Written by the Web Team

 

Availability of information on improved rice farming may no longer be an issue, but access to information posed challenges.

With the wealth of information on rice farming available on the websites of the Department of Agriculture, Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), and other attached agencies, farmers could optimize rice farming if they are connected to the Internet.

However, most of them are not connected to the Internet. And even if they get connected, other issues such as computer illiteracy and anxiety hinder their access to the information from the Internet.

Two papers from PhilRice’s Development Communication Division presented in two international conferences showed some probable solutions to these concerns. These papers are “How can e-learning be more relevant in agricultural extension in the Philippines” and “From Texting strangers to texting the PhilRice Text Center (PTC).”

Distance education

The paper, “How can e-learning be more relevant in agricultural extension in the Philippines,” presented in during the during the 1st International Conference on Open and Distance e-Learning (ICODEL) on Feb. 22-24 in Manila, Philippines, discussed two platforms for distance education. These are e-learning and online campaign on rice production. The online campaign was originally conceived as sort of the classroom type only that the teacher was located at the Central Office of PhilRice in Nueva Ecija with the students based in Mindanao. As the campaign took off, it became an online consultation. Videoconfencing was the key mechanism for the campaign.

During the campaign, the farmers were gathered in a cybercommunity near their area. The cybercommunity has a computer with internet connectivity.

“Farmers had so many issues they wanted to consult with PhilRice experts. Hence, instead of the structured classroom-type format, we changed it to online consultation,” Jaime A. Manalo IV, co-author of both papers, said.

Manalo noted that an enabling factor for the videoconferencing was the presence of site coordinators. The site coordinators were in-charge of the ICT-related matters such as making sure the computer works, the microphone was on, and that the farmers were comfortably seated during the sessions.

“All the farmers needed to do was to sit and speak,” Manalo said.

The e-learning, on the other hand, is another platform that is being explored by PhilRice. Currently, it offers modules on crop production such as managing rice pests and diseases. The course coordinator sends invites using the PhilRice Text Center, email, and other means. Students are required to answer pre-test questions before taking a course. A student can finish the course anytime within the 40 days maximum duration of the course.

“We are doing process evaluation now to document the issues that are likely to come out once e-learning is upscaled. This will help us maximize this platform,” said Christina A. Frediles, e-learning course coordinator and paper presenter.
Glenn Y. Ilar, paper co-author, said they will soon assess the knowledge gained by participants after taking a course and studying strategies to refine the curriculum to make it more relevant to its intended users.

From addiction to productive texting

Meanwhile, the paper “From texting strangers to texting the PhilRice Text Center” forwarded a proposal for children to send SMS for their parents. The paper was presented during the Mobile Communications for Development Conference 2012 in New Delhi, India on Feb. 27-March 1.

“Among my research participants texting addiction was a dominant theme,” Manalo said. The young individuals from Aurora and Albay where Manalo did his research were texting numbers written on the walls of public toilets and on bus seats.
“On average they sent 200 text messages daily. If 10% of the said number could go to PTC that will be a big accomplishment,” Manalo said. PTC is a platform for farmers to send queries on rice production. Admittedly, conscientization needs to be done to get these young individuals to text for their parents. They should be made aware that they can do something for their farmer-parents.

At present, Manalo is pilot-testing the infomediary concept in Aurora. Infomediaries are ICT-literate individuals, in his research high school students, who access ICTs for those who cannot access them.

With the rather challenging conditions in the Philippines, testing alternative extension modes should continuously be done. The challenge is to deliver the package we already have.

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Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) is a government corporate entity attached to the Department of Agriculture created through Executive Order 1061 on 5 November 1985 (as amended) to help develop high-yielding and cost-reducing technologies so farmers can produce enough rice for all Filipinos.

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Philippine Rice Research Institute