Improving digital skills in the Philippines

By Jeffrey Ian Dy

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) skills, or lack of it, is often touted as an impediment to ICT development goals. If the general population does not know how to use the technology, there would be slow acceptance of ICT, causing little incentive for capitalists to invest in it. Without locals to configure, design, and maintain ICT equipment and applications, the technology ecosystem becomes expensive to invest in and maintain, causing ICT prices to soar. This, in turn, contributes to ICT costs becoming prohibitive.

Goal 4 of the United Nations'Nations' Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2030 is to ""ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all."" The statistic on the proportion of youth and adults with ICT skills is explicitly named as an indicator for Goal 4. It is, therefore, no surprise that the UN'sUN's specialized agency on ICT, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), monitors this statistic among its member organizations. The ITU considers digital skills a universal target for its Global Digital Connectivity Goals 2030.

Unfortunately, for a country that is considered among the world's top social media user, the nation's state of ICT literacy is very dismal.

As of 2019, the latest data available on the ITU website, only 6% of those aged 15 and above have basic internet skills, while only 2% have standard digital skills. Less than 1% of those aged 15+ have advanced digital skills. The Global Digital Connectivity Target for 2030 is for 50% of those aged 15 and above to have standard digital skills and 70% of the same age bracket to have basic digital skills.

Basic digital skills are defined as the ability to conduct four activities: (1) copying or moving a file or folder, (2) using copy and paste to duplicate or move information within a document or folder, (3) sending emails with attachments, and (4) transferring files between computer and other computers. It doesn't seem very easy to believe that only 6% of the surveyed population can perform such tasks, perhaps because most of our focus is only on metropolitan areas where these basic digital skills are prevalent. Also, metropolitan areas in the Philippines constitute less than 20% of the population.

Standard digital skills are the ability to: (1) use a basic arithmetic formula in a spreadsheet; (2) connect and install new devices; (3) create presentations; and (4) find, download, install, and configure software. This data is more believable than the former. In a standard workplace, only a few can use spreadsheets and presentation software effectively, and even fewer people can find, install and configure the software they particularly need.

Advanced digital skills pertain to the ability of the surveyed to write programs and engineer software.

The table shows the result of the Philippines digital skills survey of people aged 15+, by skill type compared to other ASEAN countries with available data on the ITU website. 

But all is not lost. It would be an uphill climb, but the Philippines can still catch up with the global ICT development target by the end of this decade. For this to happen, the private and public sectors would need to work together to improve ICT literacy in the country.

A program with the most impact and would have the farthest-reaching effect is to include basic and standard digital skills in our basic education curriculum. This is in line with President Bongbong Marcos' directive to revisit elementary and high school education curricula and ensure that they provide learners with the necessary skills to be employed. Technical Vocational (Tech Voc) and continuing and lifelong learning opportunities in ICT should also be made available nationwide.

This is easier said than done. A prerequisite of learning are tools that our learners can use. Only 18% of households in the Philippines have internet, and only 24% have computers, which may have increased during the pandemic. It was reported that about 50% of the population have access to the internet but do not necessarily have laptops or desktops, which is a prerequisite to learning basic and standard digital skills. Again, the most practical areas to focus on equipping with these tools are schools.

In this endeavor, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), Tech4Ed/Digital Transformation Center (DTC), and Digital Learners Project (DLP) are best positioned to address the issue. The DICT has provided internet access to 679 public elementary schools and 273 public high schools nationwide through these two projects. There were also ~2400 Tech4Ed centers already deployed. These centers are equipped with computers, printers, and the internet that students and teachers can use for their training and research. DICT has also already distributed more than 38,000 laptops and tablets since 2020 to learning and research institutions and Local Government Units.

The department also continues to provide digital skills training for all three levels. Most of these courses are free online through our Massively Open Online Courses or MOOC.

For this term, DICT, under the helm of Sec. Ivan John Uy will actively provide training to a targeted portion of the population. A target mix of 80/20 to 70/30 in providing training, internet, and equipment under the abovementioned projects in favor of the countryside may be considered. Note that less than 20% of the population lives in metropolitan areas.

The Free Internet Access in Public Places Act of 2017, or RA 10929, charges DICT to provide internet access to all public schools, and the new DICT leadership is planning how this mandate can be fulfilled fastest. Providing internet access to 100% of public schools is also part of the ITU's Global Digital Connectivity Goals 2030. Its successful roll-out will be beneficial for improving digital skills and interconnectivity in the country.


Belated Happy 63rd birthday to the First Lady, Atty. Lisa Araneta Marcos. Atty. LAM's birthday was last August 22. She is a very talented lawyer and a detailed organizer. She can catch if something's amiss a mile away. We wish you more happiness, a healthy life, and more blessings for the entire family.


About the author: Jeffrey Ian Dy is an Assistant Secretary at the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT). He has an MSc in Information Security from the Royal Holloway, University of London, and studied BS in Applied Physics at the University of the Philippines Los Banos.