, September 6, 2005 
(STAR) The public school system is set to harness the short message service (SMS) to improve parent-teacher communication.

"I think that it is best that we exploit the use of a very handy instrument that we have all the time," Department of Education (DepEd) officer-in-charge Undersecretary Fe Hidalgo said. "However, there are certain limitations, certain controls, certain policies, if we have to use (SMS) for official purposes," she said.

The DepEd launched a new text messaging service called DETxt 2622 in partnership with communications giants Smart and Globe.

Over a hundred DepEd personnel, including teachers, principals, superintendents, school division heads and other DepEd employees attended the launch at the DepEd main office in Pasig City.

The text messaging service provides the public with easy access to news and information directly from DepEd ó including information on whether or not classes will be suspended during bad weather.

The service costs P2.50 per text message via Smart or Globe. Subscriptions to this service will also be offered by telecommunications companies.

DepEd employees, teachers, education personnel, parents or students using the DETxt SMS service will shoulder the cost of checking information supplied by DepEd.

Under this scheme, DepEd will incur only minimal costs, since they will only send responses to queries.

While DETxt "is just one of the many efforts the department is undertaking to better serve the public," Hidalgo has advised all DepEd personnel to use the service judiciously.

"We believe that this is an excellent venue or instrument or technology for us to communicate with stakeholders and enlist them in the cause of improving Philippine education," she said.

During the launching, Hidalgo said the new text messaging service of DepEd will be very useful, especially in the Philippines, which is considered the text messaging capital of the world.

"Certainly we are making use of something we are very good at as Filipinos," she said. "Perhaps, if I ask any one of you here who does not have a cell phone, none of you would raise your hand."

For his part, DepEd Undersecretary for Administration and Finance Juan Miguel Luz said there are approximately 300,000 DepEd employees using cell phones.

If the DepEd were to shoulder the entire cost of information dissemination, they would have to spend a minimum of P750,000 per text message to all DepEd personnel, said Luz.

They would also be sending at least one message per week, which the DepEd cannot afford, said Luz.

Charging the text messaging to employees drew mixed reactions since some of them may not want to spend more money on such updates.

In 2003, the DepEd launched a text messaging system through which parents could send complaints about school personnel or schools. The service was eventually upgraded and called the DETxt service.

Hidalgo also vowed to professionalize the education sector: "I want to give priority to teacher development and teacher welfare as we go along. I shall be very active in our drive for professionalism in the DepEd and the education sector. With the help of all the stakeholders, I know we can make inroads in our quest for quality education."

"We hope we can establish better partnerships with all our stakeholders, starting with our Schoolís First initiative, which we introduced and which we want to continue," she added.

Hidalgo said she hopes to continue the DepEdís efforts to decentralize the education bureaucracy. Under the DepEdís Schoolís First initiative, the DepEd hopes to gain more support from their partners in local governments, civil society and other communities. ó Sandy Araneta

Chief News Edutor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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