Where our focus should be

By: Peter Wallace - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | October 22,2020 - 08:00 AM

Last week I said there were three things we needed to do to recover from this crisis. They were the immediate actions government could undertake to hasten recovery.

In the longer term, there are two areas the Philippines should be dedicated to pursuing, and I’ve raised them before: IT and agriculture. I’ve talked about agriculture in my column of Sept. 17. Let me today concentrate on IT, the sector the world is spiraling into at an ever increasing rate. If we don’t join it, we’re dead. In some cases, literally, poverty from no job will lead to death by starvation.

But let’s not be overdramatic, let’s just say the Philippines will remain the laggard in Asean at an ever-expanding level. The Anti-Red Tape Authority is doing its bit on digitizing doing business with government. But that’s only one aspect of a digital world.

The DICT, under the then leadership of Eliseo Rio Jr., introduced a third telco to the market and opened up tower construction to many players. These, along with accelerated connection to fiber optic lines, should greatly enhance our internet services. We have to move from an average speed of 23.7 mbps for fixed broadband and 16.2 mbps for mobile internet based on the Speedtest Global Index June 2020, to at least the world average of 78.2 mbps and 34.7 mbps, respectively. But why not aim for Thailand’s 173.4 mbps and 43.08 mbps? And we need that faster speed to cover all corners of the archipelago—something kids trying to learn from home need right now.

But these activities are just the foundation upon which an IT world can be built. What we must next do is create the people. The education system has to go through a major revamp. It’s no longer the three R’s (Reading, (w)riting, (A)rithmetic)—it’s computer literacy. We need millions of young people imbued with a knowledge of IT, a familiarity with IT that is part of their being. If we have the people, the world’s leaders in IT—the Amazons, the Tencents, the Alibabas—will have no choice but to invest here.

The DepEd, CHEd, DOST, and DICT, in collaboration with the DTI, will need to work closely and actively together to develop the curricula for kids, and the business environment for IT to flourish. The future IT workforce should have a solid theoretical foundation as well as possess updated IT skills as required by the industry. They should be able to use digital technology, and know how to analyze and handle data, so there’s a smooth transition from college to job—IT job.

The world is shifting to where but a handful of IT giants will dominate our new world. They’ll need people that AI can’t replace. They’ll be looking for proof the talent is there. Innovative startups will be one of those proofs. And we have some in the likes of Cashalo, a microfinance app, and Kumu, a social media platform, as among the popular tech startups created by Filipinos.

The smartphone introduced us into a completely new world we speedily accepted. It’s now, with a tablet, as important to take with us as the underwear we put on before going anywhere. It’s an indispensable part of our life. Virtual Reality will be next, we won’t sit for hundreds of hours over a desktop screen. Hardware and software are being developed where we don’t have to adapt to the computer, the computer will instead adapt to us to fit into our normal lifestyle. We’ll be able to roam around with just a pair of smart glasses that will bring the internet to us wherever we are. Further into the future, the technology will be built into our brains. Someone will have to develop the codes and the systems Virtual Reality will need, as well as manage those systems. It could be Filipinos—or Indians, if we don’t move quicker.

In 1996, global computer shipments reached 71 million units. This more than tripled to 259 million in 2017, after peaking at 365 million units in 2011. In 2009, the smartphone hit the streets. From a $210-million global market, this has grown to a $1.6-billion industry. The pace of growth for desktops and smartphones won’t slow, it will accelerate. Nothing else is growing anywhere near as fast. Manufacturing, tourism, mining, you name it—they’re all growing at a single-digit pace. IT is where the Philippines has to be. Our children’s future depends on it.

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