A knowledge-sharing event officially marked the completion of “EdTech Solutions for Last Mile Schools in COVID-19", a project that, for two and a half years, has provided Filipino schools in distant areas with the tools required for distance learning.
In rural regions, more than 7000 schools are in dire straits: they experience infrastructural disrepair, have bare facilities for proper instruction or are otherwise reachable only through raft-like boats. These 'last mile schools' are at the centre of the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) pilot project EdTech Solutions for Last Mile Schools in COVID-19.
To support the Philippine Government’s Department of Education (DepEd), EdTech Solutions was launched to help 21 last mile schools in the provinces of Abra, Bohol, Kalinga and Zamboanga Sibugay address their education needs through technology, making learning accessible to students during COVID-19.
After two and a half years and four forums, the project concluded with a major knowledge-sharing event that amassed over 100 attendees composed of the ADB, partner organisations, team members, teachers at participating schools and other stakeholders. In addition to project accomplishments, the event touched on integrating EdTech in the Philippine education landscape, how it aligns with DepEd’s objectives and more.
At the heart of the messages was this: although challenging, the pilot project had been necessary for the advancement of EdTech in the Philippines. It will serve to inform future efforts of the Philippine Government and the ADB in ensuring no school in the nation is left behind.
All targets achieved: Results and findings shared at the EdTech Solutions knowledge-sharing event
Introducing digital learning materials and new technology to 21 last mile schools across four spread-out provinces was no easy feat for the team. Joselito “Jolly” Timbol, the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) project specialist, said in an interview that going to a last mile school involved hiking for four or five hours on average. On top of logistical hurdles, EdTech Solutions had to adjust rapidly on account of the return of face-to-face classes, impacting the context for which the project was designed in the first place.
“The project took root following the specific request of the Government of the Philippines to sustain the learning momentum of secondary school students in last mile schools,” said ADB Philippine Country Director Pavit Ramachandran. “The transition from distance to hybrid, and eventually to classroom learning, expanded the project scope, providing invaluable insights into the adaptive and resilient nature of the Philippine education system,” he continued, adding that EdTech Solutions truly showcases the country’s commitment to making sure learning does not stop despite challenging times.
digitised materials covering the DepEd's most essential learning competencies
last mile schools supplied with local area network equipment
technical expertise and training courses organised
EdTech Solutions has three major outputs, namely (i) the development of digitised learning materials in English, mathematics and science; (ii) supplying of local area network (LAN) equipment and tablets for students in grades 7-10; and (iii) capacity-building activities for school and division personnel to support the use of tablets and materials.
While meeting these targets had been difficult, especially with the change in project context, the EdTech Solutions team went above and beyond and achieved the following results:
- The availability of 271 of the most essential learning competencies (MELCs) as digitised learning materials (DLMs) among junior and senior high school students, exceeding the target of 248 MELCs;
- The supply of LAN equipment and tablets for students in grades 7-10 across the 21 participating schools; solar panels to 20 schools; and a campus WiFi system and a Moodle server to 4 sub-pilot schools;
- A total of eight technical expertise and training courses, covering WIFI and learning management system setup, using technology-powered tools for teaching and learning, creating DLMs and approaches to teaching in a post-pandemic context, among other relevant topics.
Key Output 1: Digitisation of learning materials
Before the implementation of EdTech Solutions, schools had been distributing printouts of self-learning modules to students so they could continue learning from home, reported Hedwig Belmes, the Chief Education Supervisor of Abra’s Schools Division Office. Some of these were not helpful to some extent because a variety of concepts, such as arithmetic, required direct instruction from teachers.
“Without a teacher's guidance, these concepts were hard to grasp,” Hedwig said. “And not everyone in the area has access to the internet, so printed modules were the only recourse – and the children became, at some point, tired of these learning materials.”
Deputy Team Leader and curriculum development and training specialist Jessica Sucgang said the team designed the DLMs in a way that accounted for the absence of an instructor or teacher. They were digitised and optimised for remote and independent learning.
“Although many of the DLMs drew on the self-learning modules developed by DepEd’s Central Office and regional offices, they also represent significant, original contributions from the national subject specialists, who drew both on their content knowledge and pedagogical expertise,” Jessica said.
“When we first ventured into the world of digitised learning modules, it was really challenging. But the workshops helped us teachers navigate the platform. Now, the students’ newfound enthusiasm for learning shows in their improved academic performance. They achieved higher grades as a result of the increased participation and dedication to the DLMs.”
Teacher Catherine Tuquib
Key Output 2: Supply of equipment
All 21 participating schools received LAN equipment and Moodle licenses for Android devices, as well as tablets for their students. One school did not receive solar panels due to its “physically difficult location” that requires days-long travel via motor bike and hiking. The team is still working to get the solar panels to the school.
Communication also became an unexpected benefit of the new technology. To cope with the demands of remote learning, teachers and school division offices had originally contacted parents through two-way radios. Now, they can communicate with some of the households through the tablets.
“I saw how the children enjoyed using the tablets, how they were able to interact with the digital learning modules. And I saw their interest in working through all the interactive activities,” said Hedwig. “I remember them being particularly fond of being able to see their scores immediately – they even turn it into a game where they’re rushing to see who can get the highest score in the group.”
Key Output 3: Training and capacity building
For nearly two years, the team organised a mix of online and in-person training for teachers and school officials to make sure blended learning is sustained even after EdTech Solutions ends. “Professional development events and interactions with the project team provided school leaders and teachers with the knowledge required to use the pilot infrastructure,” Jessica said. Most the capacity building activities were done in-person, with field visits from the team – accompanied by the ICT specialists – to the school. These specialists were also available to help school staff troubleshoot technical issues.
“A big help”: How students, teachers and parents perceive the new technology provided by the project
Being situated in far-flung areas is one of the primary hurdles last mile schools face, preventing easy access to equipment that supports learning 21st century skills. Participating in the project was a game changer for many.
In her presentation, Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist Rosalyn “Dove” Estor reported both teachers and parents were pleased with the introduction of technology to the schools. “We were very happy to hear that we were one of the schools included in the EdTech project. Despite being in a very remote area, grade 7 to 10 students could have access to the tablets,” one teacher said.
“It is such a big help to students. They have hands-on experience using tablets. They have not been left behind,” a parent remarked.
During focus group discussions, students were adamant about wanting to continue learning with DLMs. One junior high student even said grasping core competency subjects became easier with the digitised modules because of multimedia elements, such as videos and images.
“Our school has very limited audio-visual facilities, and that’s why having videos and images provided by the DLMs is a big help,” the student said. “Also, the quizzes are interactive and make the approach of understanding lessons light and fun.”
Jeralyn Fernandez, a math teacher observed an improvement in the students’ understanding of the lessons. “Students who use DLMs in math tend to perform better than students who do not. This is likely due to the increased engagement and motivation DLMs provide.”
The impact EdTech Solutions had on the schools is undeniable. Gamifying education and making use of the digital space appealed to the students, motivating them more to engage with lessons that would have otherwise been a bit more difficult to follow without technology.
“When we first ventured into the world of digitised learning modules, it was really challenging. But the workshops helped us teachers navigate the platform,” notes English teacher Catherine Tuquib. “Now, the students’ newfound enthusiasm for learning shows in their improved academic performance. They achieved higher grades as a result of the increased participation and dedication to the DLMs.”
What is next for education technology in the Philippines?
Being a pilot project, EdTech Solutions serves as a wellspring of lessons for the ADB and the Philippine Government, one they can use for future projects with similar goals. “This ship will continue to sail, the good lessons learned and scaled up and some challenges avoided,” NIRAS Manila Director Antti Inkinen said.
But more than major institutions continuing their support for EdTech projects, an outcome more telling of the project’s lasting impact is the schools’ own commitment to sharing what they learned in the last two and a half years with other last mile schools. This is how sustainability flourishes: participants are empowered by what they have learned and pass it on to those who experience the same gaps, much like the students and teachers of this monumental project and the last mile schools it had sought to serve.