The demonstration was held at the Muntinlupa Elementary School on the morning of December 17. Department of Education officials led by Secretary Jesli Lapus, Commission on Higher Education chairman Romulo Neri and other members of the Presidential Task Force to Assess, Plan, and Monitor the Entire Educational System were present, together with officials of the Chinese firm Nuctech and representatives of suppliers for the lucrative contract.
The Cyber Education Project aims to set up a satellite-based network that will provide live television broadcasts of lessons to over 37,000 public schools nationwide. Costing PhP 26.48 billion, it will be funded by a loan from China . Pres. Gloria Arroyo suspended the project last August, in the wake of allegations of high-level corruption involving the National Broadband Network project, which was to be funded by the same loan package as the CEP.
“This proves that Malacañang and the DepEd are quietly preparing for the implementation of the controversial Cyber Education Project behind everyone’s back, even though serious questions regarding the educational value of the project, its economic viability, its legality, and whether or not it’s tainted with corruption, remain unanswered,” said ACT chairperson Antonio Tinio. “No doubt, their intention is to announce the full-blown implementation of CEP early next year, especially now that the controversy over the national broadband network bribery scandal seems to have died down.”
ACT has called for the scrapping of the Cyber Education Project, arguing that it is a white elephant that will burden Filipino taxpayers for decades without addressing the basic needs of the public school system.
Tinio scored the DepEd for keeping the demonstration under wraps. He noted that members of the public, school personnel not directly involved with the demonstration, and media were barred from the event. According to eyewitnesses, Sec. Lapus himself approached the lone news reporter present at the event to ask him to refrain from covering the activity. The reporter works for a prominent national daily. “Why all the secrecy surrounding this demonstration? This is typical of the lack of transparency which has characterized the Cyber Education Project from its inception,” said Tinio.
According to a 14-page handout provided by the DepEd to invited guests, a copy of which was obtained by ACT, the demonstration consisted of a 27-minute live broadcast of a classroom lecture on “Cause and Effect of Earthquakes” by a Master Teacher in Science from a studio in an undisclosed location. The satellite feeds were transmitted to a facility in Subic, a classroom in Antipolo, as well as the classroom in Muntinlupa Elementary School .
Tinio scored the DepEd for failing to pilot-test satellite-based classroom instruction before signing the 26 billion peso deal with the Chinese. “As far as we know, that 27-minute feed was the first and so far the only time that live satellite broadcasting has ever been used in Philippine public schools. It highlights the absurdity of the whole Cyber Education Project. Would you buy a car sight unseen? Would you fork over your hard-earned money without test-driving it first? Yet this is exactly what Malacanang and the DepEd have done in the case of the CEP. They’ve signed the multi-billion peso agreement with China without even pilot-testing satellite-based instruction to find out whether or not it’s appropriate for our public schools. Unfortunately, they are gambling with the people’s money.”
The dry-run was intended to demonstrate the satellite technology to be used by the CEP and was not meant as a “demo on pedagogy.” The objective was “to test the equipment to be used in a satellite uplink and downlink facility for TV broadcast, internet access and accessing multimedia materials from a source.”
According to the DepEd, three suppliers were involved in the demonstration. These were the United States-based ViaSat, the Israeli firm Gilat, and the Filipino satellite operator Mabuhay. ViaSat provided the equipment for the classroom in Muntinlupa while Gilat equipped the school in Antipolo. Mabuhay provided its Agila 2 satellite for broadcasting.
The DepEd handout also stated that these suppliers were “invited by Tsinghua”—referring to the Chinese firm Tsinghua Tongfang Nuctech, which the Chinese government has designated as the contractor for the Cyber Education Project. Nuctech is a world-leading supplier of x-ray inspection machines for airports, customs, and other security applications. It is headed by Hu Haifeng, the son of Chinese president Hu Jintao.
Tinio noted that the supplier demonstration raised several important questions that must be clarified by the Arroyo government. “Does this mean that the Philippine government has no say whatsoever in the choice of suppliers for CEP? It appears that DepEd’s partner Nuctech, which has no expertise in satellite-based distance learning, being a manufacturer of high-tech x-ray machines, will merely subcontract to other firms with actual competency in the field. That doesn’t seem to be the most advantageous arrangement from the point of view of the Filipino taxpayers who will be paying for this deal. We demand that Sec. Lapus and the Malacanang Task Force on Education make a full disclosure of these latest developments regarding the CEP.”
ACT called on the Senate and House of Representatives to push through with their investigation of the Cyber Education Project as soon as Congress resumes its session after the Christmas holidays. “Clearly, Malacanang and the DepEd are keeping a lot of information about the Cyber Education Project from the public. We hope that our legislators will live up to their oversight role by calling them to account,” concluded Tinio.
The DepEd handout for the suppliers’ demonstration may be downloaded at the ACT website (www.actphils. com). #
Reference: Antonio L. Tinio (0920-9220817)