Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Notes on the Cyber Education Project

Just when we thought we'd stopped the scam that was the National Broadband Network, along comes a renewed push for the Cyber Education Project. If the figures of NBN were mind-boggling, CEP is even more so: $465-M, as opposed to NBN's $330-M.

If you've ever dealt with any of the government-led school computerization projects, then you'll know what a big mess it is. I have and in fact, I'm in the middle of one. And I can tell you, when it comes to computers + education, government doesn't know which end it's talking from.

And now comes this super-expensive deal: will throwing money at the problem where common sense failed really solve the problem? I don't think so.

Here are some basic facts on the CEP, from a mailing list letter:

1) The CyberEducation Project (CEP) is a US$465.5 million, or P21.7 billion project aiming to set up television production and satellite broadcasting facilities in the DepEd offices and public schools. It is much bigger than the ZTE broadband project.

2) 86% of the cost will be loaned from China, the balance will come from the national treasury

3) TV shows and tech babble will not solve the basic low-tech problems of our educational system: low budget, classroom shortages, lack of books and facilities, lack of teachers, mismanagement and flawed orientation.

4) With the CyberEd's budget of P21.7 billion, the government could construct 51,913 classrooms, hire close to two million new teachers or buying 336 million chairs, or acquire 434 million new textbooks. Or the gov't could just allot the same amount to provide full four-year college scholarships to 1,085,000 students.

5) The CyberEducation Project is yet to be scrapped and is still being pursued by the Department of Education (DepEd)

Despite strong opposition from different groups, the DepEd maintains its position that the project will be necessary to address the problems hounding the education system. The CyberEd, DepEd insists, is the "best response to the challenges of basic education."

What exactly will the CyberEducation Project do? How will it work?

Using the project's "advanced" technological infrastructure, the DepEd will broadcast live TV shows daily, via 12 specially dedicated video channels to some 37,792 or 90% of public schools nationwide.

Each classroom will be equipped with a television set hooked to a satellite disc. At the start of a subject period, the teacher opens the TV to receive a live satellite feed from DepEd studios in Manila. A "master teacher" gives a live lecture to tens of thousands of students simultaneously all over the country. The classroom teacher and students watch the program, then spend the rest of the time discussing and doing school work.

DepEd offices nationwide will also be inter-connected via the satellite network. Wireless internet connection may also be provided.

In order to attain this, the DepEd will have to install TVs, computers, and all necessary equipment in 34 schools daily for 3 years. Also, the DepEd will have to put up its own studio and broadcasting center to produce daily live shows for 12 channels covering five subjects each.

Why is there a significant opposition to the CyberEducation Project? Why is the CyberEd controversial?

Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casino, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), League of Filipino Students (LFS), Senators Legarda and Angara, among others, including prominent bloggers, have expressed opposition to the CyberEducation Project. Critics are pointing out the following:

Like the ZTE deal, the CyberEd Project was signed in a hasty, secretive and suspect manner. The official copy of the Memorandum of Agreement was reportedly also lost, together with the original ZTE contract. Until now, the government still have not produced a copy of the MOA to respond to the investigations in Congress.

Details of how the project will be implemented and break down of costs have not been fully ironed out, a matter that is highly questionable for something that will cost billions.

Questionable endorsement by Neri

The project, like the ZTE deal, was also endorsed by NEDA chief Romulo Neri, and like the ZTE deal, in a questionable manner. It was reported that in past cabinet hearings and reviews, DOTC usec Formoso expressed reservations about the project overlapping with existing ICT projects and the NBN, an opinion that Romulo Neri supported.

A few weeks before the signing, Neri changed his decision and endorsed the project
on flimsy grounds.

Too expensive and impractical
With the CyberEd's budget of P21.7 billion, the government could construct 51,913 classrooms, hire close to two million new teachers or buying 336 million chairs, or acquire 434 million new textbooks. Or the gov't could just allot the same amount to provide full four-year college scholarships to 1,085,000 students.

Knowledge Channel, a similar program, but not as ambitious is technical scope, costs only $1,500 per school or only about P1.8 billion covering the same number of schools as the CyberEd.

According to experts, a satellite system will also be too costly and impractical for such use, as there are other cheaper and practical ways to conduct inter-connectivity and media sharing.

Cyber-Redundancy

The project will not utilize previous Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure and projects, and will rely on its own "backbone." It will not even be utilizing the facilities and technology of the planned ZTE NBN project and will have a separate, thus redundant infrastructure.

Even NEDA chief Neri, in a report, acknowledged this fact saying that the "overlap" will, according to his computations, reach P4 billion to P5 billion. This was also the initial stand of DOTC Undersecretary Formoso.

Impossible to implement
Installing the equipment (34 schools daily), producing daily live broadcast shows for 12 channels (something that even ABSCBN and GMA will have a hard time doing), training teachers and administrators and adjusting the curriculum design to fit the scheme, will be a hard task for an agency which cannot even ensure the correctness of its textbooks and proper running of school toilets.

Most believe that this is an overly ambitious fantasy not fit for an agency which, track record have shown, is not even capable of addressing the most basic problems.

Not a solution to basic education woes
TV shows and tech babble will not solve the basic low-tech problems of our educational system: low budget, classroom shortages, lack of books and facilities, lack of teachers, mismanagement and flawed orientation.

3 comments:

  1. Guys pushing this project don't really care who benefits (or if there will be real benefits and beneficiaries). It's the kickback they're after!

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  2. hi! the primer forwarded via mailing list came from here:
    http://studentstrike.blogspot.com/2007/10/primer-on-cybereducation-project.html

    author also posted a primer on the ZTE deal:
    http://studentstrike.blogspot.com/2007/09/zte-broadband-deal-another-multi.html

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  3. Hi,

    The CyberEd project is undergoing a more thorough assessment by ~50 information-technology specialists and educators, school managers and teachers. Rightfully so. In the process of doing so, I think they should come up with criteria to evaluate similar learning projects such as the OLPC.

    A transparent comparison of alternatives based on a well-defined criteria results in a more appropriate solution. This may still be unpopular with certain factions. That can never be avoided. But the government can easily justify a decision (and have a clean conscience) based on objective evaluation rather than subjective influence.


    Cheers,
    Sandeep

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