PASAY CITY — LITERALLY, some 2,000 Filipino workers leave the country for different places each day.
Microsoft Philippines Inc., the local subsidiary of the world’s largest software company, is now trying to bring some of them home through a computer training program it has launched in partnership with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).
Launched in August last year, the program called Tulay (bridge) has helped bring Filipinos in Singapore and Malaysia to their families and the world at large.
In May, Microsoft Philippines and OWWA formally opened the program in the Philippines with the launch of a computer training center at the government agency’s main office in Pasay City. The program, according to documents furnished to reporters by OWWA, is for members of families of OFWs so they can keep in touch with their relatives working abroad. Likewise, the program also caters to potential OFWs who want to learn how to used computers.
Acting Labor and Employment Secretary Manuel Imson said the program will hopefully “enhance family unity” as well as “equip OFWs with necessary computer/Internet skills.”
“We would like this effort to be a global trend for our OFWs, bridge the digital divide and push forward their computer literacy via or Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLOs) in various OFW host countries,” Imson said.
This year, Microsoft Philippines said it will open the training program for Filipinos in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Cebu, and for Filipinos in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, by 2006.
According to the Digital Divide Network (www.digitalphilippines.org), the digital divide is “the gap between those who can effectively use new information and communication tools, such as the Internet, and those who cannot.”
Access to information and communications technology (ICT) remains a factor in a country’s development, the United Nations said in its Global E-Government Readiness Report 2004.
“The enabling environment in many countries is characterized by irregular or nonexistent electricity supplies, especially outside large cities; telephones remain luxury items; and the Internet is available to only the privileged few in the upper-income brackets,” the UN said.
Citing its “access-for-opportunity” model, the UN maintains that physical access to ICT is the first step towards building real access which leads to opportunity.”
Hence, the UN cites an “access-opportunity divide” that is made up of, among other things: income divide, telecommunication access-divide, education and skill access-divide, language access-divide, content access-divide and affordability divide.
“Exploring the access-divide elements, the access model illustrates that the majority of the developing country population of more than five billion faces a grave challenge from the new technological revolution,” the UN said.
“Whereas some of the developing countries which have in place the right mix of reforms, institutions and programs will no doubt benefit from the ICTs, most are likely to be mired in a cycle of low income, poverty and a growing disparity in access to modern technology,” it added.
Bridging access gaps
The completion of the first phase of OWWA and Microsoft Philippines’s Tulay program comes at a time when access to ICT among Filipinos remains dismal.
According to the UN government e-readiness report, there are 27.7 personal computers for every 1,000 persons in the country, which is lower than the 191.3 mobile subscribers for every 1,000 Filipinos. The report also cited that while there are 44 Internet users for every 1,000 persons in the Philippines.
There are more television sets (173 per 1,000 persons) but fewer telephone lines (41.7 per 1,000 persons), reflecting a lack of infrastructure to support the Internet and online population.
Argentina, which is likened to the country in terms of financial status, has 112 internet users and 82 PCs per 1,000 persons. Its telephone lines run up to 218.8 per 1,000 persons. Philippines’s neighbor Thailand, meanwhile, posted a higher PC-per-1,000 person rate at 39.8 and the number of Internet users at 77.6 per 1,000 persons. Nonetheless, only 19.6 for every 1,000 Thais transact online even if telephone lines are at 105 for every 1,000 persons.
The UN study reveals that citizens in countries like the Philippines have not fully tapped the potential of the Internet in development.
To boost government’s role in using technology for development, Microsoft donated to the OWWA Tulay center in Manila 26 “state-of-the-art” computers. These computers would be for the use of some 40 students to be trained for free on Microsoft’s operating system and office software such as Microsoft Word, Excel (spreadsheet), e-mail/web functions, and other short courses. Short courses will run for three days while the quicker computer familiarization and Internet usage courses will be taught over four hours.
Laurie Mae Rivera, Microsoft Philippines community affairs manager, said “the focus would be on Internet fundamentals and so that the OFWs and their families would know how to use the email or instant messaging.”
“The focus in Microsoft right now is really to help the country, help the Filipinos. Our mission statement is to enable people to realize their potential,” she added.
The trainees, OWWA Plans and Programs Director Rustico dela Fuente said, were selected “on first-come, first-served basis,” although priority was given to OFWs ready to leave for their jobsites abroad.
“Those on the way out have two weeks, sometimes one month before actually leaving,” he added.
OWWA Administrator Marianito Roque said during the program launch that coincided with the agency’s 23rd anniversary celebration last May 4: “Technology empowers, and that’s exactly what we will do at the center for our OFWs.”
Dela Fuente added that “the most important thing is to improve communications and family unity, that is the greatest significance of the program, not necessarily the skills that they could learn.”
According to Tulay documents, Microsoft Philippines set aside an estimated P4 million in cash grants covering the cost of computers, training modules and salaries of trainors, and P3 million for software alone. The P7-million grant was also used for each of the center in Singapore and Malaysia, the documents cited.
Dela Fuente related that some of the OFWs who were trained at the center bought PCs rather than a television set or stereo system when they went back to the country.
A branded 14-inch TV set could be bought in the Philippines for P8,000 ($145) while a stereo component system are priced within the P20,000 ($364) to P40,000 ($727) price range. The minimum monthly wage in the country is roughly at P8,400 ($153).
According to Moreno, the skills OFWs will gain from training in the center will enhance their marketability and help them gain an edge over other workers who have not learned the use of computers.
A recent labor department statement said the number of workers in computer and related businesses nationwide grew by an average of four percent to 80,750 last year compared to 77,750 in 2003. The data was based by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) on the survey of the National Statistics Office in 2004.
The DOLE statement cited that the employment growth included: computer programmers; computer technicians; computer network specialists, engineers, and managers; systems analysts; ICT sales workers and marketing consultants; management information systems (MIS) managers and planners; and, database administrators.
The same statement cited that the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) has certified, under its National ICT Certification Program, 34,805 ICT workers from 2001 to 2004. The program gives workers discounts from certification examinations given by Microsoft Corp., Cisco Inc., Oracle Corp., and Sun Microsystems Inc. Certificates from these companies allow workers to access employment opportunities in these and other software companies.
Two weeks after the launch, President Gloria Arroyo issued Proclamation No. 802 declaring the month of June 2005 as the National ICT Month. Her government defines ICT as the “totality of electronic means to collect, store, process, and present information to users, consisting among others, of computer systems, office systems and consumer electronics, as well as networked information infrastructure, including the telephone system, the Internet, and fax machines.”
The UN said in its report that governments need to do three things to make access to ICT and its benefits feasible: adopt access for opportunity as a policy goal; focus on knowledge societies; re-think and re-engineer their development strategies towards building knowledge societies; and, recognize the centrality of ICTs to development.
With reports from Ma. Cassanova Belga (contributor), and research by Isagani de la Paz, OFW Journalism Consortium, Inc.
Tags: According to the Digital Divide Network, Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLOs), Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA)