(Photo from pna.gov.ph)

Senator Loren Legarda has filed a bill that seeks to provide a tablet to each public elementary and secondary student, as well as those enrolled in state universities and colleges (SUCs).

Legarda filed House Bill No. 10405, also known as the “One Tablet, One Student Act of 2021”, which also seeks to give educational assistance in the form of an internet allowance to cover the cost of connectivity to students who already have their own personal learning gadgets.

Legarda, who as former Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Finance introduced numerous interventions in the budget allocation of the education sector, urged both Houses of Congress, now working on the proposed 2022 national budget, to consider allocating funds for the said program.

In a statement her office released, she said she believes that this will greatly help public schools students adapt to the online mode of learning amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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As Senate Finance Chair and sponsor of previous General Appropriations Acts, Legarda introduced budget amendments to fund the free college education, free tuition for medical students in SUCs, and free wifi in all SUCs, among many others.

Legarda related that, in the Lone District of Antique which she currently represents in the House of Representatives, according to the Department of Education (DepEd) Schools Division of Antique, there are around 30,194 students from Kinder to Senior High School that do not have devices such as smartphones or tablets.

This hinders them from coping with the flexible learning system currently being implemented by DepEd.

“For Antique alone, if a basic and durable tablet costs approximately 4,000 pesos, we will be needing an additional P120 million in order to be able to provide for all these students. We have to make sure that our budget, especially amid this ongoing pandemic, is able to cater to our children’s educational needs,” Legarda added.

According to DepEd Central Office, if the government plans to provide information communication technology (ICT) devices to aid the students in their education, a 3- to 6-year computerization program that will require P154 billion per year is the proposed solution to address the digital divide.

The Department also said that this proposal, should it be approved by Congress, will prioritize students in Grades 4, 7, and 10 each year.

Based on DepEd data, there are twenty-seven million elementary and high school students enrolled in the current academic year. On the other hand, there are approximately 1.6 million enrolled in SUCs and local universities and Colleges (LUCs), based on the data from the Commission on Higher Education (CHED). This does not even include the teachers themselves who are likewise in need of such devices.

“While the proposed allocation is staggering, making sure that our students each have access to resources that would help them cope with changes in our educational system is needed for us to ensure that, despite the restrictions in the traditional modalities of classes, our students will still receive the kind of quality education that they deserve,” Legarda said.

The three-term Senator noted that it is still unknown until when the pandemic will continue to affect the different sectors of our society and, as such, we do not know for sure when students and teachers can fully go back to having face-to-face classes, especially because new variants of COVID-19 continue to emerge.

“Given this, perhaps it would be in the best interest of our teachers and students if the government will consider giving the students the much-needed gadgets so they can continue receiving their lessons and complying with the class requirements. This may not be enough, but this is a good start to help our students who have been appealing for help from the government,” Legarda said.

In a letter to House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco and House Appropriations Chairman Eric Go Yap, Legarda proposed to augment the proposed budget of DepEd by P154 billion to fund the implementation of “One Tablet, One Student” starting next year.

“There is no greater investment than education to help alleviate poverty and build a sustainable and progressive nation. We have to invest enough support for the education of our youth so that they can enjoy more opportunities to be eventually employed as professionals and productive members of our society,” Legarda said.

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