Upgrading our public libraries for the next normal

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Education has always been an important aspect of Filipino culture. How many times have we heard that a good education is the most important inheritance parents can give to their children? But now, in the Next Normal that Covid-19 has brought, education as we know it has become problematic.

As of early October, when classes started, some 3 million potential students were not enrolled. This number has probably lessened, given that the Department of Education has allowed late enrollment, as long as the prospective students can comply with 80 percent of program requirements.

To make matters more urgent, it is not only about the number of students that are not being enrolled; it is also about the challenges educators are facing to make distance and blended learning more effective. With desktop computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, and reliable Internet connectivity in low availability, teachers and students alike are now having a difficult time maximizing the learning experience. Many have reported not being able to access at all their online classes.

One way to address such concerns is to utilize and upgrade our public libraries and barangay reading centers. With everything shifting towards digital and online access, our libraries and learning centers need to follow suit, if they wish to remain relevant and useful to the communities they serve.

Consider, for example, how the Department of Science and Technology already has in place the services of the Science and Technology Information Institute for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics subjects. The STII’s digitized and online resources are ready to reply to requests, and can provide online library services to public- and private-school students, teachers, and researchers. STEM materials for both teachers and students have also been made available online, with DOST-STII publishing titles available for free on their web site.

The DOST also has the DOST-Starbooks, or Science and Technology Academic and Research-Based Openly Operated Kiosks, which target schools in remote areas, and has various mobile apps available in conjunction with its digital library.

It is with this sort of educational support in mind that I filed Senate Bill 1879, which aims to strengthen the Philippine public library system through continuous technological updates, and the use of the latest in electronic library technology. The proposed bill amends Republic Act 7743, which provides for the establishment of libraries and barangay reading centers throughout the country. It is also an update of an earlier bill we filed (SB 827), as we acknowledge the challenges that the Coovid-19 pandemic and resulting quarantine have presented for the government’s public library system.

Under our measure, our public libraries and reading centers should be upgraded and enabled to provide free fast Internet connectivity, and ICT equipment for community use. Our aim is to replicate throughout the country how many public library systems across the world rent out laptops or mobile WiFi hotspots to library users. Even during a pandemic, our libraries and reading centers should still help our people educate themselves.

The measure also spells out that our public libraries and reading centers can also be used for seminars, training modules, webinars, and other activities that aim to encourage and increase functional literacy, a culture of reading, and the habits of self-studying and lifelong learning. These upgrades will also make accessible local heritage and history to the youth, which will hopefully promote nationalism and socio-civic consciousness. The bill will also push for an increased budget for the National Library, which will be the lead agency in this effort, at P500 million annually until all cities and municipalities will have updated, fully functional electronic library facilities.

We know that education will be the key to preparing future Filipino generations in the Next Normal and beyond it. To that end, we must open up all possible avenues for them to learn and gain the knowledge that will benefit them. Hence, our public libraries and community reading centers should be upgraded to become even more active participants in the education of our people.

Sen. Sonny Angara has been in public service for 16 years—nine years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and seven as Senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws. He is currently serving his second term in the Senate.

E-mail: [email protected]| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara

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