TECHNOLOGY-ENHANCED EDUCATION. A child checks learning materials through a smartphone in Sta. Elena village in Santa Rita, Samar. Despite unstable phone signal and poor internet access, learners in the village participate in digital learning using smartphones through a system introduced by a Filipino engineer. (PNA photo by Sarwell Meniano)

STA. RITA, Samar – Despite unstable phone signal and poor internet access, learners in a small village in Sta. Rita, Samar are participating in digital learning using smartphones through a system introduced by a Filipino engineer.

Gone are the days when Grade 6 pupil Lianna Kim Solayao, 12, has to use pen and paper to answer her learning materials picked up weekly by her mother from the campus, which is some 300 meters away from their house.

“It’s been eight months of modular learning and I’m not enjoying it anymore. Through this new system, it’s way convenient for me to answer my module and I can interact with my teacher if I have questions. This is exciting!” said Solayao, who wants to be a nurse someday.

She is just one of the 158 learners of Sta. Elena Elementary School in the town's Sta. Elena village now using the intranet system, a private internet designed for information sharing.

The technology was introduced and set up by Vinyl Oquiño, a Tacloban-based electrical engineer.

Oquiño, who worked as a professor at Adama Science and Technology University in Ethiopia for six years, recalled that Korean experts strongly lobbied for the establishment of intranet system in rural communities in Ethiopia with poor internet connectivity.

For two months, his team completed the installation of necessary infrastructure in Sta. Elena and formally turned over the system to the school on Wednesday (May 19, 2021).

“If it works in other countries, why not in Samar? This is an alternative technology for areas with issues on weak mobile phone signal and internet connection,” said Oquiño, who was not able to return to his overseas job last year due to the health crisis.

The intranet system includes the installation of a server inside the campus.

The data uploaded by teachers in the service are transmitted to households through antennas set up within the community.

Both the student and teachers can access the system via network connectivity using WiFi-enabled mobile devices and computers.

Learners are provided with an account for them to access the digital learning platform.

Only learners with accounts can access the network to answer quizzes, view learning videos, raise questions to teachers, download e-books, among others.

Unlike the internet, information shared in the intranet is controlled by teachers, driving learners away from the risks of seeing inappropriate content and fall prey to cyberbullies.

Grade 4 teacher Elaine Ramirez said the system is a big relief to them since they don't have to prepare lesson plans and print modules.

"Without face-to-face classes, I have been spending two days every week printing the modules. Through intranet, we're able to save time and cash for purchasing bond papers," said Ramirez who has been a public school teacher for 15 years.

Sta. Elena School principal Charlie Singh said they have spent about PHP100,000 in just one-quarter last year to buy papers and print modules.

“Aside from saving expenses, the system is very helpful to both teachers and learners. A student can view their scores after taking a quiz. They are also given a chance to re-take the quiz as part of the learning process. The grade is automatically recorded by the system. It is less paperwork on the part of our teachers,” Singh said.

The idea of setting up the system popped up when Singh, who has been acquainted with Oquiño for decades, raised his concern to the latter about the challenges of distance learning in the village.

With the absence of funding allocation from the government, the school managed to raise at least PHP120,000 to launch the project. A foreign donor contributed PHP70,000 while Singh spent PHP50,000 from his own pocket.

“We have invested in this to fulfill our mandate to provide quality education. How can we provide quality education in this pandemic if children have no access to online materials, unable to regularly communicate with teachers and no access to available learning videos?” Singh asked.

According to him, this is the first project of its kind in Samar Island based on his consultation with key officials of the Department of Education (DepEd).

The DepEd Samar division has already expressed its interest to replicate the project in other areas in the province.

The school also vowed to find a way to provide mobile phones to poor students through private donors. For learners without smartphones or computers, they will be regularly provided with printed learning materials.

Sta. Rita, a farming and fishing town, is about 30 kilometers north of Tacloban City, the regional capital. (PNA)