Smart Communications is on a mission – the mission is to bring digital learning to schools without electricity in the Philippines.
For several years, students of Banuang Daan Elementary School in Coron, Palawan had to learn about computers without ever touching one. There were no devices available to the school’s 200 students, as it is one of about 6,000 schools all over the country that do not have electricity.
“Yung iba dito na nakapag-enroll sa first year (high school) sa bayan, nabu-bully sila pagdating doon kasi ang dami nilang hindi alam (Some of our graduates who were able to enroll at the high school in the main town end up getting bullied because there is a lot they do not know),” said teacher Criselda Daculla.
“Mahirap para sa kanila at mahirap din para sa aming turuan sila dahil walang gamit (It’s difficult for them, and it’s also difficult for us to teach them without the necessary tools),” she added.
This is why the teachers consider as “hulog ng langit” (a blessing from the heavens) the Smart School-in-a-Bag unit donated recently by Metro Manila-based financial consultant Leah Quimson.
Digital learning in remote areas
The School-in-a-Bag is a digital learning package developed by Smart Communications to enhance the education of children in remote, underserved areas. The backpack contains a solar panel for electricity, a laptop, five tablets, a mobile phone, a pocket Wi-Fi with starter load, LED TV, and learning modules.
Smart has distributed 18 School-in-a-Bag units to different schools since last year, six of which were sponsored by organizations and individuals like Quimson. Each bag costs P100,000. Fourteen more packages are set to be turned over in the coming months.
“We tend to take technology for granted because it is easy for us to have access. When the opportunity came up, I thought: Why not help these kids?” said Quimson, who joined the Smart team during the School-in-a-Bag turnover in Coron.
“It was heartwarming to see the children excited to use the tablets and other gadgets that came with the bag. Most of them were seeing gadgets for the first time. The sight made me even more grateful of what I have, what my family has. The curiosity and wonder I saw in the eyes of the children were so beautiful,” she said.
Heightened interest in learning
Smart public affairs senior manager Stephanie Orlino said previous School-in-a-Bag recipients were reporting higher engagement and less absenteeism among students.
“Teachers said students wanted to go to school even during bad weather, knowing that they would use the tablets and the laptop. But the School-in-a-Bag is not just about the gadgets. It also has digital content that could help enhance learning among children,” she said.
An example is the Batibot mobile application which is preloaded in the tablets. Created with the help of the Community of Learners Foundation and developer OrangeFix, this is the first app in the Filipino language that is aligned with the kindergarten curriculum of the Department of Education. It can be downloaded for free on Android devices.
Through games in the app, such as the Batibot classic “Alin ang Naiba? (Which One is Different?),” children in their formative years can learn basic concepts like matching, sorting, and grouping. They are also shown how to identify shapes, colors, numbers, the alphabet, and letter sounds. The children can also practice tracing letters with the proper strokes.
Inspiring children to dream
Daculla said she was sure that the students’ performance in school would improve because of the School-in-a-Bag. “Hindi na sila mahuhuli. Kung anong meron sa bayan, magagawa na rin dito. Hindi na sila maninibago. Hindi na sila mabu-bully (They won’t be left behind. Whatever the main town has, we also have here. It won’t come as a surprise to them. They will not get bullied anymore).”
More than this, the teachers of Banuang Daan Elementary School hoped that the School-in-a-Bag would inspire students to set life goals.
“Bihira lang po ang professional dito, iilan pa lang. Gusto naming ma-inspire sila na magtapos ng pag-aaral. (Professionals are rare here. We want the students to be inspired to finish their studies),” said teacher Christine Gay Sabiano.
Daculla said, “Right now ang gusto lang nila ay mag-asawa nang maaga o mangisda (Right now all they want is to marry early or fish for a living).”