Smart launched the Ta'allam app for learning Arabic language and Islamic values to complement non-technological efforts to improve education among Muslim learners.
Philippine education took a large step forward when in 2004, the Department of Education (DepEd) added Arabic Language and Islamic Values Education (ALIVE) to the official curriculum. However, there remains a scarcity of expert ALIVE teachers and locally developed materials that could help Filipinos learn more about Islam.
To help address these challenges, PLDT wireless unit Smart Communications partnered with government and academic institutions to introduce a revolutionary teaching method and to develop a localized educational app. Smart initially focused its efforts on General Santos City (GenSan) in South Cotabato and in Sarangani province where the ALIVE program is strongly enforced.
Promoting independent learning where there are few teachers
The first component of Smart’s initiative is the introduction of the Dynamic Learning Program (DLP) developed by Ramon Magsaysay Awardees Dr. Christopher Bernido and Dr. Ma. Victoria Carpio-Bernido. Under the DLP, teachers create learning activity sheets that are localized and can be easily understood by their students. The latter are asked to copy the lesson for the day on a sheet of paper and to process the information on their own. Then, without prior lecture from a teacher, they are asked to answer a question related to what they have written.
Only when they are done does an expert teacher come in to explain and clarify the lesson. The teachers conduct lectures only 20% of the time, enabling them to move from one class to another.
This method has been proven to be effective, with school-implementers recording improved student performances in the National Career Assessment Examination and in college entrance exams. For this reason, Smart promoted the DLP to the local government units (LGUs) of GenSan and Sarangani, and trained teachers on how to implement the program.
Teaching Arabic and Islamic values through an app
The second component is the development of the Ta’allam (Arabic for “to learn”) app, which teaches users how to write and pronounce Arabic letters and numbers. It also teaches word association.
The app, which can be downloaded for free on Google Play, also contains videos on Islamic prayers, stories, and practices.
Smart partnered with DepEd GenSan, DepEd Sarangani, and their respective LGUs for the content of the app. Smart also engaged with experts to ensure the content’s accuracy. These experts are the Young Moro Professionals, Mercy Foundation, MensaheTV, and a number of religious Muslim leaders.
Smart then partnered with ACLC College in GenSan and IT outsourcing company Skeptron to digitize and animate the content. Smart transformed the digitized content into an app.
Addressing challenges by combining tech and non-tech solutions
Smart Public Affairs Senior Manager Stephanie Orlino said problems in the education sector cannot be solved by technology alone, but by partnerships among private and public groups committed to using tech and non-tech tools to achieve common goals.
“Simply donating computers and other gadgets is not enough. This is why Smart has partnered with several experts to create educational content that is fun and relevant to students. We have also been working on literacy apps in local languages as studies show that children learn better when taught in their mother tongue,” she said.
Aside from producing the Ta’allam app, Smart and its various partners have worked on apps in Cebuano, Ilokano, and indigenous languages.
“We hope that by combining digital technology with localized content and an innovative teaching method, we can help improve student performance, as well as their understanding of local cultures,” Orlino said.