Despite being given the assignment to cover it, I was initially hesitant to go to the membership meeting last week of the IT Association of the Philippines (ITAP), a group that represents technology vendors in the country.
It was just one of those regular meetings attended by group members, but I decided to attend anyway. I'm glad I decided to go because it gave me an overview, as well as a glimpse of the future, of how technology is aiding education in the Philippines.
I arrived late for the event and Paul Soriano, an IT consultant at the Department of Education (DepEd), was already giving a presentation to discuss the advances made by the agency in integrating ICT in basic education.
Soriano also gave a rundown of the various initiatives being done by the private sector, in terms of equipping public schools with PC labs and connecting them to the Internet.
But that's not the reason why I'm writing this piece. After Soriano's presentation, a representative from the local Rotary club, Sonny Coloma, took the podium and revealed a very interesting gadget--an electronic reader that's locally made.
Coloma, a graduate school professor and former government official, made a persuasive case for the e-reader, saying it was better to utilize new technologies instead of using the old model of buying costly printed materials such as textbooks.
"It will take a lot of resources to print all those books for all our students. So it's time that we tap technology to raise the level of literacy in this country," Coloma said. "But, this is just a learning aid that can address the shortage of books."
He passed around a prototype of the gadget which looked like a Sony PSP (PlayStation Portable) unit from afar. The device, initially known as the Megumi Reader, is named after the wife of a Japanese Rotarian who donated the seed money used to jumpstart the project.
The e-reader, however, is manufactured locally by an electronics company called Ionics. This is the reason, Coloma said, the cost of the device can still go down from the current US$100 to just US$50. The price can even be cheaper, he added, if the government would subsidize its use in public schools.
The device, he said, is not available commercially and restricted to educational use. He pointed out that Matt Caparas, the first Filipino president of the Rotary International, took up the project as part of the club's socio-civic initiatives.
Coloma said the e-reader is currently being piloted in a elementary school in the city of Mandaluyong, to determine its effectiveness in enhancing the reading comprehension of the students.
As for the content, he said locally-produced materials are already available and can be stored using a memory flash card. "We're conscious of intellectual property rights so we've developed local content for it," he explained.
As of now, the gadget cannot read other materials apart from the locally-produced content. However, Coloma said the e-reader can be opened up in the future so royalty-free content can be uploaded into it.
Despite the ills that plague the Philippines, I still believe that the country has the tools and capability to match, if not surpass, the level of progress that our neighboring countries have achieved so far. Education plays a vital role in realizing that objective, and slowly, technology is making that happen.