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By JOHN CARLO M. CAHINHINAN

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian is pushing for the installation of cellular sites in every public school in the country to provide internet access to all of the country’s 42,046 barangays.

According to Gatchalian, these schools “provide viable spots for cell sites that would ensure nationwide internet access” and would help accelerate the installation of free Wi-Fi hotspots in the country’s public places.

With free WiFi hotspots, Gatchalian explained that it will boost the capacity of schools to utilize distance learning in emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Kung meron sana tayong sapat na imprastraktura, meron tayong internet, meron tayong mga gadgets, hindi magiging problema yung pagtuturo sa mga estudyante, lalo na ngayong kailangan nating mag-shift sa distance learning,” Gatchalian, chair of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture, said.

“We hit two birds with one stone. Out of the almost 62 thousand schools nationwide, merong 47 thousand na public schools… so bawat barangay merong public school at kung pwede nating patayuan ng cell site at wifi-based station sa bawat public school, sagip na natin ang buong Pilipinas dahil buong barangay ay makakabitan natin ng cell site,” he added.

Records from the Department of Education (DepEd) showed that only 58 percent of elementary schools, 80 percent of junior high schools and 72 percent of senior high schools are connected to the internet.

Based on a mapping of public schools and cell site towers by Project BASS or Bandwidth and Signal Statistics, 44 percent or 20,398 public schools were found to be located more than six kilometers away from the nearest cell site, which means they have either very poor or no access to the internet. The ideal distance for a school to the closest cell site should not be more than three kilometers to get a good internet connection.

Gatchalian also stressed that these cell sites would save the country’s public schools billions to pay for internet connection in the long run.

He also noted bridging the digital divide will help the country’s education system to innovate and ensure that no learner is left behind.

“Kahit wala nang COVID-19, importante ring pagsikapan nating maabot ang bawat isang kabahayan gamit ang internet, at mabigyan natin ang mga bata ng kagamitan, mga gadgets, para magamit nila sa pag-aaral,” Gatchalian added.

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