Despite the continuing rise in COVID-19 infections in the Philippines, One Meralco Foundation (OMF), the corporate foundation of electric distributor Manila Electric Company (Meralco), has resumed its electrification of off-grid public schools to help teachers in far-flung communities implement blended learning.
For almost a decade now, OMF has been installing between 1- to 3-kilowatt solar PV systems in public schools located in some of the farthest and hardest-to-reach villages in the archipelago (mostly outside of the Meralco franchise area) under its school electrification program. A core advocacy of the foundation, the program seeks to provide a means for school children in these remote villages to access digital tools such as computers and the Internet — vital to developing skills essential in the 21st Century workplace.
As of the end of 2019, the program has already brought electricity access to 245 schools across the country’s three major island groups: Luzon: 106, Visayas: 72, Mindanao: 67.
This year, OMF had planned to energize at least 15 more schools, but the health crisis hampered the program’s implementation especially during the first half of the year.
“The schools that we usually energize are located in areas that are hard to access even in usual circumstances and the travel restrictions resulting from the pandemic, although necessary, have made it even harder for us, and for our equipment to reach them,” explained Jeffrey Tarayao, president of One Meralco Foundation.
Along with the easing of travel restrictions in many parts of the country in the latter part of July, OMF resumed the deployment of its solar PV equipment and engineers to Samar and Masbate provinces.
“We could have decided to push back the implementation of our projects to the following year but we realized that off-grid schools need electricity access more so now especially since the Department of Education (DepEd) has shifted its strategy to blended learning,” said Tarayao.
Blended learning is an educational approach that combines online learning with traditional methods. At least for the upcoming school year, public schools will not hold face-to-face classes to prevent the further spread of the virus. Instead, students will study at home using printed modules and worksheets, while teachers will either hold lectures online or employ other digital means to check on the progress of their students.
“Without electricity, teachers won’t be able to access learning materials and print them. Additionally, they won’t be able to participate in online seminars that would prepare them for implementing distance learning. Their students are the ones who will ultimately suffer,” Tarayao added.
Early this month, OMF completed the electrification of seven island schools in the municipality of Sto. Nino, Samar, among them is Corocawayan Elementary School.
“Electricity is available on the island only between 4 pm and 9 pm, and is limited since it comes out of a common generator. For the most of every school day, we didn’t have electricity,” shared Dennis Cubelo, the school’s principal.
“Before that, whenever we needed to access a computer or the Internet, we had to rent a boat to cross to the mainland. Usually, teachers draw from their own pockets to cover the costs,” he added.
Now that their school has 24-hour electricity, teachers won’t have to brave oftentimes rough waters to be able to do their job.
“It’s a great help for us, teachers, especially now that learning is going to be done via modules and online,” he said.
Despite the temporary setback brought about by the pandemic, OMF remains committed to meeting its target of at least 15 schools by the end of the year. Its engineers are currently installing solar power equipment in seven schools in Masbate, and a few more in Mindanao in the coming weeks.
“We also work closely with local governments to expedite the installation process, while observing health and safety protocols implemented in each municipality, such as physical distancing, wearing of facemasks, and undergoing quarantine,” assured Tarayao.
To help previously energized schools sustain their electrification, OMF offers free training on the proper use and maintenance of their school’s solar PV equipment. This year, these will be conducted online for the safety of participants.