Getting more Filipinos into data literacy is an economic imperative


FILIPINOS are present in the more than 100 countries that the branchless, digital-only bank Overseas Filipino Bank (OFBank) — a wholly owned subsidiary of the Land Bank of the Philippines — gets its clients. It had a presence in 113 countries and territories as of May 31, 2021. There were an estimated 1.83 million Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in these countries during the period of April to September 2021.

But descriptions of the overseas jobs showed that about four in every 10 (43.2%) OFWs in 2021 were engaged in elementary occupations involving simple and routine tasks which may require the use of hand-held tools and considerable physical effort. While these elementary occupations require basic data literacy, local and overseas jobs now require higher data literacy skills for work with better pay.

There is therefore a need for Filipinos to capture jobs higher than the elementary occupations, and opportunities abound in the data world. Local and international companies are experiencing rapid digital transformation such that data skills are no longer confined to the IT field. Advancement in artificial intelligence, cloud-based services, and, most of all, the use of mobile devices, opened the way for non-IT people with data and ICT skills in using sophisticated data analysis tools.

Filipinos should acquire the right set of data skills, beginning at the basic education level for learning and workforce readiness as well as to be exposed early to data literacy. Like other competencies, data literacy should start at school and be integrated into the curriculum.

Realizing the need for a data literate citizenry and the increasing demand for data analysts, the Department of Science and Technology (DoST) and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) offer free online training courses for data analysts. Project SPARTA, a joint project between the DoST, the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP), the Analytics Association of the Philippines (AAP), and Coursebank, has already trained 40,000 Filipinos in their six learning pathways in data analytics. Their new micro specialization program will further attract more Filipinos in the field of data analysis.

In the private sector, Eskwelabs and the AAP are in the forefront of data upskilling courses and helping Filipinos get access to the latest trends and developments in the data analytics ecosystem.

But how can more Filipinos get the opportunity to be data literate when the Philippines placed 53rd out of 100 countries in the 2022 Inclusive Internet Index, commissioned by Meta and developed by Economist Impact? The country obtained an overall score of 72.3 out of the possible 100, landing as the eighth least inclusive internet environment in Asia.

It is therefore the role of the government to engage the private sector in offering internet access and making the internet affordable by revisiting the existing postpaid tariff and fixed-line monthly broadband costs. Affordable internet access will expand data literacy skills and climb the ladder in the ICT skills rubrics endorsed by the International Telecommunication Union.

President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. said that improving bureaucratic efficiency is part of his administration’s Eight-Point Socioeconomic Agenda in the near-term, putting a premium on digitizing, harmonizing, and standardizing government data. He is also pushing for the swift passage of the proposed e-Governance Act to allow the country to catch up with other nations in the digital economy. These are noble goals that need to be supported.

But he cannot do it alone. The preparation of the future workforce, and preparing the youth for employment, requires all hands on deck. To grow the national economy, the country should explore, among many others, the use of Microsoft’s Digital Literacy currently used by TESDA, Google’s Applied Digital Skills Program, Oracle Academy, Coursera for Campus, and Tableau for Education. Funds and scholarships should be given in Project SPARTA. Setting a target on the percentage of Filipino youth that have basic data literacy skills by 2024, and partnering with the World Bank in their “Digital Development Global Practice,” will prepare the country for the transition to a digital economy.

We look forward to a future economy where the adoption of electronic invoices and receipts, and digitizing government transactions are handled by a data literate citizenry, and which will see the flowering of homegrown digital transformation accelerators such as Stratpoint Technologies. These spearhead the acceleration to the digital transformation of businesses and government offices using agile software, cloud, data, artificial intelligence and quality assurance.

Arnel Lopez Cadeliña is a professor of Business Analytics at Sacred Heart College. Opinions expressed are solely his own and are the views or opinions of his employer.

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