POSTSCRIPT / June 13, 2000 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Any school wants free PCs run by Pentiums?

HEY, you guys better stop scaring Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora with suggestions that he head the government panel negotiating with the Abu Sayyaf terrorists in the Sulu-Basilan jungles. That’s like pushing him into the lion’s den.

Note how he grew pale and his voice cracked as he nervously rejected a demand of the Abu Sayyaf that Zamora replace Secretary Roberto Aventajado as panel chairman.

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THERE used to be vans of old books from American libraries looking for institutions ready to accept them for non-profit purposes. There are also loads of useful hospital equipment waiting to be accepted by donors for non-commercial use.

Now we heard that there are also institutions in the US giving away piles of used computers running on Intel Pentium 1 that have been overtaken by the fast ascendancy of more powerful processors.

There are countless potential beneficiaries here, especially in the provinces, of used but still usable equipment. But those who need them are rarely connected to those who are ready to give them away.

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THERE is no efficient and established means of connecting donors and beneficiaries, or even hurdling the first step of having them aware of each other’s presence.

Except for military hardware, we’re not aware of any inventory of old but usable equipment being mothballed or junked in the first world that could be had for the asking by non-profit institutions in the third world.

We can imagine that our embassies could be on the lookout for such possible major donations, but they have to do this discreetly so as not to appear mendicant. To be at arm’s length from the transaction, they could even use private entities as conduits.

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BUT more imaginative officials go into this hunt for donations with an eye for profit. Such mercenary attitude is one of the reasons why potential donors sometimes hesitate to accept offers to help them connect to indigent beneficiaries.

There’s just too much of those recurring scandals of aid such as clothes, blankets and food items intended for victims of calamities finding their way to the black market at the instance of corrupt officials.

Then there is the problem of customs duties having to be paid when the donations are claimed. There are charitable groups willing to serve as bridge for such donations, but are deterred by the unreasonable customs impositions on incoming goods.

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SOMETIMES a do-gooder steps in. We’ve known, for instance, of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Alice Reyes’ Pagcor) paying the duties for old but serviceable hospital beds and other medical equipment and farming them out to deserving hospitals.

But the process cannot rely on the occasional Good Samaritan. A policy decision must be made and the proper law passed to make it easier for legitimate donations to pass customs and reach the waiting hands of beneficiaries without delay.

As for the Stateside computers equipped with Pentium 1’s, the same problem of duties having to be paid would be encountered when, say, some provincial school that had negotiated the donation comes forward to claim the shipment.

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COMPUTERS with Pentium processors may be antiquated for highly competitive US firms, but they are still useful for Filipino students learning the basics. Properly maintained, we dare say a Pentium unit’s life span can be extended for three more years. In fact, we still see many old 486’s doing office chores in Manila.

If the school receiving the donation cannot afford Windows NT to make the computers run, it can secure the older Windows 3.1 version which Microsoft has reportedly allowed to be used indiscriminately without requiring licensing.

This means that if anybody has Windows 3.1, he can install it on any number of computers without running into licensing and piracy problems.

The rule is that one copy of Windows (except if it is a licensed NT or a network version) can be used on only one computer, but this restriction has been lifted reportedly on the older 3.1 version. Dapat naman.

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THERE are many public schools begging for funds to buy computers and related equipment to start their own computer classes and at least give their students a chance to learn how to operate a PC, play computer games, do simple word processing and basic trouble shooting.

But while there are billions for pork barrel, junkets, commissions for mistresses and cronies, and payola, there is no money for such a basic thing as computer classes in every public school.

Our youths glumly watch in the sidelines while their high-tech neighbors whiz by. Public school students deserve comparable opportunities in technical education as their counterparts in the more affluent private schools.

In the meantime, while officials sort out their budgets and their priorities, won’t it be a good idea to make it easier for such donations as Pentium-equipped computers to find their way into our public schools without anybody making a fast buck in the process?

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SOME time back, we suggested that a cheaper way to usher our public school pupils into the wonderful world of computers is to teach those in the higher grades how to assemble and maintain the units themselves as a vocational subject.

This is shooting three birds with one inexpensive stone.

First, the students learn how to assemble a personal computer and move on to troubleshooting and the servicing PCs. They learn a useful trade with which they can earn some money. They may even make their own home computer if they have money to buy the parts.

Second, the school saves on funds. Instead of buying overpriced computers from the usual suppliers, their students will assemble the units at a cost that is almost half of the prevailing market price.

Third, instead of spending for a service or maintenance contract with an outside group, the school can use its own students as part of their training. The youths can even make money doing repairs and maintenance for PC owners in the community.

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WE have world-class computer engineers, programmers and technicians. We have a vibrant high-tech community in the urban centers linked by phone and cable lines to the Internet.

But the flipside of the otherwise rosy picture is that in rural communities, especially those still without electricity, much less telephone service, they are practically groping in the Dark Ages.

Public schools in the provinces need not wait for phone lines and Internet connections. They must go ahead with computer education, if not computer-aided education.

But how can they move in this direction if there is no budgetary support? Or if nobody has bothered to think ahead about training trainors? Or if they miss such opportunities as donations of Pentium units just because of unrealistic customs regulations?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 13, 2000)

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