‘Alay Computer’ in Paete, Laguna

STAR SCIENCE
By Angel C. De Dios, Ph.D.

The Philippine STAR 12/01/2005

I spent three weeks of this past summer in the small town of Paete in Laguna, conducting a series of lectures to parents and teachers in the town’s three public elementary schools. With so many professionals leaving the Philippines, it is time for those who have left to reach back to their homeland. With financial help from “Paetenians” overseas, a computer classroom has been built in each of the elementary schools of Paete. And this past summer signaled the next step beyond financial aid. The project now requires one’s time and knowledge and more importantly, a more direct involvement. Born on the Internet, the “Alay Computer” project of Paete is a collaboration among the town’s schools, the municipal government, and individual Paetenians. The project was launched in 2002 with the original objective of training the students of Paete in information technology and computer office skills. Three years later, the computer classrooms have become an integral part of synergistic activities that will address not just the education but also the livelihood, welfare and environment of Paete.

Paete was recently declared as the “Carving Capital of the Philippines.” It is a town that lies right at the foot of the Sierra Madre mountains, and on its west is the lake of Laguna, one of the largest fresh water lakes in Asia. Thus, the opportunity of launching programs that will benefit art, culture and Nature conservation is genuine in the town of Paete. The role of information technology in programs that will address concerns in the areas of livelihood, environment, education and social awareness is, indeed, extremely important. Outlined here are possible ways of using technology to support and enhance programs that are already in place. These objectives comprise the main focus of the local government of Paete, thus these proposed activities are expected to receive full support from the local officials and citizens of Paete.

The computer classrooms are currently housed inside the public elementary schools of Paete. Therefore, one of their main uses is the enhancement of both teaching and learning in the schools. Teachers, as well as parents, have been introduced to the possible uses of the Internet. The three weeks spent on seminars highlighted the use of the Internet in enhancing the students’ basic skills in reading, writing, logic and arithmetic. We have compiled a list of resources on the Internet that will provide discovery-based learning activities, multimedia presentations, lesson plans, quizzes, puzzles in one page: http://bouman.chem.georgetown.edu/batangpaete.html

In a training session that lasted one week, almost 100 teachers and the same number of parents were introduced to examples taken from these Internet resources. Hence, slowly but surely, we would begin to incorporate the Internet as a learning and teaching tool in the schools. The schools are now equipped with multimedia projectors and screens, bringing the Internet into classroom instruction and learning.

Webcams have also been installed in the classrooms to support a Web-based mentorship. These are expected to assist the continuing involvement and support of Paetenians overseas. Discussion and updates on the projects continue in a forum maintained on the Internet: http://paete.org/forums/index.php

The educational component of the computer classrooms is, indeed, a very important component, but we realize that we can expand the use of these classrooms to support, in a synergistic way, other programs of the town that will address other areas outside of education. Here we present some concrete examples.

The town of Paete is blessed with several non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The computer classrooms can be used during weekends and evenings to help train all the NGOs in Paete so that these groups can take advantage of information technology in their planning, presentation, discussion and solicitation. It is then proposed that the computer schools hold training sessions for these groups that will include training in e-mail, forum participation, word processing, slide presentation, and Web authoring.

The town of Paete will coordinate with the Office of Social Concern and Involvement of the Ateneo de Manila University to launch an immersion program for computer science, environmental science, natural science and economics juniors and seniors of the Ateneo. Since Paete is only about 100 kilometers from Metro Manila, students from the Ateneo can easily travel to Paete on weekends to help train the NGOs in the use of information technology.

The town of Paete is likewise blessed with professionals overseas who can participate in the training and mentoring, either in person or over the Internet. There are several webmasters based in Canada, the US and Japan, who can easily lend their expertise in training the students, teachers, parents, and NGOs in the use of information technology. One important aspect of the Internet is that it provides an excellent medium of communication, in which brainstorming sessions can be held as well as one-on-one correspondence, as in distance learning.

The town of Paete, with its culture and natural landscape, provides an excellent destination for grade school and high school students. In fact, during the months of September and October, buses of grade school students from Metro Manila visit the town. The computer classrooms can easily serve as launching stations for these trips where students will be provided a slide presentation regarding the town. In this manner, the children will be better prepared for their sightseeing of Paete. Since the classrooms are located inside the elementary schools of Paete, students from the elite schools in Manila will be introduced to the local students.

Small business enterprises can also benefit from an active presence on the Internet. Since Paete’s products cater to visitors and tourists, they can be marketed on the Internet. Therefore, these enterprises should also be provided time for training in the computer classrooms.

These groups can be assisted by “immersion” students from the management and economics departments of the Ateneo. To succeed in Internet commerce, effective advertising is necessary. The schools of Paete will thus engage themselves in projects involving the use of computers aimed at promoting the products of the town. Computer products such as calendars, bookmarks, Web pages, and screen savers that highlight Paete’s art are excellent projects for the students and teachers of Paete. These products can then be sold to Paetenians overseas who would use them as tokens or small gifts to their friends and co-workers in the US, Europe, Japan and other countries. The proceeds will be used for the maintenance and upgrade of the computer classrooms. The mayor of Paete has already set an example when he used the computer classrooms to publish a book of his poems. This book, for example, has already generated thousands of dollars in revenue. The synergistic aspect is obvious. At the same time funds were obtained to support the classrooms, Paete’s cultural heritage in the form of poems has likewise been promoted.

Paete is very unique in the overwhelming presence of its citizens overseas on the Internet. The mailing list on Yahoo! currently has more than 400 members, and with the computer classrooms in Paete, the much-needed link between the Paetenians overseas and those who reside in Paete has been established. Part of the three-week series of seminars was, in fact, devoted to training the citizens of Paete in the use of the forum and the mailing list.

The computer project in Paete is an example of a community moving as one. Very recently, the World Bank donated 18 desktop computers to the “Alay Computer” project. Five of these computers have been placed inside the Sangguniang Bayan of Paete to provide access to out-of-school youth and families of overseas workers. There are likewise plans of installing a wireless Internet infrastructure in the town. This hopefully will be in place through the support of the Cisco Foundation Inc. With support from other institutions, the objectives that have been briefly outlined here are, indeed, within reach. Paete, however, is not on the receiving end only. For example, in the “immersion” program, Ateneo students will be exposed to real-life situations, providing them with excellent practical training. Science students will see their course work in action, in a real setting. Better education will provide better employees and customers to companies in the future. With the projects described here, Paete will likewise serve as a great beacon for other Filipinos to follow.

Assessment of these programs can be easily monitored. The participation of the NGOs on the Internet and information technology can be easily quantified in terms of presentations made and webpages published. The schools have already benefited from the computers as manifested by the recent success of their school papers. Since the beginning of the computer classrooms in schoolyear 2003, the Paete Central Elementary School has won 36 trophies in journalism, including the Catholic Mass Media Award (as best organ), in 2003 and 2004, the two years the computer classrooms have been in operation. Of course, with the incorporation of the Internet into classroom instruction, we will begin to use the national reading and arithmetic proficiency tests as measures of success. We will also pay attention to the retention rate of students in the schools as we hope that the enhancements provided by the computers and multimedia inside the classrooms will encourage children to stay in school.

It is the community spirit that enabled the “Alay Computer” project to reach its current status. With the involvement of the community in the design and implementation of the project, funds donated truly reached their maximum potential. All of the people behind the project work as volunteers and there are no salaries nor commissions. The local population also contributes to the project by launching its own fundraising events. The participation is always overwhelming. The community involvement provides the necessary framework for this project to be regarded by the people of Paete as truly their own. The project goes far beyond simply providing computer classrooms to elementary school children in Paete. These classrooms enhance the teaching of the instructors via access to Internet resources and teaching tools. But since the project involves the entire municipality, the town is able to exercise, for the first time, an opportunity to work together for the future of their children. The impact of the project on how the adults view education is enormous as we project an increased awareness of the importance of education, which hopefully will yield lower dropout rates and lead to a decrease in child labor in the woodcarving shops of Paete.

The “Alay Computer” project is supported, run and administered by the Paetenian Alliance for Education and Technology, to which I currently serve as honorary director. Paetenian Alliance for Education and Technology Inc. is a private, non-profit, non-stock, non-governmental organization registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Nov. 5, 2002 with Company Reg. No. CN202-59015. Its nickname is PAETEch Foundation and it resides in Paete, Laguna, Philippines.

The home page for the alaycomputer project is: Alaycomputer.org

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