from different sectors, from government leaders to low-key donors who simply have a genuine desire to improve our country's state of education. Leading the pack are Senator Manuel Roxas III and Ayala Corporation's Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala who serve as the working co-chairs of the project's steering committee.

Other government leaders and CEOs from different companies have also pitched in their share to ensure the success of the GILAS project. Moreover, the project is fully endorsed by no less than President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and by the Department of Education.

Because dotcom is key

In the last few years, the government seems to have had some trouble in its allocation of resources, and the education sector has suffered as a result. This of course translates into woes such as lack of classrooms, books and competent teachers. Add to that the issue of erroneous textbooks already being used in some public schools, etc., which naturally leads to graduates ill-equipped to compete in today's fast-moving global economy.

"Global" is the operating word, and a great part of it concerns information technology which largely involves the Internet. Internet access, as well as knowledge on how to use it, is one major problem further adding up to the woes of Philippine secondary education. And it is one that requires urgent attention.

According to statistics from the Department of Education, about 90% of all Filipino students study in public schools. Among the country's over 5,000 public high schools, only about 6% have access to the Internet. The remaining 94% cannot provide its millions of Filipino students with the benefits of the Internet, such as free online resources for research and assignments, not to mention the practical know-how of using the Internet, which will eventually come into play when they seek employment in companies and industries that are growing more and more dependent on computer technology. It is clear, therefore, that an Initiative like GILAS is of paramount importance.

Package deal

The GILAS project is an all-in-one deal. For schools already equipped with computer laboratories, GILAS will provide servers or routers, LAN cards, cables, as well as connectivity and unlimited free Internet usage for the first year (to be provided by different telecom giants partnered with GILAS). In addition, teachers will be trained on networking and resource mobilization; plus, a basic curriculum and yearlong lesson plan are also part of the package.

Meanwhile, for schools without computer laboratories, GILAS will setup the laboratories with at least ten PC units each, and provide Internet connectivity and training of teachers.

First 1000

Last October 26, GILAS celebrated the wiring up of its first 1000 schools. This just proves that the project is moving steadily towards achieving its goals, and there is no reason not to believe that by 2010, all 5,789 public high schools in the country shall already be surfing the net.

You can help too

The GILAS project provides a silver lining to the dismal state of education in our country. One can only hope that a lot more similar initiatives are under way.

At the moment, donations from corporations and individuals hoping to be part of this endeavor keep pouring in, making it possible to sustain the project. But GILAS still has a long way to go, so help is always welcome. Any donations (in the form of cash or check) may be sent to the following address: The Director, GILAS Program, Ayala Foundation, Inc., 10/F BPI Main Bldg., Ayala Ave. corner Paseo de Roxas, Makati City, Philippines, with phone numbers + 632 750 1070.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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