Bernardo M. Villegas
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Philippine Emerging and Submerging Industries (Part 4)

          “Facebook” refers to the wide range of digital products and services that could  grow almost at exponential rates as working and living in the new normal would involve the digitalisation of practically all phases of daily living, both work and leisure.  In a webinar sponsored by PLDT last April 23, 2020,  John Gonzales, Vice President for Enterprise Digital Solutions of PLDT described how consumer behaviour, already very much influenced by digital technology even before the pandemic, will experience even a more aggressive shift to digital engagement and channels.  I can speak for myself.  As an educator and economic consultant, I experienced a quantum leap in my interest in and ability to perform digitally-enabled transactions such  as courses delivered on line, economic briefings through Zoom, Google Meet or other such applications, and get-togethers with my relatives and friends through Viber or Zoom.  I think that once things normalise after we lick the COVID-19 threat, I will continue to make use of these digital tools and applications because of the great saving in time in not having to travel from one destination to another, especially considering the horrendous traffic in the Metro Manila area.

    I have also noticed, at least among the middle-class households, an increased usage of self-service and contactless operations  such as ordering groceries and take-out food from restaurants online.  This increased capability to buy online will spill over to many other consumer items beyond food and basic necessities.  As already has been happening in the banking sector for some time, there will be reduced physical branches and stores for consumer goods and services, including durable consumer goods like hardware products and appliances.  Digital payments, e-commerce and mobile apps will become more commonplace even among low-income households who have no bank accounts.  In fact,  many of these non-banked households among the lower-income groups have already been using such services as Paymaya or Alipay for overseas remittances and even for  purchasing daily necessities from the sari-sari stores through their smart phones.

         As regards the seventh “F” which is Formation (formal, non-formal and informal education), the “old normal” will prevail for the vast majority of children in basic education, i.e. in the K to 12 curriculum.  At least in the short run (the next five years or so), most students will not have access to the necessary digital facilities to be able to receive their education through online courses.  It is heartening, though, to listen to the President and CEO of ePLDT, Mr. Jovy Hernandez,  announce in a webinar called Tech Talk that PLDT is committed to providing the necessary telecom services to the entire schooling system to enable blended learning even in the poorest public schools in the country side.  In his words, service will take precedence over profit in this commitment of PLDT to the public.  This is in line with the constitutional provision that every Filipino has the same equal right to quality education, as emphasised by Professor Richard Cruz of the Asian Institute of Management in the same Tech Talk webinar.

         PLDT and Smart recently provided the Department of Education with a package of digital services to help support the academic sector offer continuous learning amidst the difficulties posed to the mobility of both teachers and students by the nationwide ECQ.  Access to the DepED Commons site was made free to students and teachers using Smart  even without data load.  Through the site, they are given access to numerous educational resources for use at various levels of the K to 12 curriculum.  The package provided by PLDT and Smart also include 10 mother tongue-based literacy apps that can be downloaded for free form Google Play under #LearnSmart.  These interactive apps help develop literacy, numeracy, and higher-order thinking skills among children from Kinder to Grade 3.  These aids are really heaven-sent considering recent reports that the Philippines ranks very low among countries in the Asia Pacific region in the literacy, numeracy and critical thinking skills of its students.  To reach out to teachers and students who are not able to go online, Smart will also provide 10 units of the School-in-a-bag, a portable digital laboratory designed to facilitate continuous learning in times of emergencies and disasters.  This is a welcome improvement in technology because even without a pandemic, numerous class days are lost every school year because of typhoons, earthquakes and other natural calamities.

  In the short run, however, it will be the universities, colleges and schools with the financial means, like Ateneo, De La Salle University, the University of the Philippines and the University of Sto. Tomas, among others, that will lead in effectively blending face to face classroom teaching with online courses, especially with the proliferation of applications like Zoom, Streamyard, Webex, Google Meet and now Facebook.  It is also these well-endowed educational institutions that can afford to train and equip their respective faculties to deliver courses online.  I am glad that the small university, the University of Asia and the Pacific, where I teach is also at the forefront in delivering classes through such applications as Canvass.      

         It is heartening to observe that the Government is not limiting the Build, Build, Build program to bricks and mortars, i.e. physical infrastructures.  There is also a very noticeable increase in the percentage of the annual budget of the Government devoted to education.   In fact, teachers in the public school system often receive higher salaries than those teaching in many  private schools, especially those run by parishes or religious institutions.  It will not only be formal eduction (those that lead to degrees) but also non-formal education (non-degree programs) and informal education (all sorts of human resource and skills development program conducted especially by the business sector) that will be contributing significantly to the increase in GDP as part of Consumption Expenditures.  There will come a time when expenditures on Formation  will be much larger than those on  the first F, Food.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia