Harnessing technology for quality education

A carabao is used to trasnport a School In A Bag kit.

PLDT and its subsidiary, Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart), have a long-standing commitment to support education in the country.

This commitment proves invaluable as the companies’ partner schools continue to struggle with the disruption caused, since over a year ago, by the Covid-19 pandemic.

While before the pandemic people were hesitant to adopt new technology, the health crisis encouraged—even forced—them to go into the virtual world and learn new ways of doing things.

The pressure on the educational system to reinvent itself to cope with an unexpected development was greater. Many schools had to shift almost instantaneously from face-to-face sessions to virtual classes, before their people can learn and be comfortable with new technologies and methods.

As schools made the urgent and quick shift, high-technology companies PLDT and Smart provided the tools that let them hew as closely as possible to their curricula while delivering instruction across cyberspace.

Both firms had actually been working for more than a decade with the Department of Education (DepEd) to promote the use of technology to facilitate instruction and learning.

PLDT and Smart support all education stakeholders by allowing access to technology, products and services needed through corporate social responsibility programs.

Farm animals are used to transport kits to farflung areas.

Suite of solutions

To promote inclusive, quality education, PLDT and Smart have developed a suite of solutions that actually prepared schools for the current and totally unexpected pandemic by enabling distance learning.

The pandemic, as to be expected, brought to new levels the demand for the companies’ technological expertise and technical support.

Cathy Yap-Yang, PLDT and Smart’s first vice president and head of corporate communications, says, “The take-up of Smart’s distance learning initiative has been encouraging during the pandemic. The adoption rate among schools of one of our long-standing learning initiatives saw a 927 percent increase. From initially 73 schools in school year 2019 and 2020, Smart saw almost 750 formal and informal schools and learning communities implement the Central Visayan Institute Foundation-Dynamic Learning Program (CVIF-DLP). It’s a program created 19 years ago by the Bernido couple—both Ramon Magsaysay awardees—as a disaster-resilient teaching strategy (to respond to the constant disruption of schooling) due to typhoons or earthquakes. Ten years on, the CVIF-DLP has proven it is pandemic-resilient, too.”

Smart started its involvement with the country’s educational system in 2004 with the basic education Smart Schools Program that set up computer laboratories. The program has evolved since, although Smart’s role remains the same, a technology enabler.

Also in 2004, PLDT started the Infoteach Outreach Program, providing basic computer knowledge or literacy to out-of-school youths, senior citizens, etc. It evolved in 2012 into a 21st century learning strategy through a partnership with the University of the Philippines Open University.

With Smart’s School-in-a-Bag, all the learning tools needed by students without access to devices and connectivity are packaged in a backpack. The portable digital classroom contains a laptop and Smart LTE pocket Wi-Fi for the teacher and 10 to 20 tablets for students. Preloaded with multimedia content accessible even offline, the program is serving far-flung schools. Since the start of the Covid-19 health crisis in 2020, Smart and its partners have distributed 92 bags, with at least 150 more expected to be distributed in 2021.

To ensure the digital inclusion of women in an indigenous people’s community in Arakan, North Cotabato, PLDT worked with Barangay Salasang and Tumanding, providing desktop computers and conducting capacity-building sessions.

Through this digital access initiative, PLDT provided not just technology upskilling opportunities, but also enhanced the women’s financial literacy and knowledge of management, forest stewardship, gender and development, social media-based advocacy building, youth leadership, among others. The telco also assisted Arakan mothers by facilitating the home-based, modular learning of their children during the pandemic.

Education is the responsibility of both public and private institutions.

Prepared for future

As it is anticipated that education will evolve even after the Covid-19 crisis into something more dependent on the latest advances in technology, either through blended systems or almost totally virtual instruction, online learning will definitely be part of the new education landscape.

PLDT and Smart will continue to support the educational system as it navigates a new terrain and tries to find the form and structure to produce lifelong learners.

Yang assures its education partners that PLDT and Smart will continue to develop the tools and provide the resources they need to adapt to new situations and respond to emerging needs.

PLDT and Smart aim to enable DepEd to deliver basic education from elementary through high school.

“We already have the most extensive fiber infrastructure and now have the fastest and widest 5G network in the Philippines, because that’s first and foremost key to enabling our learners online. We have to enable flexible learning and deliver to learners the entire distance education experience,” she says.

Supplementing the work of PLDT and Smart is satellite television provider Cignal, also a part of the MVP group, that has two channels airing DepEdTV for free, giving the whole group a vantage position to enable distance learning in the Philippines and support in very concrete terms the goal of quality education.

DepEd acknowledges the important contribution of PLDT and Smart in harnessing technology to bring the benefits of education to more Filipinos.

The still ongoing Covid-19 crisis shows that PLDT and Smart are unwavering in their long-term commitment to support the government’s education efforts.

The education sector is still struggling with new, altered realities, but it is hopeful that, with steadfast allies like PLDT and Smart, it can manage this crisis and cope effectively and efficiently with future disruptions.

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