Learning 3 Rs plus culture with Smart apps

Mobile phones and gadgets need not be a distraction from schoolwork,  they can be instruments of instruction, especially if they’re loaded with educational apps.   

Teacher Bernadette Alcaroci of San Fernando Elementary School in Villareal, Samar, concedes that holding the attention of her 30 or so pupils can be a challenge. Thanks to technology, she has found a way to make even quizzes exciting. She makes them answer the questions using her mobile phone, where she has installed educational apps.

“The kids form a line to the teacher’s table and take turns answering,” she says. Solving math problems was never this fun!  

The school is one of several in Eastern Visayas that recently received a Smart School-in-a-Bag digital learning package, which contains tablets installed with literacy apps—not in English but in the children’s own languages, Waray and Inabaknon. 

The Kaaram and Katao interactive mobile learning apps were developed by Smart Communications in partnership with the Department of Education Region 8 and Central Office, SEAMEO INNOTECH (Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization Regional Center for Educational Innovation and Technology), UNICEF Philippines, and Orangefix.

Research shows that the use of the learner’s mother tongue as the primary medium of instruction is more effective. However, there isn’t enough content in native languages. 

To address the problem, Smart entered into public-private partnerships with several local communities to create LearnSmart Mother Tongue-Based Literacy Apps. Throughout 2018 until the start of the current academic year, Smart developed and launched nine interactive mobile applications in various local languages in collaboration with DepEd and academic institutions nationwide.

Letters, numbers, stories

The Bahay Kubo app is a digital learning companion designed for Filipino children aged two to six years. It features Filipino alphabet and number games, which have been proven effective in teaching young learners both basic Tagalog plus Filipino values—something they won’t learn from “Tagalized” versions of international shows.

Named for the iconic traditional Filipino house, the Bahay Kubo app offers a modern way of learning, similar to how the nipa hut has been modernized, says Stephanie Orlino, head of education programs at Smart. The country’s leading wireless services provider partnered with Early Childhood Care and Development Council, an attached agency of the DepEd, in developing content.

The Kaalam app is for Cebuano learners of all ages. Aside from letters and numbers, it features folklore stories such as Ang Diwata sa Konta and Ang Kwentas ni Ingkco Candido, retold by residents of Argao, Cebu. The content of Kaalam, or knowledge in Cebuano, helps hone users’ word association of Sinugbuanong Binisaya (Cebuano Visayan), the most widely spoken of the Visayan languages.

Collaborating with Smart on this app are the local government of Argao, local DepEd offices in Cebu City and Cebu Province, Cebu Technological University-Argao, and University of Cebu-Banilad Campus.

For learners in Northern Luzon, Sanut is an interactive literacy app with reading and counting exercises and songs to help children learn Ilokano. An Ilokano term that means “wisdom,” Sanut, or wisdom in Ilokano, is also useful to adults who wish to learn another language. The app supports DepEd’s mother tongue-based multilingual education.

“It is easy to use and helpful in opening up the Ilokano language to the rest of the world,” says Dr. Aurelio Solver Agcaoili, who worked with representatives from Mariano Marcos State University-Batac and software developers from Orangefix.

Music, graphics  

LearnSmart’s interactive mobile apps also keep students engaged with the use of graphics and audio. “Children today are very visual and auditory—they want to see vivid colors and hear music or sound effects,” explains Joy Cruz, Culture and Heritage Officer at the Tourism Office of Angeles City, Pampanga. Their group worked with Smart, the Sínúpan Singsing: Center for Kapampángan Cultural Heritage, Angeles City Local Government, City College of Angeles, and Orangefix to create Singsing, a Kapampangan literacy app that teaches users how to write letters in the province’s unique native script, Kulitan. Local Kampampangan songs and stories will be featured soon.

“Apps like these will help augment schools’ existing instructional materials,” says Dr. Richard Daenos, president of City College of Angeles and Singsing app partner.

Yet another Smart innovation is Matigsalug, the first tribal app showcasing songs, dances, and chants from the Matigsalug tribe of Davao and Bukidnon.  While primarily intended to teach basic literacy to young learners, the app also appeals to anyone who wants to learn more about the culture of Indigenous Peoples (IP) community, where the dearth of education materials is even more severe.

“Not only will the app help young members of the Matigsalug tribe learn in a ‘high tech’ way, but it will also help people from other areas understand and appreciate our culture and traditions better,” says Datu Dionesio Siawan, a leader of the Matigsalug tribe. A first of its kind in the Philippines, content and development partners for the IP app include the IP community in Sitio Contract, Datu Salumay, Marilog District in Davao, Pamulaan Center of IP Education, ACLC College Davao and Gensan, and Skeptron Business Solutions.

Prayers, traditions

People can also learn more about the rich culture of the Bangsamoro region with the app Tahderiyyah, which draws from the Islamic kindergarten curriculum. Aside from short videos of prayers and stories depicting Islamic values, the app also contains interactive Arabic alphabet and number games. Representatives from the Bangsamoro Development Agency, FEU Institute of Technology, and Teach Peace Build Peace Movement developed this app.

Another Arabic app is Ta’allam (Arabic for “to learn”), developed specifically for Filipino Muslims by Smart together with content and multimedia partners from DepEd General Santos and Sarangani, the local government unit of Sarangani, Mercy Foundation, Young Moro Professionals, ACLC College Gensan, and local religious leaders.

The app was initially developed to support the implementation of DepEd’s Arabic Language and Islamic Values Education (ALIVE) Program in General Santos City and Sarangani. Besides reading and counting exercises, the app contains Islamic morning, evening, and mealtime prayers, as well as Wudhu prayers for ritual washing of the hands, mouth, and different body parts, and Salah for Muslims’ first to fifth obligatory prayers.

“The Ta’allam app has been so effective that even non-Muslim kids have started to attend ALIVE classes in their school,” says ALIVE teacher Ustadz Saide Tobias.

“These apps give importance to Muslim heritage, which does not get the same exposure as contemporary culture in the mass media,” says Wilson Yu of Tahderiyyah multimedia partner FEU Institute of Technology.  “Having an app with content that they can actually understand can help shape the identity of Muslim learners and make them proud of their heritage.”

Topics: Mobile phones , Smart School-in-a-Bag , Smart Communications
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