IN developed economies, preparing citizens to enter the digital world starts very early. Children who have just celebrated their first birthday are placed on a waiting list for rigorous courses called “STEM for Toddlers”, in the hope that they will enter these boot camps for children to code as soon as they are 3 years old. What is the acceptance rate in these specialized boot camps for children? Perhaps the 4-6% acceptance rate from Stanford and other Ivy League universities. And it’s not cheap. In the Bay Area, these special schools for kids charge around $20,000 for a two-semester boot camp. But the high cost does not discourage parents because this investment would one day pay off, one way or another.
In a knowledge society, how can a country not prepare its citizens, young and old, for the many challenges and opportunities of a digital world?
But some do not have the patience for such a long wait and, in this preparation, the government is a determined player. While they also train their children early in computer classes, Israel’s tech and innovation mandarins have also rolled out the welcome mat for tech-savvy immigrants fleeing pogroms, and we can all see the wonderful results. Tel Aviv, I’ve written about it before, is the second most innovative and dynamic tech hub in the world after Silicon Valley, and the familiar app the pilots use, Waze, is just one of the many technological marvels spun out of incubators in the Israeli capital. Tech talent that escaped Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine has made Tel Aviv a prime target for migration.
OECD economies, such as Israel, now process, on a case-by-case basis, immigration documents filed by many Russian tech workers who have fled their country. It is said that the mass decampment of these tech workers to any location that would accept them would ensure that over the next decade Russia would turn into a tech wasteland and that Kremlin warmongers would have more gangs of bikers and mercenary soldiers by their side than functional and tech-savvy citizens. So goes Vladimir Putin’s dream of building within the walls of his Soviet empire a techno-civilization that would rival its Western version.
You’ll never know. One of these young Russians on the run could well be the next Sergey Brin of the Google duo. Brin’s father, a math professor, immigrated to the United States, a prescient decision, given the current conditions in his native Russia. Sergey, who co-founded Google, is a technology pioneer and is almost always on the list of the 30 richest people in the world.
Some countries have more enterprising ways of attracting tech talent, and Portugal is leading the way.
If you are a tech worker and have a salary of $2,700 or more per month, Portugal will grant you a “digital nomad” visa. This is not a one-time visa issuance. You can stay in Portugal for a long time and use it as a working base. The idea is to populate Portugal with these tech-savvy workers, with real purchasing power and a real willingness to spend. This grant complements national government efforts to create a huge pool of Indigenous tech workers.
There are around 30 countries that welcome – and grant work and residence visas – to global digital nomads.
Did I mention India? When you look at the bumper stickers of high-end cars and Tesla tools in and around Silicon Valley, you’ll be struck with utter depression. The stickers say “IIT Madras”, “IIT Delhi” or “IIT Bombay”. No “UP”, no “Ateneo”, no “La Salle”. Our top universities have fallen very low in global rankings.
Indian immigrants ran three global tech giants – Alphabet, Microsoft and Twitter – until Twitter was recently taken over by Elon Musk. The senior management of AFANG (Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google) + Microsoft are occupied by Indian immigrants. We provide the nurses, they provide the backbone of America’s tech managerial class. The key to India is the school of Silicon Valley, IIT or India Institute of Technology, a training ground for world-class tech talent. Believe it or not, the idea of building tech campuses across India did not come from a globalist but from Jawaharlal Nehru, the fierce nationalist and first prime minister of the subcontinent.
Where are we in this global competition to be a technological power in order to secure an advantage, a niche in the knowledge economy? To be a global player in a rapidly digitizing world? Do our education and training systems complement this ambition to be among the innovators and pioneers of tech in the world? The depressing answer is nowhere.
A recent study on global digital competitiveness ranked countries according to their digital competitiveness. The IMD Digital Competitiveness Report ranked us 58th out of 63 countries, the usual laggard status. In the region, the Mongolia of the tribes and the steppes was the only country that we surpassed.
We talk a lot about our supposed digital ascension. Mr. Marcos Jr. wanted the education system to prioritize STEM which would provide the basic infrastructure for our full and vibrant engagement in computing and all things digital. The business pages of our mainstream newspapers announce a decent technological present and a greater technological future, which in reality is fictitious. The fact is, we are only important on the superficial, virtually worthless side of technology: prodigious texters, prolific users of Facebook and other social media platforms. The brain-distorting side of technology, tragically, is the nation’s concern.
Our STEM technology and education is probably 100 years behind Singapore’s. Funerals have more life than our supposed centers of technological innovation and incubation. What percentage of Filipinos, in a population of over 110 million, are engaged in serious AI and machine learning work? A low single digit.
Meanwhile, the big talk about our education plans centers around intelligence funds for the Department of Education (DepEd). Not the construction of technological poles within the large tertiary campuses. Failing to equip major research universities with 21st century computing education with adequate facilities. Failing to upgrade STEM education to a world-class level. Not integrating coding boot camps for elementary school kids in some public schools across the country. Not the full flourishing of the digital world.
Not those grand plans for the digital stride but intelligence funds. Or the overpriced DepEd laptops which, according to a news flash, are being sold baratilyo (very cheap) at used computer outlets in Cebu City. Dumped like cheap ukay-ukay (used clothes).
Pathetic. Or more than pathetic and that sums up the digitization story of the Philippines.