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The Digital Economy Promotion Agency (Depa) plans to roll out artificial intelligence (AI) university project and drone academy this year, as part of the agency’s plan to drive digital skills and support the digital economy.

The AI university project is meant to provide AI knowledge to learning programmes and workshops at designated universities, while the drone academy is set to help Thais learn how to use drones for their businesses, particularly in the agricultural sector.

The Depa president and chief executive stated that the projects are part of the agency’s strategic cooperation plans aiming at digital economy development, which covers digital transformation, manpower skill enhancement and startup incubation.

About THB200 million will be used to develop the AI university project, with half the amount budgeted by Depa and the remainder by private entities through a matching fund. For the drone academy, Depa plans to set aside THB50 million to develop the project and a matching fund will earmark another 50 million.

Universities are being considered for the AI project, with Mahidol, Chulalongkorn and Thammasat the main contenders, he said.

He noted that drones are a new technology for Thais in terms of business use, especially big drones, which are very useful in several sectors, including agriculture and logistics. When the drone business approaches maturity, international tech companies will come and invest in this segment in Thailand. Depa will also support AI courses at four vocational schools in 2021, targeting 150 students at each school.

The agency also aims to incubate 70 start-ups throughout 2021 under a start-up fund. This is an increase from 50 start-ups this year. These start-ups’ operations must be linked with the country’s core technology development and infrastructures in five digital service areas: agriculture, education, finance, tourism and healthcare.

The aim is meant to support digital start-ups while the economy is sluggish and accelerate the digital service transformation to improve people’s quality of life. Through the start-up fund, Depa plans to spend THB1 million on each start-up in the initial development stage.

Another THB5 million will be allocated to each start-up when they begin to grow their business. Some 120 start-ups have been financially supported by Depa the past two years. Their combined business valuation is THB7 billion.

In addition, the agency is supporting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), communities and farmers in terms of digital adoption, he said. Some 350 SMEs, 100 communities and 3,000 farmers are under the Depa’s assistance programme. They can use digital solutions and services provided by tech start-ups at half the cost because of Depa’s subsidy, he said.

In the first quarter of 2021, Depa plans on unveiling a labelling scheme called “d Sure” to guarantee the functionality, safety and security of digital products sold in the country. The scheme should help people to choose trustworthy digital items; it is expected to be a boon for innovation adoption.

Depa will work with the National Science Technology Development Agency and the Thai Industrial Standards Institute on this scheme, he said. The programme should make consumers more confident in their decisions to buy digital devices, ranging from drones and Internet of Things gadgets to CCTV cameras and wearable devices.

Digital product producers or importers can ask to test their equipment to receive the label. Three security camera brands and five drones’ brands have qualified for the standard. Depa plans to roll out a new mobile app called “d Hunt” to search for digital services or tech professionals that can assist people.

As government agencies continue to wade through the ‘new normal’ in delivering public service amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many projects have been launched in line with initiatives to accelerate towards digital transformation. The Department of Education (DepEd) announced in a statement that it has recently held the online launch of DepEd Teaches, a new programme that will streamline operations in the department. 

Under this programme, a series of episodes tackling various issues in the education sector and distance learning procedures shall be uploaded to the DepEd’s Facebook page. The first topics to be discussed at length are learning delivery modes and classroom assessment techniques. Access to learning resources shall also be tackled. Succeeding episodes of the DepEd series shall be available starting January 2021. 

Strengthening distance learning techniques 

The new online platform is designed to assist and inform teachers and school managers about best practices in distance learning. The department explained that this programme will also address challenges related to teaching and learning during the new normal. 

One of these issues is misinformation and queries regarding curriculum and teaching instructions. Assessment concerns are also one of the challenges that DepEd Teaches aims to address. 

DepEd’s Assistant Secretary for Curriculum and Instruction Alma Ruby Torio clarified in the same media release that government officials are expected to contribute to the sharing of best practices in a bid to improve existing education services. These officials include bureau chiefs, regional directors and division superintendents of schools. 

The Assistant Secretary added that this initiative will help fill in information gaps during the pandemic. She explained: “As we live in the digital age, we need to rely on valid information every hour of every day, thus the need to invest to upgrade our skills.” 

A School Division Superintendent of Ilocos Sur expressed the same sentiment, stating that empowering teachers is key to improving education, as these mentors will be “more inspired to work hard for the sake of learners, for the future.” 

Education Secretary Leonor Briones recently said that the delivery of education services during the pandemic to over 25 million students under the department’s stead is a challenge that calls for the implementation of innovative distance learning techniques. To be able to deliver education while ensuring the health and safety of students and teachers, the DepEd rolled out its Basic Education Learning Continuity Plan or the BE-LCP. 

The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) approved the implementation of the BE-LCP last year. Under this framework, the DepEd undertook to adopt alternative learning delivery options including blending learning and homeschooling in a bid to comply with minimum health and safety standards. Physical or face-to-face activities like science fairs and school sports events were ordered cancelled except those events that were to be held online. 

During the department’s virtual Thanksgiving and General Assembly, the DepEd Secretary highlighted the need to transform education in the country in response to what she referred to as a “changing world”. 

She added: “ [T]he change has already started. We already recognise the signals, we see the increased role of technology and science. We see the need to encourage not only our teachers but our learners to not only specialise and memorise; but to know how to analyse and come up with a solution.” 

The DepEd joins a host of government agencies that have shifted to digitalisation to boost operations. As earlier cited in a report by OpenGov Asia, one of these agencies is the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS). The state pension fund announced that it is re-establishing its Annual Pensioners Information Revalidation (APIR) programme and implementing it through online channels. Under this system, pensioners can update their personal information and revalidate these data via virtual means. 

The New Zealand government is taking steps to protect and encourage small businesses from a tech perspective. Small businesses will now benefit from a government-funded Digital Boost skills training and support initiative.

“Today we start delivering on the Government’s vision for New Zealand small businesses to be the most digitally-enabled in the world. 2021 will be the year of digital transformation for thousands of Kiwi small businesses” said AJ Millward, General Manager Small Business and Strategic Programmes.

The Digital Boost skills training is the first initiative to be launched from the Digital Boost programme, a partnership between the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and the private sector to support thousands of small businesses in realising the benefits of using digital tools and technologies in their business.

The Small Business Digital Boost initiative will support more small business owners to realise the benefits of digitising their business. The programme aims to ensure small businesses acquire the right digital skills and online tools to help their business survive and thrive.

To deliver the training and support, MBIE is collaborating with a  market partner who has extensive experience in helping business owners develop the capabilities needed to take advantage of the rapidly changing digital environment.

The Digital Boost programme is an excellent example of the public and private sectors working together for New Zealand small businesses. Industry Leaders, small business owners and MBIE have designed this programme to meet the needs of the country’s SMEs. This is more pertinent as New Zealand, and indeed, the world is looking to come out of the pandemic more resilient and future-focused. Adapting to a digital world that is increasingly going online, contactless and remote will be key.

Management experts estimated that in eight weeks, the pandemic accelerated the business adoption of digital tools and services by the equivalent of five years. Research and data indicate that small businesses that leverage digital tools have a distinct competitive advantage in the digital age.

Technology, like big data, analytics, AI, etc., have the power to significantly ramp up the efficiency and profitability of businesses. Increasing customers reach, streamlining processes, managing vendors and inventory,  deriving insights from data – all of these areas hugely benefit from using digital tools.

The Small business Digital Boost Key initiatives support more small business owners to realise the benefits of digitalisation. MBIE is partnering with the private sector to deliver the following initiatives within the Small Business Digital Boost programme:

Spotlight Series: where small business owners who have recently transformed their business by adopting digital tools and digital ways of working share their experiences to benefit other small business owners.

Skills Training and Support: focused on building the skills, confidence and trust required to enable small business owners to realise the benefits of working digitally and/or with digital tools. The training will be available to any small business who has begun to explore the digital world and wants a boost to accelerate their adoption.

The Right Tool: a New Zealand-based digital applications and services marketplace that brings together digital tools, technologies, products and services into a central place so small businesses can choose the products most suited to what they need. Businesses owners will be able to quickly find, rate and evaluate the apps and digital tools needed to help run their business.

Earlier in the year, Small Business Minister Stuart Nash and Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis announced details of a $20 million digital package to support small businesses and tourism operators to transition digitally in the COVID-19 world.

Minister Nash acknowledged that big businesses like supermarkets, banks, professional and corporate service providers and manufacturers have undergone digital transformation, but small and medium enterprises are at risk of lagging. He felt that the wider use of digital commerce by SMEs will help them adapt and innovate to thrive in the COVID economy.

The earmarked corpus will help small businesses and tourism operators transition in the COVID-19 world by lifting digital capability. The $20 million package includes:

  • $10 million specifically for SMEs, announced in Budget 2020.
  • $10 million announced as part of the Tourism Recovery Package – $5 million to boost digital capability in the tourism sector through existing digital enablement programmes and $5 million for Qualmark to help operators develop strategies and skills.

The New Zealand government is eager to invest in digital literacy training for seniors in a bid to better integrate them in the current digital environment and help them stay connected.

In the current global scenario, almost everything has a digital component. Commerce, communication, entertainment and a whole range of government and private services are increasingly online. And in the current pandemic new normal, online and e-services are quickly becoming the norm. As such, to be fully engaged in society implies digital inclusion.

However, many seniors do not comprehend the digital world nor have the skills to gain a better understanding and access – making them more excluded.

According to figures, seniors will make up over a fifth of the nation’s population and it is imperative that remain as mainstreamed and plugged in as possible. Such initiatives are designed to make the country more inclusive and ensure that the elderly and seniors population are not left behind.

Minister for Seniors Dr Ayesha Verrall said, “COVID-19 has meant older New Zealanders are showing more interest in learning how to use technology like Zoom and Skype so they can to keep in touch with their loved ones.”

The Wellbeing Budget was created to make “New Zealand both a great place to make a living and a great place to make a life”.  Initiated in 2019, the wellbeing budget provided $600,000 to deliver computer training and skills for people who need it. Programmes under this umbrella also help older New Zealanders get an affordable internet connection so they are able to access services and information at home.

Such initiatives envision that every person in New Zealand is able to fully participate in the digital world and also seeks to help people across New Zealand go online affordably, knowledgeably, with skills and confidence.

Programmes like the Pacific Senior CONNECT and Better Digital Futures have been designed to specifically upskill people across the country.

The Pacific Senior Connect is a programme funded by the Office for Seniors, Super Seniors.  Super Seniors is the gateway to information on government services for people aged 65+. The Pacific Senior Connect programme will enable 375 Pacific Seniors who are 65+ living in Ōtautahi, Christchurch and Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland to become digitally included by attending Pacific-centred digital literacy workshops based at their Churches and conducted in their language.

Better Digital Futures is another programme that supports seniors seeking help in going online.  Participants choose one of four pathways to learn new skills and build confidence with computers and the internet.

Digital Introductory Pathway

For seniors who want to use digital technologies to pursue hobbies, find the right digital device, communicate with family and friends, and become more independent online.

Digital Essentials Pathway

This course is designed for seniors who are brand-new users. Stripped back to the basics, these four sessions will provide learners with the essential skills they need to get online and start creating their own digital footprint.

Digital Engagement Pathway

For seniors who want to use digital technologies for online shopping, digital banking, managing photos, and problem-solving online.

Digital Safety Pathway

This course uses the online Digital Licence platform to take learners through all aspects of keeping safe and secure while online. Participants will come away with a Digital Licence certificate and will feel confident in how to keep them and their family safe online.

The programmes have seen good participation and remarkable results. From the evaluation completed for the first cohort of 24 participants of the Pacific Senior CONNECT programme, it showed a significant increase in digital social connection skills. The percentage of participants that said they could communicate with others digitally, for example through email or Messenger increased from 39% to 78%. The number of participants that said they could speak to others through video tools like FaceTime, Zoom or Skype increased from 4% to 78%.

Of those who have completed The Better Digital Futures for Seniors programme, the use of email increased from 47% to 86%, and the use of video tools increased from 14% to 34%.

“Many older New Zealanders find technology daunting. I urge Kiwis this summer to reach out to their older family members and neighbours to see if you can support them,” urges Dr Verrall.

Thailand will equip vocational students with skills to work alongside and maintain factory robots to cater to the anticipated demand for 200,000 robotics-trained workers by 2024. The Office of the Vocational Education Commission (OVEC) will oversee the scheme, which is part of the revamped Thailand vocation education system project launched in October.

The scheme comes at a crucial time when factories are moving from China to Thailand, and the urgent need to fill the gap for robotics-trained workers grows as many of these factories automate with robotics.

The OVEC Deputy Secretary-General stated, during the recently concluded “5 New S-curve” webinar, that education policymakers have already forged partnerships with private firms to offer upskilling courses in robotics. He added that the scheme will begin with mechatronics and robotic courses of the Human Capital Excellent Center (HCEC), which are taught to a total of 5,200 students annually at 161 private and state schools across the country.

The HCEC is also launching special courses to retrain teachers and help them keep up with changing robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

From January to November, the automation and robotics industry players in Thailand have invested a total of THB651 million – up from THB29 million last year.

Previously, Thailand used 3,000-4,000 units of industrial robotics, but this has risen to 10,000-20,000 units to replace the human workforce, particularly migrant workers, the Executive Adviser of the Eastern Economic Corridor Human Development Center (EEC HDC) said. In the EEC, demand for robotic-skilled workforce has jumped from around 30,000 to 50,000 after the pandemic.

Furthermore, by early 2021, the EEC area will be ready for the 5G network that would move the country towards Industry 4.0. Smart manufacturing will take shape with the integration of automation, Internet of Things (IoT), big data and cloud in the production process.

OpenGov Asia recently reported that, according to a London-based data and analytics firm, 5G subscriptions will account for more than 55% of total mobile subscriptions by 2025 in Thailand, as 5G demand for high-speed data and low latency network gathers steam in the country.

The demand for digital solutions in sectors such as healthcare, education, retail, and tourism will drive the development of 5G in Thailand, combined with the new normal of the post-pandemic world, the report noted.

The Senior Analyst of Telecoms Market Data & Intelligence at another data analytics and consulting company stated that mobile operators are working to strengthen 5G network coverage and encouraging customers to adopt 5G services. They are targeting consumers with innovative 5G mobile plans and simultaneously trying to demonstrate 5G use cases for enterprises, he said.

Notably, AIS, the leading CSP in Thailand is offering virtual reality and cloud applications to drive 5G adoption in the consumer segment while commercial segment 5G plans include ‘AIS 5G Play AR’ for virtual reality content and ‘AIS Cloud Game’.

In addition, AIS signed an MoU with Bangkadi Industrial Park in October 2020 to develop 5G solutions to modernize factories at the park.

Additionally, The Prime Minister of Thailand is the chairman of 26 members ‘National 5G Committee’, which aims to ensure necessary support from the government in 5G development. The committee also consists of ministers from the education, tourism, and finance departments.

It was noted that 5G adoption in Thailand will be driven by growing popularity for 5G mobile applications, the decline in 5G handset prices, the need for enterprise digital transformation, and the Thailand government’s smart city initiatives.

The NSW Government has helped to bring together four Sydney universities to promote the harbour city as an international centre for excellence in quantum technology, supporting jobs, research and education. Sydney Quantum Academy is working to create thousands of well-paid, high-tech jobs building on the city’s quantum strengths.

At an online forum officially launching the Academy on Monday, the Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney, joined representatives from academia and industry to discuss plans to grow the city’s quantum economy, creating new jobs and attracting investment.

Sydney is already home to one of the highest concentrations of quantum research groups in the world and there is a burgeoning quantum tech industry with start-ups like Q-CTRL, government-backed enterprises like Silicon Quantum Computing and global tech giants like Microsoft.

The newly formed Sydney Quantum Academy – a partnership with four world-leading universities Macquarie University, UNSW Sydney, the University of Sydney and UTS, backed by the NSW Government – has been tasked with supercharging the sector’s growth.

The Minister stated that the NSW Government is investing heavily in the infrastructure required to build a world-class technology precinct. This includes investing in support networks for emerging technologies where we have credible expertise.

The Academy will keep the region at the forefront of quantum technology by developing the future employers, entrepreneurs and the workforce required to sustain the industry’s growth.

Future quantum leaders

The newly appointed CEO of the Sydney Quantum Academy spoke of the Academy’s plans to grow the talent pipeline through education and training programs, industry partnerships and internships. He noted that the potential for quantum is enormous, significant increases in effort and investment around the world are being seen.

Quantum technologies will fundamentally change areas like computation and sensing. They will help researchers solve problems that can’t simply be solved with classical information technology.

The Academy’s unique model means scientists have the ability and the infrastructure to deliver work-ready graduates and leaders who can help translate quantum research into real-life applications. There are jobs already there with the technology maturing rapidly, but there are many more to come.

There is a need to boost the talent pipeline and anticipate what skills will be required for the future. This can only be done by working closely with industry in Australia and beyond.

The University of Sydney’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) stated that the foundation the academy is a tribute to the many years of foundational quantum research done by scientists across the city and means a great future for jobs, research and education in quantum technology.

The quantum economy

CSIRO’s Chief Scientist and Australia’s incoming Chief Scientist spoke on how Sydney will play a central role in developing the nation’s quantum technology sector.

She said that the investment by the NSW Government in the Sydney Quantum Academy is a great example of the steps that are needed to create and accelerate a quantum ecosystem that will allow the whole of Australia to come together behind an industry that will create jobs and prosperity.

Quantum is an industry that is going to do more than create new products and services – it will also catalyse a broader capability that will be transformational for all industries, similar to the effect of the digital revolution. It is going to allow us to do new things and accelerate our ability to solve challenges that seem unsolvable today. Moreover, she said that it is fortunate that these global tech industry and government leaders involved. It demonstrates the significance of what’s happening in the quantum space in Sydney.

A few days before Christmas, students in Ilocos Norte received new gadgets that they can use for their virtual classes. The Department of Education (DepEd) has announced that it has dispatched a total of 3,890 tablet units to the local government of the province as part of its directive to assist learners in the transition to online learning systems following safety restrictions set in place due to the pandemic. 

The DepEd delivered the tablets in collaboration with Ilocos Norte Governor Matthew Manotoc. The governor said, “We hope that many of our students can use these tablets for many years and hopefully, through their tertiary or college education. We appreciate the partnership and we look forward to many, many projects together for the betterment of education in the province”. 

DepEd purchased the tablets under the Special Education Fund allotted for the provincial government. Officials of the education department in Ilocos Norte were present during the turn-over event. 

The education sector is among those widely affected by pandemic restrictions. To help address this challenge, officials from the local government continue to push for a more efficient gadget-based learning system as an alternative to face-to-face classes. The suggestion was also intended to solve instances when synchronous classes are disrupted by internet connection issues. Local officials expressed confidence that this will also help mitigate financial constraints suffered by parents and students in paying for internet charges. 

The lack of laptops and other gadgets that can be used for virtual classes is a shared struggle among students and teachers. Despite this challenge, the DepEd assured teachers in an earlier report that “there is no urgent need to buy laptops or computers”. The department added that one of the advantages of online classes is that there are numerous options for learning and that this mode of education is not just for those who have computers, laptops or smartphones. It added that having the right equipment is still important. 

One option for teachers who do not have access to electronic equipment is to borrow IT equipment as provided for under a Memorandum released by the Office of the Undersecretary for Administration (OUA). The memo, released a month after the government enforced an enhanced community quarantine, allows teachers to borrow desktop computers, laptops and tablets from their schools to be used during the school year 2020-2021. 

To help students and teachers, DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones earlier said that the department will use its additional funds to provide gadgets and computers to schools and students as it implements a distance learning programme. A portion of the funds will also go to its planned reproduction of printed Self-Learning Modules. She added that the department will also improve its Learning Continuity Plan and the Last Miles School project which aids 3,000 schools in remote areas that have no internet connectivity. 

The Education Department is set to be benefitted from the implementation of the National Broadband Programme (NBP) of the Department of Information and Communications Technology. As recently reported by OpenGov Asia, Congress has doubled the nation’s budget for broadband services for the year 2021. The total budget for internet services was pegged at PHP 4.5 trillion (US$ 93.6 billion). A big slice of this amount, or PHP 1.9 billion (US$ 39.5 million), will go to the NBP. 

Aside from improving internet services in the country, a bigger budget for digital services is expected to benefit the education and healthcare sectors of the economy. Improved infrastructure for broadband solutions is also anticipated to usher in more investors due to enhanced ease of doing business in the Philippines.

The government is set to make the distribution of scholars’ allowances faster and much safer with help from e-wallet service providers. Isidro Lapeña, Secretary of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) informed the public that it has partnered with e-payment mobile app GCash for the disbursement of allowances for its scholars.  

The TESDA chief highlighted the benefits of migrating payment of allowances in a mobile application. For one, he mentioned that this method is the safest way to reach out to the agency’s scholars amid the implementation of strict protocols to stem the spread of COVID-19. He added, “This is also a more efficient mode with shorter processing time. Scholars only need to download the app and register their account.

The TESDA projects that 274,577 scholars from different areas in the Philippines will benefit from this mode of allowance distribution. The department also announced that these scholars will be able to receive their allowances via mobile starting next year. The TESDA Secretary assured that the online distribution of allowances through GCash will still be available even after restrictions due to the pandemic are lifted. 

Aside from making disbursement processes more convenient for TESDA students, the department mentioned that the change in their processes will further allow scholars to maximise their allowances. Using a mobile app to receive and encash allowances would mitigate expenses in transportation in going to physical offices of TESDA.  

The agency has released a circular earlier this year which covers the allotment of a training support fund for its scholars. Circular No. 078 provides that under the new normal, 50% of this support fund will be given to scholars within the first two weeks of their training. The remaining chunk of the budget shall be disbursed after the students have completed at least 80% of their training. 

According to recent news, TESDA announced that it is rolling out an initiative to provide scholarship grants to more than 200 drivers of public utility vehicles (PUVs) and their dependents in General Santos City, Sarangani Province under the “Tsuper Iskolar” program. The bulk of beneficiaries were dependents of PUV drivers who were affected by the PUV Modernisation Programme. These beneficiaries were to enrol in seven skills training courses that are offered by TESDA-accredited schools in the area. 

TESDA to team up with other e-wallet services 

In the same statement, the TESDA Secretary said they are open to teaming up with other e-service providers to further upscale its digital programmes for students enrolled under their curriculum.  

TESDA added that its decision to sign an agreement with GCash was bolstered by its current reach in the e-payments market. According to a study made by TESDA, GCash recorded over 20 million users alongside a high number of application downloads last year.  The TESDA chief was quick to say that it is not closing its doors to possible tie-ups with other e-wallet providers that can deliver the same quality services. 

TESDA subsequently mentioned that it is considering a collaboration with government-owned Landbank. However, the partnership did not materialise due to issues in processing the scholars’ enrollment information and in releasing prepaid cards to be presented for disbursements. The agency added that it is on the lookout for an allowance distribution scheme that will suit their short-term courses. 

This recent undertaking is anticipated to be improved by the National Broadband Program of the Department of Information and Communications (DICT). In a report by OpenGov Asia, Congress announced that it has doubled the nation’s budget for the improvement of digital infrastructure. The NBP is expected to speed up internet connectivity particularly in far-flung areas in the Philippines.

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