Global CSR Activities
Initiatives Addressing Education Challenges in the Philippines
As NTT Communications seeks to resolve global social problems through ICT, we launched a project in June 2018 entitled “Beyond—Going beyond current issues into the future” (the “Beyond Project”) with the aim of eliminating the education gap associated with deep-rooted poverty in the Philippines. The project is one of our global CSR activities developed with a medium- to long-term perspective.
Education Issues in the Philippines
The Philippines is a major ASEAN nation and has remained on the path of steady economic growth. The country should enjoy further growth for years to come, benefitting from the segment of its population who are 24 years old or younger, which accounts for a relatively high 40% of the nation’s 100 million people. In reality, however, many have yet to share in the wealth being created by that growth, and underlying social inequality and the vicious cycle of poverty have been identified as factors that could hinder economic development.
Eliminating the education gap, which generates a downward spiral while limiting economic growth, is essential for removing the root causes of poverty. Recognizing the pressing need to address this, the government has launched a major reform of the education system, starting Recognizing the pressing need to address this, the government has launched a major reform of the education system, starting with a transition from Asia’s last remaining 10-year academic system to the internationally standard 12-year system in 2017. It has also designated education as a priority for investment in fiscal 2020, allocating approximately 5.4 billion pesos (approximately 11.8 billion yen), or roughly 1% of the national budget, to develop the infrastructure for promoting digital education.
About the Beyond Project
The Beyond Project was launched in June 2018 as a global CSR activity promoted by NTT Communications and in collaboration with the NPO e-Education, which is working to improve education in 14 countries in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world. The project’s name reflects our hope of moving “beyond” the issues presented by time and distance in order to provide learning opportunities for young Filipinos and expand their future dreams and opportunities. The project depends on the effective application of ICT, and our plan is to start small in a provincial city in southern Philippines and then gradually expand the area for implementing our initiative.
The first phase kicked off with 32 project members selected through an open call process. And these individuals share common aspirations with the new members who joined during the second phase. As of February 2021, a total of 29 members are engaged in the project’s third phase.
■This is a digest video of the activities of "Beyond Project" which NTT Communications is working to solve local educational problems with ICT for the future of Filipino children who cannot go to school due to various reasons.
Phase 1:Start of the Beyond Project
The Beyond Project began in Cagayan de Oro City (CDO), a major city in the northern region of Mindanao Island that serves as a base of activities for e-Education, our project partner. With a long history of conflict and frequent natural disasters, the city is home to many impoverished families. Due to various circumstances surrounding work and family life, a considerable number of students either cannot attend school on weekdays or are forced by their circumstances to drop out before they are able to graduate. To address student needs, the region promotes a public initiative called the Open High School Program (OHSP), in which teachers voluntarily offer weekend classes so that students may graduate from junior high school. However, due to a shortage of volunteer teachers and essential instructional materials, the OHSP has yet to achieve its original goal of providing alternative learning opportunities for children. And so CDO was chosen as the first location for the Beyond Project.
We started by conducting a series of interviews in CDO in 2018 with the support of e-Education, which had already established a relationship with the Department of Education in the city. The 32 project members were divided into six groups to discuss and create proposals based on information gathered through interviews and related to local education issues. The final proposals were focused on addressing specific issues such as class curriculums, times, and instructional materials, distances between homes and schools, and the provision of online classes through ICT to create more learning opportunities. Only about 40% of the nation’s population currently uses the Internet, making it difficult for students to attend online classes from home, which is why access to remote classes from central locations is the most realistic option.
Project members subsequently visited CDO in February and June 2019 to share their proposals and discuss their ideas. The initiative was very well received by officials of the Department of Education and educators in CDO, bringing the planned activities of the Beyond Project closer to reality.
The Beyond Project is NTT Communications’ first full-scale CSR activity outside Japan, and highly motivated employees answered the call with lofty aspirations. However, since we were experiencing everything for the first time, the key to getting the project on track was to learn about the region and explore ways to interact with our partner NPO. Moreover, as we developed hypotheses and examined activity models, we became aware of the gap between our ideals and the reality on the ground. In a sense, the final program presented to the local department of education was a realistic solution commensurate with NTT Communications’ capabilities. At the same time, it was the optimal solution for locals, as it enabled them to visualize the process and final goals, which is why it was welcomed as a valuable initiative worthy of putting into action.
■It shows the 1st activity started in Cagayan de Oro city, Philippines in February, 2019. We report on the interviews we conducted with children and educators, as well as the voices of the members involved in the "Beyond Project".
■It contains the presentation to Department of Education, Division of Cagayan de Oro City, in June 2019 and the state of further field study. We report on the efforts of the members and local educators for the Feasibility Study in October 2019, which is the next step.
Phase 2:Feasibility Study and PoC Study to Confirm Effectiveness
◆The local newspaper MINDANAO DAILY
reported on the project.
In October 2019, NTT Communications signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the CDO Department of Education and e-Education, which kicked off the second phase of the Beyond Project. Under the basic policy of applying ICT to solve education issues in the Philippines, the purpose of this phase was to verify the project’s feasibility, with due consideration for telecommunications infrastructure and other local factors, toward establishing a presentation model together with the existing OHSP.
After attending a signing ceremony for the MOA, project members conducted a feasibility study on remote classes that use local Internet connections. We verified the technical and operational aspects of the classes by setting up sites at local high schools and barangay (district) halls while also identifying specific challenges. In addition, we surveyed candidate locations for conducting a proof-of-concept (PoC) study for center-based remote classes for groups scheduled for February 2020. We also coordinated with local partners to digitize and unify classroom materials, sought to understand the quality and content of instructional materials, and organized a tutor program, with university students as the teachers.
◆The local newspaper MINDANAO DAILY
reported on the project.
In December 2019, project members visited CDO again and worked extensively with 48 local teachers toward digitizing and unifying instructional materials for math, English, and social studies classes. This was intended to alleviate the considerable workloads of OHSP teachers, who had been preparing and printing their own classroom materials to distribute to the students. In addition, members visited the Capitol University to address a major shortage of OHSP teachers. We sought help introducing the tutor program, in which local university students serve as teachers, to provide learning opportunities for as many students as possible, and the university readily agreed to cooperate.
Following a preparation period of about four months, we conducted a PoC study for the remote classes in February 2020. During the month-long study, 95 remote classes took place with a total of 231 students and 15 university students participating as teachers. Students who attended the classes generally gave high marks in terms of satisfaction. Remote classes also helped to resolve some OHSP issues by, for instance, reducing the work required by teachers to prepare electronic materials.
On the other hand, operational issues emerged in the manual processes of class notifications and reservations as well as in progress management. We then sought improvements to address the various discoveries and issues identified in the results of PoC assessment through a series of discussions with local educators and e-Education in order to present several refined models.
Having steadily advanced from phase 1 to phase 2 of our activities, the spread of COVID-19 in the Philippines forced significant adaptations in the local educational environment. The uncertain outlook brought about by the pandemic required us to revise the course of the Beyond Project. We initially focused on revising and introducing the model, in time for the start of the new semester in June 2020. However, at the end of March 2020 the circumstances surrounding education in the country deteriorated as schools were shut down, requiring students to study at home while minors were prohibited from going outside.
Meanwhile, the pandemic also began to limit the activities of NTT Communications employees promoting the Beyond Project. Not only was travel out of the question, NTT Communications’ policy of promoting remote work across the company also meant that employees had to forgo in-person interaction. Since April 2020, we had to temporarily suspend our initial plans to do what we could to ensure that local education did not grind to a halt.
◆Center-based Remote Classes for Groups
■Following the signing ceremony held in October 2019 between NTT Communications, Department of Education and e-Education, the Feasibility Study of distance learning finally started. This video shows the level of local expectations for the Beyond project.
Phase 3:Continuous Activities, Revision of the Model, and Improvement of Functions Amid the Pandemic
◆Remote meeting with local educators in CDO
Although school education in Cagayan de Oro City finally resumed in October 2020, in-person classes remain on hold and the Beyond Project remained stalled. Meanwhile, new issues arose while students studied at home. Some without a suitable Internet environment found it hard to study; others became impoverished, with survival becoming the top priority; and some university students in tutor positions lost their part-time jobs, leading to financial difficulties.
During this period, NTT Communications repeatedly attempted to address issues that had become apparent through the PoC study in February 2020. We also sought to gather the latest information on the pandemic in the Philippines from local governments, the Japanese embassy, and media organizations as well as through our direct connection with the country’s largest telecommunications company, PLDT, to coordinate future activities and scheduling. In addition, we decided to collaborate with e-Education on its other local project, a private online tutoring business. Looking ahead, NTT Communications will provide support for the communications environment while conducting a feasibility study toward acquiring the information we need to construct a model for the Beyond Project and improve how it functions.
◆Remote meeting with local educators in CDO
As of March 2021, schools have not reopened in the Philippines. But even after the resumption of in-person classes, and in view of the vulnerability of home network environments, we plan to continue deploying the Beyond Project from central locations with a focus on remote classes for groups. Additionally, we will consider expanding the model to accommodate diverse learning modes, including participating from home. Since project members are currently unable to visit the Philippines, we are regularly meeting online with educators there to exchange views and make preparations.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented NTT Communications with unexpected obstacles in pursuing CSR activities on a global scale. Even so, and in spite of the challenges that lie ahead, we believe that being fully committed to forging a better way forward is the key to a sustainable future. NTT Communications will continue to engage in the Beyond Project to overcome obstacles through ICT and open a brighter future for the Philippines.
Executive Vice President in charge of CSR,
Overcoming Challenges to Open a Brighter Future for the Philippines
The Beyond Project is guided by the same principles as the Sustainable Development Goals adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015, specifically Goal 4 “Quality Education” and Goal 17 “Partnerships for the World,” as well as the underlying values of the SDGs, such as “no one left behind,” “in a larger freedom,” and “well-being.” The project has encountered a series of diverse problems that were completely unexpected when it launched. These, however, have been steadily overcome by participating members, staff at our partner NPO, and CDO residents, including the city’s department of education, driven by their shared passion and efforts for providing learning opportunities for children in the Philippines. Going forward, we will continue to move beyond the many challenges we face, through the power of ICT, to provide those children with learning opportunities so they have more opportunities in their futures and can realize their dreams.