In the information age, digital literacy has been recognised is a key factor in economic development. These skills can be a critical issue when it comes to educational attainment and obtaining employment. Providing access to digital skills training can also be a powerful means by which to improve people’s lives, especially the poor and marginalised – a fact that President Benigno Aquino III acknowledged in an October 2012 speech in which he encouraged the IT and business process outsourcing (IT-BPO) industries to make future investments in the Next Wave Cities (NWCs) and outside the National Capital Region (NCR) and Cebu. In his speech, president Aquino challenged both the IT-BPO industry and the education sector to ensure that 40% of total ICT-BPO jobs in 2016 would be based within these NWCs and non-NCR regions, with the aim of expanding prosperity and employment equally across the country.

The result has been a plethora of government agencies, non-governmental organisations, industry leaders and local governments coming together to build a technical platform available to every Filipino, no matter how rural or poor, and a mission to provide digital training across the country.

Tech & Development

One of the most visible efforts in this direction has been the Technology for Economic Development (Tech4ED) Project, which would make technical and vocational education and training (TVET) accessible across the country via Tech4ED centres. These are ICT centres set up to provide access to non-formal education, skills training, government and health services, employment opportunities and industry information.

Local government units (LGUs) are responsible for providing the physical facilities, computers and office space for these centres, while the Department of Science and Technology-Information and Communications Technology Office (DOST-ICTO) provides the platform, institutional support and the content.

The project, originally meant to strengthen the country’s existing Community eCentres, has been extended and enhanced with the eventual target of situating a Tech4ED centre in every barangay ( village, district or ward) across the country. In addition to eEduSkills (on-demand online education), the Tech4ED Platform offers five additional segments: mAgri (mobile agriculture), mMarket (mobile marketing), eGovServe (access to and automation of government services), eAssess (industry partnerships for job applicants), and eAssist. The eAssist segment contains ICT content for digital and financial literacy, entrepreneurship and skills training for vulnerable groups or those experiencing career transition.

The eEduSkills segment uses digitised modules and resources to prepare out-of-school youth and adults to take the Department of Education’s accreditation and equivalency test. For skills training, learners are given preparation and background tutoring to sit for the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) national certification exam. The Learning English Application for Pinoys is aimed at improving learners’ basic English proficiency so they can apply for jobs in the IT-BPO industry and other positions for which English skills are required.

An additional benefit for rural learners is the ability to take certification exams at the Tech4Ed centres to reduce expensive travel to distant cities. DOST-ICTO is currently working with TESDA to make online certification exams available at the Tech4Ed centres.

Using White Space

A major stumbling block to providing internet-based training and services to all Filipinos has been poor internet connectivity for those out of reach of commercial wired or wireless broadband service – a common problem in the country’s rural areas. To overcome this, a novel technological solution, the Television White Space (TVWS) Initiative, was rolled out in 2015. TVWS technology provides data connectivity by using unallocated portions of the television frequency spectrum. TVWS can be used for, among other things, educational content delivery – precisely what Tech4ED is meant to provide. From an initial goal of 75 centres, DOST-ICTO intends to boost the number of Tech4Ed centres to as many as 1000. Because it is working with a budget of only P56m ($1.2m), taking advantage of the Aquino administration’s public-private partnerships scheme will be instrumental in attaining this goal.

Forging Partnerships

Partnering with private-sector donors enables DOST-ICTO to supplement its budget and extend the reach of the Tech4Ed programme. The Philippine Centre for Entrepreneurship (PCE) and Go Negosyo, a network of local entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship advocates, are some of the most recent private-sector players to join in participating in the Tech4Ed programme.

Go Negosyo’s contribution includes providing content for Tech4ED’s eAssist unit. This will encompass information and training regarding business literacy, investments, franchising and other resources for prospective entrepreneurs. “Educational materials from the PCE and Go Negosyo will go a long way in helping Filipinos in the countryside in starting their own businesses and help achieve our objectives for inclusive growth,” Bettina Quimson, DOST-ICT deputy executive director, said in a statement announcing the partnership in August 2015.

Digital Literacy Movement

In alignment with Tech4Ed’s mission, an alliance of leaders from the IT industry, the public sector, TVET institutions and academics announced in 2014 the establishment of a digital literacy movement called DigiBayanihan.

Primarily a volunteer-based effort, its “mobilising champions,” also known as “DigiBayanis,” promote digital literacy and citizenship. DigiBayanis are encouraged to become DigiBayani trainers, further extending the movement by spreading digital literacy and carrying out training throughout the country.

The private sector has shown great support and encouragement for the DigiBayanihan movement. Its many private-sector partners include Intel Philippines, Dell, Acer, Xerox, Sutherland Global Services, the Technical Vocational Schools and Associations of the Philippines (TEVSAPHIL), the National ICT Confederation of the Philippines, Children International-Philippines, the Philippine Community e-Centre Network and the Philippine Society of IT Educators, among others. The movement has gained traction quickly. Since its launch in mid-2014, DigiBayanihan is estimated to have trained 1m Filipinos, and to have equipped a further 25,000 Filipinos with higher educational skills through digital literacy training. Teaching basic digital skills is at the core of the movement’s mission. Easy Steps, Intel’s digital literacy programme, has so far formed the foundation of DigiBayanihan training, but the creation of more Philippine-focused topics is on the horizon.

“Intel believes that DigiBayanihan has already achieved one of the goals we first set in mid-2014, and that is to put digital literacy at the forefront of the national agenda for human and economic development,” Intel Philippines country manager Calum Chisholm said in a March 2015 press release.

“With DOST-ICTO supporting DigiBayanihan as a component of its national strategy, we hope to see the full impact of a digitally-literate nation in just a few years. We will continue to lend our expertise in IT education among the youth and technology leadership to ensure that we reach the digitally excluded members of the population,” Chisholm said.

DigiBayanihan is also expected to help prepare the nation for ASEAN integration by leveraging DigiBayanihan’s volunteers in support of DOST-ICTO’s eFilipino Programme, which itself aims to augment Filipinos’ skill sets by using optimised technology. “DigiBayanihan is an ideal partner for our eFilipino Programme,” ICTO-DOST’s Quimson said at the 12th Youth for IT Congress held in September 2014 in Manila, where the announcement of DigiBayanihan’s establishment was made. “Having a network of private-sector volunteers who help train people through the Tech4Ed Centres deployed in barangays will support economic growth, as they will now have the necessary education and skill sets by which to become entrepreneurs or attain employment.”

One of the movement’s private-sector partners, TEVSAPHIL, operates more than 4000 TVET institutions across the Philippines. TEVSAPHIL strongly supports the DigiBayanihan movement. With a large segment of the population under 30, the young will be the key drivers of the IT sector in the near future.