A public-private sector partnership in education

August 23, 2011 at 05:20

This is a re-posted opinion piece.

PUBLIC-PRIVATE sector partnerships (PPP) have been touted as one way of effectively financing and building public infrastructure projects. It is also one of the most effective ways to address the great social needs of this country. One of those great needs is in the field of education.

Most people are familiar with the basic problems of the public education sector like the lack of classrooms, desks and chairs or the shortage or low standards of textbooks or the high dropout rates at the elementary and secondary levels. The other key challenge involves the number of school years: currently 10 versus the international standard of 12. While solutions to these problems will take years to implement, one of the most pressing and urgent challenges lies in preparing the students of today for the workplace. That preparation will require computer literacy and basic computer skills. It is becoming close to impossible to imagine a job today in the manufacturing or services sector that does not require at least the most basic of computer skills.

From that realization many years ago, a large-scale program to connect more public schools to the Internet and to introduce more kids to computers has evolved. It is now known as Gilas or Gearing Up Internet Literacy and Access for Students.

Gilas beginnings go back to the year 2000 when then trade and industry secretary Mar Roxas under the Estrada administration convened a meeting of the business community to discuss the PCs for Public Schools project to be funded by the Japanese government. At that time, under the leadership of former Sen. Vicente Paterno for the private sector, organizations such as Intel, Microsoft, Coca Cola, Ayala, LCF, MBC and others worked with the DTI to plan out PCPS1.

Because resources were limited and hardly any school had a computer, the strategic discussion revolved around spreading around stand-alone PCs for many schools versus setting up Internet labs for fewer schools. The group eventually decided to set up stand-alone PCs in batches of 20 per school for 1,000 schools in PCPS1 and to leave Internet connectivity to the future. At that time, the connectivity potential was not nearly as widespread as it is now.

Since the deployment process took some time to execute, the private sector created a consortium which could raise the computers and other resources on its own. Thus, a decision was arrived at to allow the private sector to move on its own in parallel with the government sector. A decision was also made to push for Internet connections where possible. Out of that arrangement came the ConnectedEd project which brought together Ayala Foundation’s Youth Tech project, the LCF’s computerization project, MBC and all other private players from PCPS1. MBC acted as the secretariat with each of the project’s key components of hardware, software, local area networks, Internet connectivity, training, funding and local counterparts handled by different committee members. One hundred schools were connected in the first year.

After another 100 schools were connected, we decided that we were barely scratching the surface and would never create the impact we needed for our students. Thus, another major decision was made to transfer the project to Ayala Foundation, which could provide more staff and resources than the MBC to handle the job. We had also decided that we needed to scale up operations to 500-1,000 schools a year if we wanted to create an impact on the system. That decision led to the evolution of the project into Gilas.

Today, Gilas is a consortium of business corporations, government agencies and local government units which has connected over 3,000 public high schools to the Internet. There are 6,784 public high schools across the country and that number will grow to 7,000 this year so the Gilas total now covers about half of the public high school system.

Connecting a school within Gilas requires a number of minimum standards: at least 10 computers, local area network, Internet connection via landline, wireless or satellite and teacher training. It also requires local community involvement, usually in the form of counterpart effort by the schools’ own teachers and parents.

Putting this all together involves getting the cooperation of many players, some of them companies who are fierce competitors in business but who set aside those competitive differences for the common good. It also involves receiving support from various government agencies, from the DepEd to senators, congressmen, governors and mayors. It is a public-private sector partnership for development.

There’s a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. Gilas is that village. Over the last five years, it has raised over P325 million from private corporations, government and overseas Filipinos. It has also trained 12,548 teachers in computer operations and exposed three million students to the wonders of the Web.

Clearly there is still a long way to go. But a good start has been made. So this new year, please make it your resolution to help connect all schools to the Internet by the beginning of next school year June 2011 and bring students in the Philippines into the Internet age.

Guillermo M. Luz is executive vice president and COO of Ayala Foundation. He is former executive director of the Makati Business Club.
By: Guillermo M. Luz – Business Matters
Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer, Opinion, Jan. 29, 2011
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