PCs for public schools, whereto?

The Philippine government, through the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), was fortunate to have gotten a grant from Japan to fund allocation of free personal computers to a total of 2,228 public high schools (which was 40% of total number nationwide) as well as the corresponding training of 24,389 teachers and 223,792 students.

Luzon got the highest number of school beneficiaries – 1,167 – followed by Visayas, 569, and Mindanao, 492. Apparently, DTI used the pro-rata as basis for the number selection. After doing a search of the public schools database on DepEd site, I assume that about a third of the total number per island region was determined. So don’t smell politics here, except on the question of which schools were actually selected. (That I’ll have to find out soon as I already have the list of schools benefiting from the project.)

Entitled “PCPS”, the project has two phases. The first phase targets 996 public high schools with 20 brand-new PCs each, together with 2 printers, 1 external modem, 1 external CDROM and updated software (more on this below). The second phase targets 1,100 more public high schools as well as 250 local government units with complete computer package of 1 server, 4 workstations, and application systems such as Real Property Tax Assessment and Billing System, Business Permits and Licensing System, and Treasury Operations and Management System. In addition, a total 112 DTI regional and provincial offices are also to benefit through installation of IT facilities.

Quite a lot of money has been invested in this – about 1.2 billion pesos.

Given this, how did the project fare? The assessment of the results and impact was nowhere to be found on the DTI site but on business.gov.ph. Aside from the figures cited above, the site listed the following as the project’s results:

  1. Distributed 11,000 instructional materials (10 CD courseware per school) for Math, Biology, Chemistry and Physics developed and provided by DOST-Science Education Institute.
  2. Computer backlog reduction in public high schools from 69% to 45%.
  3. Narrowing of digital divide between rural and urban schools as 78% of PCPS Phase 1 beneficiaries came from rural areas.
  4. Automation of the administrative tasks of teachers — A total of 589 recipient schools have used the computer facilities in an average of 3.86 hours per week for preparing instructional materials, visual aids, lesson plans, reports, and examinations.
  5. Community resource mobilization — The PCPS project has effectively harnessed resources from the community to complement the IT facilities donated under the project.
  6. The number of public high schools with computers increased to 71%. While “computer backlog” (schools without computer) decreased to 29%.

The reported results and impact seem impressive. Unfortunately, I haven’t done any further research on the project’s performance but I’d like to post questions like:>

  1. What has been the actual role of Microsoft in the project, being one of its supposed partners in terms of “providing software assistance package in a form of substantial discounts for software purchase for the project?” Did the ‘software purchase’ include customized programs like the ones used by the LGUs? How much did government spend to buy the PCs and software? (For phase 1, for each school, a total of about 600 thousand pesos must have been spent, inclusive of PCs, software, trainings, and related activities.)
  2. When we say ‘updated software’, does it only mean software up-to-date when it was acquired and installed at the outset? What if there is a need for new versions of the softwares installed? Of course, that is not the scope of the PCPS project, but did the DTI study the sustainability of the project in terms of maintenance cost?
  3. To what extent has the project really boosted the efficiency and effectiveness of the LGUs, what with the three applications installed? Has fiscal management of the LGU beneficiaries improved, for instance?

About the eLGU component of the project, I wonder why it was included in the project considering its name and objectives. More schools would have benefited.

I also learned just two days ago that Phase 3 had already been worked out with the Japanese government to complete all public high schools as beneficiaries of the project. And this time, perhaps thanks to the efforts made by FOSS civil society and the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT), the DTI is mulling over which is best operating system and software to install in all computers benefiting 1,200 public high schools. Candidates are Microsoft, Linux and MacOS.

Hortaleza, in his article published by the SunStar, points out:

“Open source”, as Techno Pinoy points out, “is free” and the funds thus saved can go to the purchase of more PCs for the schools. That, we say, makes real sense.

Hear Techno Pinoy argue: “Just giving students access to the Internet is already a big step, and to achieve this, students simply need a stable OS like Linux/Ubuntu and an open source browser like Firefox. Moreover, because there are fewer games in Linux platforms, students can be more productive instead of wasting time playing hack-and-slash games.”

Thank you DTI for opening your minds. But why only now when:

  1. About half a million pesos could have been saved in terms of software purchase (at least based on the ‘software discount’ supposed to have been given by Microsoft)?
  2. Over 24,000 teachers and 223,000 students could have been taught at least the basics of FOSS at the outset?
  3. Less costs would have been entailed to maintain the computers and softwares installed in the computers? (This is assuming that since 2001, some, if not most, of the computers must have experienced system malfunctions and needed software upgrades.)

Anyway, there is still room for maneuver here. The emerging Progressive ICT/FOSS movement must really stand up and address the ICT issues such as the PCPS. It must partner with like-minded government officials to push open content and FOSS in the education sector, at the very least.

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One comment

  1. Hi there,

    I just want to reiterate our sentiments to this PCPS Phase 3 of DTI. You mentioned somewhere in your article about “politics”. Maybe our school victimized by this so called ‘political intervention’.

    Two years ago, when DTI launches their Phase 2 project, they made an assessement to all schools in Zamboanga City and fortunate enough that they include us in that project, even though we were already recipient of the Phase 1 project. Their justification is that other schools just didn’t passed the assessement they have made. And knowing the fact, that our school has a total population to almost 10,000 and the largest among all public high school in our city, they wanted to include us again in the Phase 2.

    So a letter came to the office of the principal from DTI, informing her to prepare the laboratory for the Phase 2 project (unfortunately, that letter this time has been misplaced, it could have been an evidence). So, the room had been prepared as instructed.

    When the time we were expecting the computer package to arrive, a notice came that the project has been diverted to other school… the school which has a close association with the incumbent politicians then. And so our school went empty-handed. So our principal just comforted herself telling that, that school has also a large student population and needs the computers too.

    But with this Phase 3, we just recently knew that they are about to deploy the computer to recipients school after having an orientation on the project two weeks ago. But what shocks us is that, 2 or 3 recipient-schools of the Phase 1 & 2 are again included in this project. And again that school associated with politicians is included. But still our school is out-listed. So this time, maybe that ‘politics’ is making a dirty tricks against us again… depriving our almost 10,000 students from enjoying the technology that would somehow equipped them before stepping to college. And all that besides being tagged as the “Best PCPS School” in the country during the DTI’s Best Practice Awards in 2005. At regional level, we bested other PCPS-recipient schools in 3 out of 4 categories in that contest.

    What’s the use of Best Practice Awards? I know that the 1 of the objectives of the contest is to see whether the computer lab in the schools is functional as far as IT-Based learning, community outreach and maintenance are concerned.

    We still hope that DTI will change their mind my including us in this Phase 3 project.

    FYI: Our school, as of today, has a total of 30 computer units catering only the first 4 sections of each year level out of 32 sections average per year level.

    Thanks!

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