The island of Coron in the province of Palawan may evoke scenes of clear turquoise waters and magnificent limestone cliffs. But it is also home to remote elementary schools whose students have not actually seen or used modern ICT tools for learning.
There are two schools in the island – Cabugao Elementary School and Banuang Daan Elementary School – whose student population is comprised almost entirely of Tagbanwa, the indigenous people of Palawan.
Fortunately, both schools recently became the beneficiary of the “School-in-a-Bag” initiative of Smart Communications where a complete set of multimedia learning equipment is packed in a big backpack for use in far-flung schools in the provinces.
(Just a note: the tourist town of Coron is located on the island of Busuanga and not on the island of Coron. According to a tourist guide, the town of Coron was formerly on the island of Coron but it was transferred years ago to the island of Busuanga, which is bigger and had the infrastructure to cater to tourists such as airport and seaport.)
To make the project more participatory, Smart has opened School-in-a-Bag to corporate and individual partners. In the case of the schools in Coron island, the e-learning kits were donated by recording firm MCA Universal and individual donor Leah Avelino-Quimson.
For the turnover ceremonies, MCA Universal was represented by rock artist Gabby Alipe (vocalist of the band Urbandub) while Avelino-Quimson (a financial analyst of insurance firm Pru Life of UK) was personally around to hand over the digital tools to excited teachers and students.
The School-in-a-Bag package, the teachers said, would be a big help for the schools – and their communities as well – which were ravaged by super typhoon Yolanda about three years back.
The e-learning equipment, they added, would hopefully inspire the students to pursue their education beyond the primary level. As of now, only 10 to 20 percent of those who graduate from the elementary schools in the island would go on to enroll in high school in the town of Coron.
As the island has limited electricity, the digital learning equipment contains a solar panel and battery to charge the laptop, tablets, mobile phones, pocket WiFi, and LED TV. A learning module for the teachers is also included in the package.
One of the features of e-learning kit is the Batibot mobile app pre-installed in the tablet. Developed by Smart in partnership with the Community of Learners Foundation and OrangeFix, it is the first learning app in Filipino that is aligned with the national kindergarten curriculum of the Department of Education.
The Batibot app features fun games that help children in kindergarten up to Grade 3 learn basic concepts like matching, sorting, and grouping. Through the app, they are shown how to identify shapes, colors, numbers, the alphabet, and letter sounds. The children can also practice tracing letters with the proper strokes.
Stephanie Velasco-Orlino, education program head of Smart Communications, said that a total of 18 bags have been donated so far under the initiative to various schools across the country.
At around the same time that Smart was facilitating the donation in Coron island, Velasco-Orlino said another School-in-a-Bag was being turned over by Gary Valenciano’s Shining Light Foundation to Baybay Elementary School in Malinao, Albay.
“For so long, the Philippines has been divided by geography. This makes access to information extremely hard. Smart wants to unite the islands through Internet connectivity. We go to schools in mountains, on isolated islands, places where there is no electricity, to bring School-in-a-Bag,” said Darwin Flores, Smart vice-president for community partnerships.
Individuals and organizations can also bring the gift of digital learning to more schools in the country by sponsoring a School-in-a-Bag. Each package costs P100,000. For more information on how to donate, interested parties may send an email to TechnoCart@smart.com.ph