LUBANG ISLAND, Occidental Mindoro?On a remote island where most roads are unpaved and phone booths are non-existent, schoolchildren are getting free laptops and one can find Wi-fi.
"Dreams can be real here,? said Education Secretary Armin Luistro during the launch of the one-laptop one-child (OLPC) project of the municipality of Lubang last week.
?We were struck by this. We always thought the best ideas were in Manila, in a first-class city with lots of money,? said Luistro during the program held at the Lubang plaza.
?But to our great surprise, what we thought was only possible was already a reality in Lubang,? he said.
The project that initially distributed 100 laptops to fourth graders is in partnership with the National Computer Center and the Philippine-based nongovernment organization EducationKindling.
Luistro, Education Undersecretary Alberto Muyot, Gov. Josephine Ramirez-Sato and regional officials of the Department of Education came to this island to see for themselves.
At the plaza, some 100 fourth graders from Lubang Integrated School and Maligaya Elementary School were glued to the monitors of their new XO laptops, surfing the Internet, doing math problems and writing stories.
The XO laptops, as small as a notebook, are rugged computers costing $120 dollars each (P5,000).
Through a laptop, a student could access two million digital books available on the Web, said Ryan Onell Letada, executive director of eKindling.
Wide-eyed Joshua Labada, 10, said his laptop was by his side day and night.
?Masaya (happy)? the boy said when asked how he felt after receiving a laptop. He said it only took him two weeks to learn how to operate it.
The parents were as happy as their children.
Harvey Balibay, an organic farmer, said he could not afford a laptop.
?It was grace for us to get a laptop. It wasn?t a priority for us since we are just making ends meet,? he said.
His son who used to get ?Friday sickness? was now eager to go to school, he added.
Veronica Sapitin, a municipal employee, was also pleased to see her child learning fractions over the computer.
?The students were asked to do fractions. I realized that this is the point where computer and classroom learning can meet,? Sapitin said.
The fourth-class municipality of Lubang is a small island in the Mindoro Strait where fishing and farming are the main sources of livelihood.
It gained notoriety in the 1970s after a Japanese soldier was found hiding in its jungle 29 years after World War II ended.
To the people living on mainland Occidental Mindoro, Lubang is a distant island. There is no available mode of transportation directly from the capital Mamburao to the island. One needs to take a boat at the Calatagan, Batangas, pier.
The world thus came to Lubang?s doorstep when Smart Communications? WiMax, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), was put up in March 2010.
The Lubang town center has been a Wi-fi hotspot since.
Mayor Juan Sanchez said the Wi-fi was a requirement of the OLPC project.
Started as a joke
He recalled that what started as a joke among former employees of the National Computer Center (NCC) was taken seriously during a reunion in Sydney, Australia.
After the reunion, Filipinos living abroad pitched in for the project.
Sanchez was the first managing director of NCC, which was formed to install IBM computers in government offices in 1969.
By 2013, he said Lubang intends to implement the OLPC in all 14 schools on the island through donations from the private sector.
The idea is to give each incoming Grade 4 pupil a laptop which they could use until the sixth grade. The pupils must return the laptops after graduating from elementary school.
10 steps ahead
Sanchez said that by teaching them how to use a computer in grade school, the standard of education on Lubang would soon be at par with Manila?s exclusive schools.
?We are producing computer geniuses here,? the mayor said.
Governor Ramirez-Sato described the project as being 10 steps ahead of what the provincial capitol has accomplished in Occidental Mindoro.
Moved by the project, Luistro is hoping to replicate it in other places in the country.
?I think this is very doable. But I obviously can?t do it next year. We still need to pilot-test it with a definite program,? he told the Inquirer in an interview.
?We will save trees?
?It could prosper if there is a local committee that will start it slowly and another one would do the monitoring,? he said.
Luistro said that distributing laptops may even solve the textbook problem.
?We have to print 95 million textbooks and make sure they are error-free. What if we just upload them on the Internet. We will save trees. Students would no longer need to carry heavy bags. We would just have a little laptop in which pupils can store book chapters,? Luistro said. Niña Calleja