CORON, Palawan—The Tagbanua children of Banuang Daan in Coron, Palawan, are like most: They enjoy playing under the sun, laughing with their friends, and going to school, even when it meant walking considerable distances to and from home.
However, unlike other children, many of them have had little to no exposure to technology like tablets and laptops.
Through the support of an individual donor, the School-in-a-Bag, a digital learning tool package developed by Smart Communications was able to reach Banuang Daan recently, after traveling through air, land and sea. Banuang Daan Elementary School, second home to some 200 students, has no electricity.
This School-in-a-Bag donation, which contains a solar panel for electricity, a laptop, five tablets, a mobile phone, a pocket WiFi with starter load, LED TV, and learning modules, was made possible by financial consultant Leah Quimson, the first individual private donor for School-in-a-Bag this year.
A longtime supporter of education-related charity work, Quimson said it was a “no-brainer” when she decided to support School-in-a-Bag. “I really have a soft spot for kids,” she said, adding that the gratefulness of the kids and the community touched her.
“When I saw these kids, how they lived, I was struck. It’s a reality check for me,” she said. “I realized just how many kids really don’t have much. We tend to take this for granted because it is easy for us to have access to tech. So when the opportunity came up, I thought: Why not help them?”
And now that she has, she said the feeling of fulfillment is different. “It’s a different feeling when you are able to help. Some people gauge their success with how many cars they have or how rich they get. When I have extra money, I prefer channeling them into efforts like this. The fulfillment is more lasting.”
Quimson hopes more individuals and private groups can get involved in the project. “I hope they don’t get intimidated, since at first glance it seems like School-in-a-Bag is more for corporations or businesses—it is not,” she said. “Hopefully, more people are able to sponsor more School-in-a-Bags because a lot of schools really need it.”
For Quimson, this donation was her way of extending her family beyond her husband and their five-year-old son, who has already been using the Batibot app. “It is very helpful because it is in Filipino,” she said.
Developed by Smart in partnership with the Community of Learners Foundation and OrangeFix, the Batibot mobile application is the first learning app in Filipino that is aligned with the national kindergarten curriculum of the Department of Education.
The app, pre-installed in the tablets in School-in-a-Bag, features fun games that help children in kindergarten up to Grade 3 learn basic concepts like matching, sorting, and grouping. Through the app, they are shown how to identify shapes, colors, numbers, the alphabet, and letter sounds. The children can also practice tracing letters with the proper strokes.
“When we saw School-in-a-Bag earlier, we thought we could use it for our homework,” said 12-year-old Jake Villamor, a Grade 6 student at Banuang Daan. “We think the solar panel will be very helpful for us.”
For James Marlon Miculob, Grade 3 student, the Batibot app in particular caught his attention. “I think my classmates and I can learn a lot from it.”
Banuang Daan teachers led the turnover ceremony, which was attended by cheering students. “We are thankful that your team braved the waves to bring the School-in-a-Bag to our school,” said Banuang Daan principal Criselda Daculla. “There is no other way we could get multimedia equipment like this, since our school does not even have electricity. We are so happy and grateful that it is finally here.”
Her co-teachers shared her excitement—even to the point of losing sleep. “When we first heard about School-in-a-Bag, we could not sleep. We were so excited,” said teacher Devier Hardiolen. “Before, we were just imagining it. Now, it’s finally here. We promise to use it so our students would get a better experience in school.”
“Ms Leah really has a good heart,” said Jake. “We are thankful that she gave us our own School-in-a-Bag, it’s really a big gift for our school.”
Statistics from the Department of Education show some 6,000 “unenergized” schools—those without electricity, are difficult to reach and are generally disconnected.
“If we can all work together to reach out to those schools, then their students will have a fighting chance,” said Stephanie Orlino, Smart Community Partnerships Senior Manager. “Hopefully, they take up STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) courses when they get to college, so we can move the country forward. Education is the key.”
Orlino added that apart from spreading literacy, School-in-a-Bag’s goal is to make sure that all students of the beneficiary schools finish grade 6. “In some schools, only 40 percent of students go to high school. The goal is to bring that up to 100 percent.”
The program has so far distributed 18 School-in-a-Bag packages since last year, 12 of them courtesy of Smart. In April alone, the packages sent to the towns of Banuang Daan and Cabugao in Coron, Palawan were both donated by private donors, while another package sent to Albay was courtesy of Smart.
“Teachers have said that School-in-a-Bag lessens absenteeism, since the technology engages the students,” Orlino shared. “They said students wanted to go to school even during bad weather, knowing that they would use the tablets and the laptop.”
Orlino said they expect results of their initial monitoring soon. We monitor our education programs for at least a year through a third party agency,” she said. “In terms of behavior, teachers have observed that their students can already do peer coaching and are able to share with their classmates. These are just some of the qualitative results of the project,” she added.
“One of the reasons for poverty is lack of education. Statistics show that most families whose head does not finish elementary live below the poverty line. We need a concerted effort to help, that’s why we’re calling for partners for this program – may they be individuals, corporations, or even local government units,” Orlino said.
Fourteen School-in-a-Bag packages are set to be distributed in the coming months. Individuals and organizations interested to bring the gift of digital learning to more schools in the country by sponsoring a School-in-a-Bag may send an email to [email protected]. Each package costs P100,000.