Why I am NOT excited about the Cyber Education Project

Isn’t this a dream scenario?

Suppose schools all over the country have simultaneous science periods, 7:30 a.m. to 9:10 a.m., what we call “science time.” This allows students all over the country to listen to a lecture by a national expert teacher on TV via satellite. (For example, imagine having as Biology expert teacher the international awardee, Dr. Josette Biyo, for students all over the country.) Twenty to 30-minute lectures for general science, biology, chemistry and physics can be aired on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, respectively. Questions may be asked of the national expert teacher through phone, text messages, or e-mail. During the periods when students are not listening to the lectures, they will have learning-by-doing activities such as problem-solving exercises, reports on learning stations, concept notes and research, to be filed in their comprehensive portfolio. The same procedure can be done during “math time,” 9:30 a.m. to 10:45 a.m..

This is the dream of the Cyber Education Project (CyberEd for short, CEP for shorter), a P26.4B project between the Department of Education and the Tsinghua University in China. The government will have to shell out P460M for this soft loan. This is inspired by the Dynamic Learning Process (DLP) began by the Bohol husband and wife PhD team, Christopher and Marivic Bernido, which you can read all about in their article, Learning as One Nation.

The DLP developed by the couple was an astounding success in their Central Visayan Institute. It is an incredibly innovative teaching strategy that involves

  • parallel classes (all subjects occur at the same time where an expert teacher chooses which class will receive a lecture while the others do activities supervised by a facilitator),
  • schedules that follow biorhythms (science and math subjects are in the morning),
  • and a zero homework policy (students are required to be asleep by 8 or 9pm, and will be interviewed in the morning if they lose sleep).

It is this DLP that inspired the CEP which now hopes to replicate its success — or some aspects of it — nationwide via satellite. Nice dream right? Now, wake up.

Of course, this deal is mired in controversy. This is one of two programs our government wants to set up with Chinese firm ZTE. The other is the P329M NBN deal. The contracts for these deals were reported lost once.

However, I won’t focus on the conspiracies and controversies behind that. Politicians and pundits will do a better job at that than I. Nonetheless, as a young teacher who advocates the use of technology in education, I’d like to comment on the CyberEd project as it is.

I was prompted of this when an Inquirer report caught my attention — Lapus on CyberEd project: It will make children learn better — with my focus on “learn better”. Upon further research, I stumbled upon a series of articles by Willy B. Prilles Jr.. Arranged in the following order, we have:

#1 – Contrasting views on the DepEd’s Cyber Education Project gives an overview of the divided opinion about the CEP. Here we have the official line towed by the DepEd and the reaction by the Alliance of Concerned Teachers or ACT.

#2 – CyberEd Project: Upsides and Downsides looks at both sides of the issue more thoroughly. What benefits do its proponents suggest? What immediate problems will we face? Willy categorizes three main challenges in terms of coverage, focus and cost.

#3 – The institutional requirements of the CEP asks the most important question: are we ready for this? Can the Field of Dreams philosophy — “Build it and they will come” — apply to public education? How ready are our administrators, teachers and students? Are our policies ready? He cites the example of his wife — a HS geometry teacher — and the challenges she faced after implementing DLP. This is a reality we teachers face: we want change but the system doesn’t allow it.

#4 – A way forward for the CyberEd Project lists Willy’s recommendations on how to make the CEP work because as it is currently designed, it won’t be as effective. In fact, it will be counterproductive. But genuine reform in our education system must go hand in hand with any DLP initiative or CEP. He posits sound advice for the DepEd but I echo his concern. Will they even listen?

All articles are excellent reads and I have no further opinion to give since Mr. Prilles has covered them all quite nicely. Rather, some general insights.

First, when it comes to education, technology is not the magic bullet. Learning is not something you can so easily slap an ‘e’ onto and expect to work faster, better and more efficiently as e-mail. I rather see our public education system go back to basics — keep the kids in school by providing a good learning environment, services and excellent teachers.

Second, the DLP is a teaching pedagogy that may or may not rely on technology. From all the examples I’ve read, what has been key is still teacher instruction and institutional support. Not only must teachers be innovative, but they should be able to rely on the school for assistance and incentives. In the DLP for instance, teachers lecture less and administer more activities. However, how can they sustain this when they are evaluated based on how well and how much they lecture? Teachers should be rewarded for innovating and not just hitting work targets.

And third, while the CEP is conceptually sound, I believe that the money could spent be on more urgent needs. Yes, I may be an advocate for the use of technology in education but that is because I am in a school setting where it is possible for me and the students to be comfortable with the technology. This is a privilege which we know we must earn since other schools and teachers however, are not as lucky.

Moreover, a school is not just a building, with rooms full of books and chairs. It is also an integral part of a community, especially in rural areas. Local government units must sustain communities where children stay in school. There must be water, electricity and food. The mere fact that a lot of schools in our country lack these most basic necessities raises the question of how responsive, practical and responsible CEP can be.

Only when we have schools that do what they have to do will I be on board a project that will help us learn more quickly, more cheaply and more effectively. My point is simple: there is no shortcut when it comes to learning. The price we pay when we do is just too steep.

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15 Comments

  1. At first I thought it would be a great idea to have a national expert lecture to the kids, but that’s quite problematic because of the variety of audiences across the country. Would it be socio-culturally appropriate? Students from a school in Balara will have different needs from those in Bukidnon. I could imagine a set of students utterly bored watching the televised lecture. Perhaps they could tweak it by having the local teachers explain the lecture further (in the vernacular) while adapting to the culture of the students.

    “Teachers lecture less and administer more activities.” –Sounds like they’re riding on the student-centered learning bandwagon, which I personally think is a double-edged sword in the Philippine classroom setting.

    They should really get an educator to chair the Department of Education. It would make a big difference.

    I cringe whenever I government officials make a big deal of “1 computer per classroom” or “new computers for the school” when talking of improvements in the education sector. Of course, that’s good. But as you said, it’s no magic bullet. I hope they invest in teacher training instead.

    Haaaay… Philippine Education…

  2. It could have been easier if all childen are the same. But they are obviously not. It is why teachers exist, to teach according to the situation his/her students live in. But I like the zero homework policy.

  3. i do not agree with the zero homework policy. i’d like to think that for basic education, parents should be actively involved. most of the time, the interaction of parents and child regarding academics is in the homework being done at home. if there are no homework or home readings, the parents are not forced to look into their children’s lessons.

  4. hi,

    is there a gov website that describes this cybered project?

    i’m just wondering how the cybered proj can solve the problem of having unqualified teachers. thats the main reason for the poor education, isnt it? besides the overcrowding of classrooms. thats what I heard. with the avg natl test scores of elem and hs Filipino students at less than 55%, how does the cybered proj address this problem?

    also, it seems that problem is lack of motivation and insight and even skills on the part of school administrators (high level). so how would they be able to implement this new cybered project effectively?

    i just don’t see the connection between the current ed problems/issues, and the cybered project.

    Thanks,
    Pauline Santos

  5. Pauline, please read the articles linked in my article. They should give you a clear idea of how the project works. If by now you haven’t seen a connection between the CyberEd project and the issues you mentioned, the answer is simple — there is none. Regards.

  6. This article is very useful and informative. I must agree that cyber education should not be implemented considering the current state of our nation plus the numerous negative effects it may cause.

  7. hi,this is vAnessa fErreR of mOntaLban,rizaL..weL,im noT agrEe on the cYbeR educatioN.sTudEnts sHoUld be in schooL bY pRovidiNg a gooD LearnIng camE fRom tHe excELlenT tEachers.

    studEnts shoulD nOt be learned thRough tHe use of eLectRonic lEaRninG sYstEm.

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