Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"One Giant Leap for Filipino Kids"

This is a fourth in a series of JoeAm's far out commentaries on the Philippine education system.


Article 1 rather impolitely, for blunt impact, accuses the Philippine government or being state sponsored child abusers for failing to encourage each child, through the education he receives, to be the best that he can be. Millions of kids are empty vessels or partially full urns. They ought to be overflowing with knowledge and capability. This article is found at:  State Sponsored Child Abuse

Article 2 proposes a striking new agenda that gets away from memorization of useless facts to the building of personal character, critical knowledge, and the will and way to succeed. The five disciplines that anchor classroom instruction are:

  • Mathematics
  • English and Chinese (Mandarin)
  • Discovery
  • Aspiration
  • Computers

You can read about the content of these five disciplines at: The Philippine's Reach is Too Shortto Grasp

Article 3 deals with the objection that "such dramatic conversion is impractical". It describes the  "Moon Model" upon which a new style of education is based, requiring: (1) national commitment, (2) problem solving and will to succeed, and (3) technology. It proposes to overcome the "impractical" barrier by moving stepwise toward the new program:

  • Establish "Mission Control", a central computer and internet based leadership and communications hub.
  • Convert 7 classrooms to the new program.
  • Give each student a tablet computer and hook the classroom up to Mission Control via the internet.
  • Start pushing teacher's guides, lessons and exams out to students and teachers from Mission Control; there are no paper text books or exams. There are no fees or uniform requirements.
  • Select the next 70 classrooms to convert the following year and get teachers trained up; then the next 700 classrooms for the following year.

This article can be found at: Sending Philippine Schools to the Moon


This is Article 4. It deals with the objection: "My God, the cost of all those computers and internet access!! No way, Dude!".

Let's start worst case, assuming full retail prices are paid and no educational discounts are received from vendors: Per classroom technology needs: 23 tablets, five PC's, one lap-top. Estimate 2 hours of internet access per day per tablet and laptop, and 10 per shared PC.

Please understand that I am exactly where you are on this. I'm learning as I gather these facts. I admit I have an agenda: to succeed. But not to try to fool anybody. I hope you will also use these facts, not to justify giving up, but to help figure out how improvement can be practically achieved.

Hardware cost:

  • Tablet: P10,000 times 23 divided by a useful life of 3 years gives an annual cost of P76,667.
  • PCs: P20,000 times 5 divided by 3 is P33,333 per year.
  • Laptop: P30,000 times 1 divided by 3 is P10,000 per year.
  • 29 Globe or Smart modems at P1,250 each with 3 year life: P36,250/3 = P12,100.

TOTAL HARDWARE COST per classroom per year is P132,100.

Internet time:

  • 24 computers times 2 hours per day times 270 days (9 months, 7 days per week) = 12, 960 hours, times 20 pesos per hour, or P259,200 for the year.
  • 5 computers times 10 hours per day times 225 (9 months, 6 days per week) = 11,250 hours, times 20 pesos per hour, or P225,000 for the year.

TOTAL INTERNET COST, retail, is P484,200 per classroom per year.

TOTAL TECHNOLOGY COST per classroom per year is P616,300.

Add in teacher expense and figure a nicely easy to remember P700,000 per classroom to run the program.

 It will cost P4.9 million per year to send the first 140 students on to a life rich with opportunity and promise.

Hard lesson and its implication: Internet time is costly on a retail basis. It is important to negotiate a student rate with Smart and Globe, noting that the schools are creating a vast customer base of internet hungry future customers for these two networks.

Mission control cost:

Oh, hell, plug it in at P150 million per year, increasing at 20% per year. I have not scoped that out yet. It gets spread out and is less relevant as the number of classrooms increase.


"Okay, Joe, you unbearable optimist, you overbearing problem solver. How are you going to get THAT kind of money, huh? Huh? P4.9 million per year for 140 kids? That's P35,000 per student, fer cripesake!"

Calm down, dude. I'm giving it to you straight. Worst case is retail. Indeed, those costs are large, but consider quality. Do your want your college-track kids to be Lexus or Yugo?  Right now they are tricycle.

Let's shine some statistical perspective on things.

  • The total DepEd budget in 2010 was P171 billion. DepEd requested a doubling of this amount for 2011 to get rid of the teacher and classroom backlogs and reach the international standard of 1 teacher for 35 students. The approved 2011 budget is 207 billion, up 36 billion or 21% from 2010.
  • There are expected to be 20.2 million public school students in 2011. The DepEd budget calculates out to P10,250 per student. That's all-in, teachers and everything.
  • Total number of high schools in 2010: 6,650. Total number of public high school students: 7.1 million. JoeAm estimates the number of high school classrooms  to be: 158,000.
  • The Alliance of Concerned teachers say shortages nationwide are as follows: 54,060 teachers, 4,538 principals, and 6,473 head teachers; also 61,343 classrooms. 
  • Textbooks in inventory for 2011: 92 million, of which 5.7 million are to be ordered in 2011.
  • 5,409 high schools have computer labs; 3,820 have internet service. (Many computers are broken, old and not working from JoeAm's personal experience.)
  • Fees collected by the schools are not known (by JoeAm) at this point. They are possibly significant and under a non-discriminatory policy of open, free education for all, would go away.
  • JoeAm estimates the number of college-bound students in grade 6 to 12 to be approximately 5 million, spread across 111,000 classrooms.

Given the backlog of teachers and classrooms, and the rampant birthing that continues to take place in the birth-control resistant Philippines, one must come away from these statistics with a certain sense of hopelessness if the current approach is the only approach considered: build classrooms and hire teachers and provide mediocre instruction to kids who cannot afford to escape to private schools.

So if I were in DepEd, I would look hard at a different approach. Applying the above cost numbers, we can calculate that the total cost to computerize all 111,000 college track classrooms at full retail cost is P77.7 billion.

Joe Am's Out of the Box Factoid #1: The entire purpose of centralized internet Moon Model is to reduce the demand for teachers and facilities. Lesson-presentation, testing and grade-issuance is predominantly electronic and entirely paperless.  Indeed, with home study and the Big Secret to be revealed in the last article here, students will be in the classroom only 50% of the time. Sometimes less. Indeed, the teacher to pupil ratio will go UP, and up dramatically, to 1:100 or more. The Philippines can toss out the international standard of 1:35 because it will be leading the world to new approaches in education by promoting an extraordinarily efficient use of teachers and facilities.

JoeAm's Out of the Box Factoid #2: We are dealing only with the 5 million students heading for college. However, similarly innovative programs and "resource light" instruction programs can be instituted for trade-track and elementary school students.

Funding of the early four years of the program should be easy to accommodate. The prospective gains are so huge it would be a crime (abusive) not to pursue the improvement. Slow the hiring of teachers. Slow the building of classrooms. Start focusing on quality of instruction and productive use of the classrooms that exist now.

Negotiating a 25% student discount for computer hardware and internet usage fees would reduce the full program cost substantially. Aim for an all-in program cost of P58 billion.

The scale of the program is entirely flexible. Although not the preferred approach, it could be formulated as an honors program only for the top students. Halve the student population accepted for the program and you bring the cost down to P29.5 billion. Imagine 2.5 million super smart, super skilled kids  on an ultimate path to excel in college and fill the most vital science, commerce and government jobs in the nation. About 350,000 graduates each and every year, able to match or exceed the public education skills of other modern nations.

I suppose the ultimate question is, where does the nation seek to go strategically? What is more important, guns, butter, roads or brains? The US made its billion dollar investments in a moon landing to build technological and defense supremacy. It succeeded and remade the world, introducing the High Tech era.

The 2011 Philippine national budget already places a high emphasis on education, but it still can't keep pace with the population-induced surge of enrollments. Are there places in the national budget that could be shifted to education to get more students into the high-tech curriculum? You decide based on the 2011 budget:

Billions of Pesos
 2011 Budget
      2012 Plan
Education, Museums, Etc
Other Social Services
Defense (domestic)
Roads, Communication
Public Order, Safety
Agriculture, Natural Resources
All Other Expenditures
Interest Payments

My own impression is that the Aquino budgets make good sense as to weighting and trends. Education already receives generous support. Other areas need funding, for sure. DepEd's request for a doubling of funding is impractical and reflects the discouraging notion that the only way to succeed is to throw money at the problem, without changing anything.

Given the budgeting realities, I would suggest a commitment to fund the Moon Model - or something like it - is not only advisable, it is essential, or the education system will most assuredly continue to be bogged down in mediocrity. Or outright collapse.

The cost of four years of the Moon Model, or around 7,777 classrooms, is a minor sneeze in a P300 billion program. Implement it and make an annual assessment of progress, costs and benefits. Annually determine how many new classrooms can be funded. Initially call it an "honors" program.

I would also work on building less resource-intensive elementary and trade-track programs using the disciplines learned in the honors program. That is, applying technology to reduce teaching and facilities load. The Big Secret yet to be revealed will present some ideas as to how this can be done.

As the moon astronauts could not anticipate the rapid computerization of the world, we cannot fully appreciate how Philippine education can be enhanced by a core program aimed at using thoroughly modern resources to generate thoroughly intelligent high school graduates.

Students who can, indeed, be the best that they can be.


  1. "TOTAL TECHNOLOGY COST per classroom per year is P616,300."

    add electricity costs. for running a comp, maybe 6 hours a day, for 9 months of the year.

  2. GabbyD, Good point. Not to mention installing multiple plugs for chargers.

  3. Joe:

    The arguments in you articles would collectively catch the interest of the panel in a colloquium.

    And maybe that's what this group of exquisite ideas need: something tangible to back it up. I'm talking about studies and research, something that could convince the shit out of those so-called intellectuals. For that, I'd be honored to be your research assistant...

    Personally, if the government would decide to try this out for size, not just any ordinary public school would do. U.P. would be the safest bet to go with.

    Another idea would be to drastically make changes in the curriculum. Leading Universities would be admired for this, and the lesser schools would sure to follow, and synchronization is achieved.

  4. 1DC, that's a superb idea, to offer up the paper to a university. Maybe for them to do the research. I'll explore that as I get the series completed and let you know what happens. You are also free to feed it about, if you wish.

  5. Research would mean funding, either done with a sponsor or independently. No one would touch it without funds. But I'm sure it wouldn't go unnoticed once published. In any case, it is you who should take all the credit.


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