To boost the creation of the Public Education Network (PEN) that will connect all public schools and the Department of Education (DepEd) offices nationwide, Senator Win Gatchalian pushed for his ‘Education in the Better Normal’ bill’s passage which will help accelerate the education department’s digital transformation.

In his penultimate State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Rodrigo Duterte vowed that the PEN “shall be realized” before he steps down in 2022. The chief executive added that priority will be given to the last mile schools or those found in geographically isolated, disadvantaged, and conflict-torn areas. These schools also tend to be unenergized and lack connectivity.

“Priority will be given to the last mile schools or those found in geographically isolated, disadvantaged, and conflict-torn areas.”

One of the key provisions of Senate Bill No. 1565, which Gatchalian filed, is a mandate on DepEd to enhance its information and communications technology (ICT) capacity to streamline its workflow and processes. Under the proposed measure, the

implementation of Republic Act No.10929 or the “Free Internet Access in Public Places Act” will be fast-tracked to provide free connectivity and support distance learning in public schools, especially when school closures occur during emergency situations.

By building on its ICT capacity, DepEd will be able to automate and expedite its services, including enrollment, submission of grades and payments to promote a zero-contact policy. Aside from building a robust ICT infrastructure, the veteran legislator said the proposed measure will also build on the capacities of DepEd’s personnel and staff on using electronic devices and supporting a department-wide digital transformation.

To roll out this digital transformation, DepEd will collaborate with the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

“We are one with the President in his goal to form the Public Education Network and to modernize our education system.”

According to the seasoned lawmaker, the enactment of his proposed measure will give the government a stronger mandate to close the digital divide in the country’s basic education sector, especially as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Nakikiisa tayo sa adhikain ng Pangulong mabuo ang Public Education Network upang gawing mas moderno at matatag ang ating sistema ng edukasyon. Sa pamamagitan ng ating panukalang i-angat ang dekalidad na edukasyon sa ilalim ng better normal, mas mabibigyan natin ng kasiguruhan na ang programang ito ay maisasakatuparan sa mga susunod na taon,” said Gatchalian, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture.

Only 48 percent or 22,645 out of the country’s 47,013 schools have connectivity, based on DepEd data.

According to the President’s 14th Report on the implementation of Republic Act 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act, P700 million has been allocated to provide internet access to some 7,000 public schools.

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