Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Education, Headlines

PHILIPPINES: Teaching through Mobile Technology Debuts in Schools

Alecks Pabico

MANILA, Jun 11 2003 (IPS) - When classes begin this month, students in the fifth and sixth grades from selected public and private schools in the Philippines will not just be leafing through pages of their textbooks or listening to their teachers’ lectures on science.

They will also be able to view educational videos – downloaded with the help of mobile phones and satellite communication systems – on subjects as plant and animal life, matter and energy, the Earth and the solar system right in their classrooms.

Such high-technology instruction is part of the global Bridgeit programme to deliver digital learning materials to schools with the use of mobile technology. The Philippines is the only Asian country in Bridgeit, which will also have its initial run in three other countries – the United States, Britain and Finland this schoolyear.

Locally called ‘text2teach’ – which uses the abbreviations typically used in sending short messages through mobile phones – the programme is meant to facilitate access of teachers and students to distance-learning schemes in video and multimedia lessons.

It aims to merge high-technology methods with basic education needs in this South-east Asian country of 80 million people, one that has often been called the world’s texting capital with more than two million messages sent each day from well over 13 million cellular phone users. ‘Text’ is the way the short message service (SMS) function of mobile phones is referred to in the country.

The pilot areas for the text2teach programme were chosen "to reflect the realities in Philippine education, which means more government-run and needy schools from the rural and urban areas”, Zenaida Domingo, coordinator for the local partner of the project, the South-east Asian Ministries of Education Organisation Regional Centre for Educational Innovation and Technology (SEAMEO-Innotech), said in an interview.

"It will enable teachers to use digital technology to share and illustrate new ideas with their students, who will have the opportunity to learn new skills and participate actively in classroom lessons," added Victoria Garchitorena, president of the Ayala Foundation, which is among the government, civil society and private groups that support text2teach.

At present, elementary and high school students in the Philippines do have access to educational television offered by several programmes, broadcast on ABS-CBN television channel. For teachers, there is the Continuing Studies for Teachers via Television aired on government-owned station.

But text2teach – which capitalises on Filipinos’ penchant for using mobile phones to send messages, get everything from ringing tones to Bible readings to political protest messages, or join quiz games – is the first of its kind to employ mobile technology for educational purposes.

Developed by Finland’s mobile communications leader Nokia in partnership with the International Youth Foundation (IYF), international media company Pearson and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the 1.5 million U.S. dollar project is being pilot-tested in 36 public and four private schools in the country starting Jun. 26.

More than 13,000 pupils in Grades 5 and 6, mostly 10 to 11-year-olds, will experience this kind of teaching approach.

Under text2teach, each school is equipped with a satellite dish, 29-inch television set with rack, a 40-gigabyte digital video server/recorder to record and store video clips and two to three mobile phones.

The technology is fairly basic. Following a lesson plan that incorporates text2teach lessons, science teachers just have to send an SMS request on mobile phones for specific videos from the more than 100 that Pearson has made available from its KnowledgeBox video library. These are then downloaded via satellite to a Nokia digital recorder connected to the school’s television set.

To retrieve, for instance, the video clip on fungi on food, the teacher has to type the keyword ‘t2t’ (for text2teach) along with the video’s code number, KB1533, after which he or she sends the message to an assigned access code.

"The teacher’s main responsibility therefore is to order the video materials ahead of their scheduled use in class," explained Domingo of SEAMEO.

Ordering time is between 8 a.m. to 4 p.m, with the downloading period preprogrammed at 2 to 4 a.m. in the morning to minimise access costs.

To be sure, technology-driven teaching and learning is not new to the Philippines. As early as 1984, the use of computers as teaching and learning tools in both elementary and secondary education was already recommended by a cabinet committee on computers.

The education department issued policy guidelines in 1985 on the use of computers in teaching science and mathematics subjects, but not much came out of these initiatives.

The Philippines was deemed a suitable choice for pilot-testing Bridgeit, because its developers saw its "high-quality technological infrastructure, highly developed English language skills, and the presence of many cooperative institutions which can support such undertaking”.

With its archipelagic character, the country likewise presents "an interesting geographic challenge that enables us to effectively test technology and technical assistance solutions," says Martin Sandelin, Nokia senior vice president, during the project’s official launch early this month.

Text2teach also has inputs from the department of education and SEAMEO-Innotech, which were responsible for lesson development and the training of more than a hundred science teachers, supervisors and school heads.

Mobile telephone operator Globe Telecom, PMSI-Dream Broadcasting and the Chikka Asia services, which offers SMS messaging on the Internet, in turn, provided hardware, software and technical requirements of the project.

After a year, the developers of text2teach will evaluate its impact with a view to replicating the project in more Philippine public schools as well as in other developing countries.

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