The House Committee on Basic Education and Culture approved on Thursday afternoon the proposed Public Schools of the Future in Technology (PSOFT) Act, which is seen as a necessary step toward upgrading the public education system with or without the challenges brought by a pandemic.
Approved during a virtual hearing of the panel chaired by Pasig City Rep. Roman Romulo was the currently unnumbered substitute bill for various measures pursuing the institutionalization of PSOFT, which basically spells out a 10-year digitalization roadmap for government-run schools.
Covered by the substitute bill, which was sponsored by Lanao del Norte Rep. Khalid Dimaporo, were House Bills (HB) 311, 514, 1244, 1411, 2671, 3303, 3433, 3505, 4131, 4196, 4527, 4719, 4629, 5090, 5226, 5806, 6964, and 7222.
Except for the last two bills, all of them were filed way before the country was gripped by COVID-19, the subsequent spread of which has made traditional face-to-face instruction impossible.
Manila Rep. Edward Maceda and Albay Rep. Joey Salceda both described the substitute measure as well-crafted despite being a mash-up of many individual bills.
“The substitute bill is much more comprehensive. COVID or no COVID, kailangan natin ito (we need this). Sa digitalization tayo papunta (We’re moving toward digitalization), we can’t do anything about it. Mabuti na rin maging handa (It’s better to be prepared),” Maceda said.
“It’s going to be a long journey (towards digital learning). It’s a good first step. Hindi naman bibiglain (We won’t do this haphazardly),” Maceda said.
“Although this bill was among the first bills I filed, in July 2019, in this time of COVID-19, having this bill enacted has become more urgent,” Salceda said, referring to HB No.311.
The bill mandates government agencies, through the PSOFT inter-agency task force (IATF), to prepare the country’s public schools’ curriculum, physical and digital infrastructure, and administration for teaching skills useful for a more digital economy.
The bill also mandates the Department of Education (DepEd) to develop e-learning resources.
“What’s being legislated is the roadmap so we can see the direction of DepEd when it comes to the digitalization of public education system in the next five to 10 years,” explained Dimaporo.
Under the proposed PSOFT program, three pilot schools — one each from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao — will be chosen and equipped with the necessary gadgets and Internet connectivity to showcase the intended digital classroom of the future. Dimaporo said the gadget to student/teacher ratio in these pilot schools will be 1:1.
Moreover, the Mindanao solon said the bill compels Congress to review the roadmap every three years as a way to monitor the PSOFT-IATF’s achievements or overall progress.
Meanwhile, the sponsor, as noted by Romulo, also promised to insert during plenary consideration language in the bill that would explicitly say that public school teachers won’t have to use money from their own pockets in providing for students’ devices or Internet connectivity.
This concern was raised in the hearing by ACT-Teachers party- list Rep. France Castro, as she cited a reality in the local public school system wherein teachers personally shell out money for the needs of their respective classrooms.
The DepEd will head the PSOFT-IATF, which would also include the Department of Information and Communications Technology and Department of Science and Technology, among others.