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Surge in Funding Boosts Philippines' Educational High-Tech Take-Up

With 2017 alone seeing educational institutes across the Philippines enjoying a 25% increase in government funding, many of the country's schools and colleges are in the midst of an unprecedented and widespread technological upgrade.

Photo: Nurturing technical skills is a priority as the Philippines’ business-outsourcing sector expands.
Nurturing technical skills is a priority as the Philippines' business-outsourcing sector expands.
Photo: Nurturing technical skills is a priority as the Philippines’ business-outsourcing sector expands.
Nurturing technical skills is a priority as the Philippines' business-outsourcing sector expands.

Even the briefest perusal of the exhibitors at this year's EduTECH event would suffice to show just how much technology is transforming the traditional educational landscape – and nowhere more so than in the Philippines. In recent years, the sector has been both evolving and expanding at breakneck speed.

In part, this is down the 2013 introduction of the K-12 programme, a government-backed initiative that extended the right to basic education from 10 to 12 years. Crucially, this was backed by a significant increase in public spending, with schools benefitting from an additional 25% of funding in 2017 alone. In 2018, education will account for about 24% of all state spending, while it will also welcome the first graduates of the K-12 programme.

This, then, may well be a golden period for any tech business active in the education sector. With the government committed to higher levels of funding for schools and other academic institutions – a clear necessity if it is to deliver the skilled workers required by the country's ever-expanding business-outsourcing sector – any such company is clearly in line for something of a windfall.

Well aware of the potential rewards on offer was Loop, a Singaporean e-learning business with a focus on nurturing corporate skills. Keen to highlight the company's credentials, Contents and Community Director Yumni Afiqah Bte Mazlan said: "As we have one of the strongest brands in Asia and a high level of English content, we believe the Philippines will be a good market for us.

"We also have experience of working with large organisations, including the Singapore Ministry of Education and the Inland Revenue of Singapore, as well as a particular specialty in the real estate and financial sectors. At present, our priority is to licence our courses to resellers across the Philippines."

Another exhibitor hoping to capitalise on its strong international branding was the New York Times. Explaining just what the publisher had to offer, Elena Putong, its Philippines Country Manager, said: "We provide a subscription package wholly focused on the education sector. We have very rich content, some of it dating back more than 160 years, with our education package consisting of 16 different subscriber-only modules.

"We also want to make younger readers aware that our content is not only suitable for the older generation, but that it also has relevance to them. To that end, we offer a bulk subscription service for schools and for any other institution with a large number of students."

While companies such as the New York Times and Loop have seen the market move more in their direction, other businesses have had to adjust their offering in order to accommodate the changes the sector has undergone. One such exhibitor was the Mars Laboratory Instrument Center, a Metro Manila-based importer and distributor of laboratory equipment, with a particular focus on the academic sector.

Acknowledging that its portfolio has had to undergo a high-tech makeover, Product Specialist Restie Paul Salonga said: "Over the past five years, we have seen the local educational market significantly expand, largely on account of a number of government initiatives.

"We have also found that many of the higher-end educational institutions are ever keener to embrace new technology. As a result, we are here to showcase one of the latest additions to our range – an interactive blackboard. It comes with a built-in CPU and dedicated physics and biology software."

Photo: Digital insights into the natural sciences.
Digital insights into the natural sciences.
Photo: Digital insights into the natural sciences.
Digital insights into the natural sciences.
Photo: Vex: Teaching teamwork via robotic conflict.
Vex: Teaching teamwork via robotic conflict.
Photo: Vex: Teaching teamwork via robotic conflict.
Vex: Teaching teamwork via robotic conflict.

Another company that has adapted to the changing needs of the education sector is SpeedFusion Networks, a Cebu-best specialist in network design and installation, which is now helping a number of the country's schools and colleges improve their internet access. With broadband connections in the Philippines notoriously slow and unreliable, SpeedFusion aims to remedy this by combining the access delivered by a variety of different services providers into one rapid, dependable connection point.

Expanding upon its services, Arnold Barangan, one of the company's Senior Technical Support Engineers, said: "If a college or a university has a number of Wi-Fi / internet service providers, we can combine them into one. Then, if one has a problem, the others can take up the slack.

"Educational institutions increasingly need a reliable internet connection, whether to access cloud services or to deliver online digital learning to students. When we first launched, our focus was on servicing Boracay's hospitality sector. Now, though, we are much more involved with educational clients, particularly those based outside the Metro Manila region, where connections tend to be even less reliable."

Online connectivity, however, is just as important for those looking for a course as for those midway through one, which is where Bridge the Gap comes into the equation. A Quezon City-based start-up, it was attending the event to promote its online clearing platform, which allows universities and colleges to promote their available courses to would-be students.

Explaining the value of the service, Christian Schweigler, the company's Chief Executive, said: "It's potentially hugely useful for colleges. If they fail to fill up a course before its start date, they will then lose out financially for its three- or four-year duration.

"We launched just a few weeks ago and we hope to demonstrate the value of the format on a local basis. After that, we intend to extend into a number of overseas markets."

One overseas company creating quite a stir with its move into the Philippines was Vex Robotics, a subsidiary of Innovation First International. A Texas-based company, with its regional headquarters in Hong Kong, it runs an ongoing educational robotics competition, with categories designed to test the abilities of primary, secondary and university students. It is currently servicing the Philippines via its recently appointed local distributor.

Introducing the company's guiding principles and underlying structure, President Andy Lee said: "Overall, we have three primary divisions. Firstly, there is our hardware division, which creates the kits the students use to assemble their robots, with all of them customisable to meet particular challenges.

"Then there's our software division, which is responsible for the virtual environments where the robots can be tested and where they get to compete with rival robots. Finally, there is our curriculum division, which jointly develops educational strategies alongside our US-based Robotics Academy.

"By participating in a variety of competitive challenges, students don't just learn about robotics. To succeed, they also have to master problem-solving, while also coming to understand the value of teamwork, co-operation and effective communication."

Taking steps beyond even robotics was Lumos Education Solutions, a Singapore-based start-up on a mission to introduce virtual reality (VR) to schools across the Philippines. Clearly evangelical as to the value of his company's services, Chief Executive King Coronel said: "We can provide schools with a complete virtual reality set-up. As we partner with Google on the development of educational software, our content library is growing fast and is pretty much as good as it gets.

"To date, the kits have proved hugely popular in the US and the UK and we are, currently, the only company offering anything like this in Asia. The challenge for us now is to ensure that we can deliver the local after-sales support that comes as part of the package. In order to properly facilitate this, we are now looking for well-connected resellers in many of the Philippines' smaller towns and cities."

Photo: EduTech Philippines 2018: Government largesse proves windfall for high-tech educationalists.
EduTech Philippines 2018: Government largesse proves windfall for high-tech educationalists.
Photo: EduTech Philippines 2018: Government largesse proves windfall for high-tech educationalists.
EduTech Philippines 2018: Government largesse proves windfall for high-tech educationalists.

EduTECH Philippines 2018 took place from 21-22 February at Manila's SMX Convention Center.

Marilyn Balcita, Special Correspondent, Manila

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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