May 16, 2016

TP Origins: How a blind HS student created ThinkingPinoy

Many readers ask TP where his crazy patriotism started. He wasn't able to tell them his story because he was too busy writing about pressing national issues. However, now that the election season is almost over, he feels its time to do so.

So let TP tell you how TP became TP.

In 2010, ThinkingPinoy was just a snot-nosed news reporter for a local broadsheet. He likes to believe that his youthful idealism during those days compensated for his lack of skills, experience, and refinement. After being assigned to write something for the paper's Sunday feature, TP came up with this:

PC's for students

(Written by ThinkingPinoy, Originally published in Sun.Star Davao, 2010)

ANGELO Brian PeliƱo is one of the brightest and most promising high school seniors at Francisco Bangoy National High School (FBNHS) in Sasa, Davao City. He ranked first in many national competitions. He won first place in national spelling competitions twice.

But Angelo Brian is not just any other kid. He is near-deaf and totally blind.

He can use personal computers (PCs) because a private company gave him a program that lets PCs voice out the keys pressed. But he cannot join an elective computer classes because all the PCs in his school are too old to handle it. They are more than 10 years old, which is totally prehistoric by PC standards. The Philippines lags behind everybody else in computer education. At FBNHS alone, there are less than 30 PCs to be shared by more than 4,000 students.

Japanese PCs

But through the initiative of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), in partnership with the Department of Education (DepEd) and assistance from the Japanese government through its Japanese Non-Project Grant Assistance-Countervalue Fund (NPGA-CVF), a project was conceived and implemented to address this problem.

The project, dubbed as Personal Computers for Public Schools (PCPS) project, as its name suggests, provides free modern computer sets, printers, software bundles, and internet access to public high schools nationwide. The project, which had its launching at Bangoy National High School on Friday, is now focusing on its Mindanao component, called PCPS4 or its fourth phase of implementation.

The PCPS4 launch was attended by Japanese Ambassador Makoto Katsura, DTI Secretary Jesli Lapus, and DepEd Undersecretary Ramon Bacani, who represented DepEd Secretary Mona Valisno.

As PCPS4's first beneficiary, FBNHS was awarded 11 computer sets, a printer, and a wireless router. Other public schools all over Mindanao are also set to benefit from the project. PCPS4, with total funding of P170 million from NPGA-CVF, is special since only public high schools in Mindanao (Regions 9, 10, 11, 12, and Armm) are project recipients. A total of 426 schools will benefit from the project.

There are 51 recipient-schools in the Davao Region: 10 in Compostela Valley; 11 in Davao del Norte; 10 in Davao Oriental; four in Davao del Sur, 16 in Davao City. With the funding support from the government of Japan, DTI has been spearheading the implementation of the PCPS project since 2001. Phases 1, 2, and 3 of the project have provided 3,714 public high schools with computers, cutting the computer backlog in secondary education from 75 percent from the start of its implementation in 2001 to 37 percent at present. Japan's total contribution to the PCPS project is approximately P1.8 billion.

Knowledge economy

Overall, the PCPS Project is DTI's response to the compelling challenges posed by the fast emerging Knowledge Economy. It aims to enhance the Filipino youth's information technology (IT) skills as the country's future knowledge workers and promote IT culture in Philippine classrooms as an avenue to develop skills to be at par with global standards.

"The government of Japan has been giving strong support to IT education in the Philippines as we recognize its major role in the global economy. To help realize and maximize IT potentials in the Philippines, the government of Japan is happy to continue giving its full support to the government of the Philippines," Ambassador Katsura said in his speech during the launching ceremony.

The Philippines has been recognized for its competitive advantage in the IT services sector, being the second largest producer of computer services in Asia, next to India. To maintain this advantage and provide a continuous pool of manpower in the sector, the DTI, through the PCPS project, promotes the need to incorporate IT in the basic levels of education by providing computers to public high schools.

"As you all may know, the Philippine government initiated the PCPS project in 2001, and has extended the project three times, taking into consideration the overwhelming acceptance and appreciation from recipient schools and beneficiary students. Today's occasion marks the third extension, or the beginning of Phase 4 of the project," the Japanese ambassador told school officials, students, teachers, and representatives from city government, DTI and Deped present during the launching ceremony.

"We are glad to know that the first three phases of the PCPS project have already enabled computer education to cover about 63 percent of all public high schools nationwide," Katsura added.

Addressing the students of FBNHS, he said: "I hope you will make best use of your PCs to enhance your IT skills, and will bear in mind the great potentials offered by IT to you as an individual and to your country as well."

He also emphasized that PCPS4 is also a part of Japan's assistance policy for Mindanao called "Japan-Bangsamoro Initiatives for Reconstruction and Development or J-Bird," which was launched in 2006 to contribute to the peace process and development in the conflict-affected areas in Mindanao through its economic cooperation.

"The Mindanao component of PCPS is also considered to be one of the J-Bird projects. Thus, through various reconstruction and development efforts under the J-Bird, Japan is committed to further advancing the peace process and to enable the people and communities in the targeted areas to enjoy the dividends of peace," Katsura said.

What's in it for Brian?

Upon hearing the news, Brian hoped that things may change. He was glad that Japan, a foreign country, is concerned with the plight of Filipino students. He is also happy that DTI initiated such undertaking, even if the public school system is not under its jurisdiction. However, Brian, sitting at a corner of the conference hall, wearing dark glasses and a hearing aid, is still worried.

In a trembling voice, he said in Filipino: "I am really happy that the new computers are here, but I don't think that I will be able to join the computer class because my teacher won't let me. I think he wants to tell me that I am too difficult to teach.My teachers encouraged me to take culinary arts as an elective instead. I don't want that. I don't want to accidentally chop my own fingers off. If it's okay, I want to study computers. They're easy to learn too you know."

He complained about some teachers who refused to allow him in their computer classes.

Red tape in public schools

Antonio Sarmiento, FBNHS computer teacher for seniors, said in Filipino: "I am not a special education (Sped) teacher, I am not trained for that (people like Brian), and this school actually has no Sped department. He is the only student like that in here."

In essence, Sarmiento rejected Brian simply because he thinks that only a Sped teacher can teach the child. But he said the city government had provided Brian with a personal computer that is capable to use a program that lets PCs voice out the keys pressed. Sarmiento is also the school's Information and Communication Technology (ICT) coordinator.

"There was a computer given to Brian by the City Government, I just don't know where it is. I think it's in the possession of the Values Education department," he said.

When checked with Irene Galorio, FBNHS Values Education officer-in-charge, she said the computer is being used by the Guidance Department.

"Brian can use it anytime though; he just has to go to the guidance office. Our Values Education office, as you can see, is leaking. Just look at the ceiling. We cannot store the PC here," she quickly added.

She later referred this writer to Mary Jane Tindoc, the schools Sped Department officer-in-charge. Tindoc, also an English teacher, said the school is also trying to help Brian in his interest with computers.

"We try to find ways for Brian's needs, it's just that the equipment he needs is prohibitively expensive," said Tindoc, who was assigned as Sped OIC in the absence of any formally-trained Sped teacher.

When asked about the personal computer the City Government had provided for Brian's use, Tindoc denied such donation was solely made for the blind student.

"The computer (in question) is for all Sped students, not just for Brian. There are about 10 of them in the school, I do not have the exact numbers. It is still under assessment," she said. This pronouncement contradicted Sarmiento's claims that the school has no Sped department and Brian is the school's only student of his kind.

Seeing how the previously-awarded PC was mishandled, will this also be the case for personal computers PCPS4 has awarded? Let us hope not. If Brian's story happens again, the project will defeat its purpose.

Bird's eye view

It may be unfair to blame the teachers for this micro-level debacle.

"Information and knowledge are replacing capital and energy as the primary wealth-creating assets, just as capital and energy replaced land and labor two centuries ago," Secretary Lapus said.

However, information and knowledge needs capital and energy, both of which the country sorely lacks.

Based on recent DepEd statistics, the country lacks more the 50,000 teachers. Forget right now about the quality of the teachers, it's bad enough that there are so few of them. Thus, public school teachers are given workloads that are way more than what they can handle. It is infuriating to know what happened with the Brian issue, but it is something that a teacher, who has to deal with literally thousands of students, will have an undoubtedly hard time to handle.

"Computer education is compulsory in Japan and we always ensure that Japanese students are well-educated with new technologies and innovations," Ambassador Katsura said.

But this appeared to be not the case for the country. As shown by the Brian issue, DepEd has tagged computer education as an "elective", so that taking it up is optional. But DepEd and public school teachers are simply finding ways to maximize what little financial resources they are given, and they are not the only ones accountable for it.

Brian is just hoping that somehow, the entire hullabaloo that happened last Friday will be something that actually matters.


TP, the 23-year-old disillusioned yuppie

After writing that article, the extremely idealistic TP felt a pervasive sense of disillusionment. TP knows he's lucky: he comes a relatively well-off family, had a decent education, and is free from disabilities. However, what TP did not know back then is the kind of struggles that other people actually go through.

There was Angelo, a kid who desperately struggles get a better shot in life while the government seemingly tries its best to screw his life up. TP felt that everything was so wrong.

Basically, TP lost his idealism,fell into severe depression and decided to quit his newspaper job, but not before he tried to look for college scholarship grants for Angelo in time for the first semester of 2011. Using what's left of his meager writer's salary, TP knocked on the doors of every university in Davao City, including Ateneo de Davao (ADDU) and the University of Mindanao (UM), begging them to find a way to help that poor kid.

TP was silently weeping as he scoured Davao, trying to find help for this kid. He just couldn't take what's happening. The social injustice he was witnessing was just too much for him to bear. One of the universities eventually yielded, so TP finally got to heave a sigh of relief. However, at that point, he has already given up on his idealism and went overseas. Sumuko na si TP noong 2010.

Many years later in October 2015, TP discovered that Angelo actually received a scholarship grant from Deutsche Bank [DeutscheBank] a few months after TP tried to find funding. He is still the studious, hardworking kid that TP knew. The high school kid TP knew was about to graduate from college in just a few months.

Then TP realized his mistake: he gave up too early. He decided to come back to the fore and continue to fight for the Filipino. (Do you remember exposes I wrote? Yeah, dedma sa death threat, para sa bayan!)

And thus, was born. (TP)
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