Group aims to wire Philippines" private schools

Von Lawrence D.

A consortium led by the Philippines" Ayala Foundation is looking to mobilize private sector efforts towards the common goal of providing Internet access to all of the country?s public high schools within the next five years at an estimated cost of 1.5 billion pesos (US$27 million).

Called Gearing Up Internet Literacy and Access for Students or GILAS, the consortium is spearheaded by the Ayala Foundation and includes, as members, top executives from telecom and IT companies such as Globe/Innove Communications, Smart Communications, Bayan Telecommunications, Digitel, Intel Microelectronics, IBM Corp. and Microsoft.

GILAS was launched last January in Cebu City with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as honorary chairperson. Senator Manuel Roxas II and Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, president and CEO of Ayala Corp., were named as co-chairpersons

Most of the member-companies of GILAS already have their respective programs that provide PCs to schools, especially in the provinces. Ayala Foundation itself has a program called YouthTech, which has provided hardware to a number of schools in several provinces and partnered with telecom companies to provide these schools with free Internet access.

Luigi Bernas, GILAS program director for Ayala Foundation, describes GILAS as a "loose" consortium that coordinates the programs of its members. Asked about what happens in cases wherein projects overlap in terms of areas covered, Bernas said the consortium tries to mediate between members or suggests other components which the companies can invest in such as teacher training and other post-installation services.

"Rather than compete with each other, the consortium allows each member to go on with their projects. The message we"re trying to impart to them is that there is so much to be done," Bernas said during a briefing with reporters.

Five Year Plan

Aside from providing them with PCs, GILAS" mission is to provide Internet access to all 5,443 public high schools nationwide. According to data provided by the Ayala Foundation, more than 3,000 high schools do not have computer laboratories. Among the schools which have computer labs, only 6 percent or approximately 300 schools have Internet access.

By GILAS" estimates, it would costs around 300,000 pesos to set up a computer lab per school which would include 10 PCs and the necessary servers and networking hardware. Based on this estimate, it would take about 1.5 billion pesos to equip all public high schools nationwide with computer labs.

The consortium is looking to tap telecom companies to provide each school with one-year"s worth of free Internet connection.

Since GILAS was launched, Bernas said 364 high schools have been provided with computer labs including those that benefited from Ayala Foundation"s YouthTech program. Globe Telecom, through its subsidiary Innove Communications, has also committed to connect at least 600 schools by the end of this year as part of GILAS.

"We"re trying to move at a pace of connecting 100 high schools a month," Bernas said. For the third quarter, he said the consortium will connect schools in Mindanao, particularly in the provinces belonging to the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and other conflict-afflicted areas. GILAS received a US$1 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), through its Global Equity in Mindanao program.

In April, Lapu-Lapu City in Cebu became the first city in the country to provide all of its public high schools with Internet access. Bernas said some five cities, including Dumaguete, Ormoc, and Mandaue, are also providing Internet access to all of its public high schools.