Changing paradigms of Agricultural Extension implementers towards computerization, can well be likened to the idea of changing people’s perceptions (a few lifetimes and a hundred years ago), that the world is round and not flat as initially believed. You just need to keep on pushing the idea, until it sinks.
ICT is still a fairly new tool especially in extension service delivery in the provinces. In promoting e-extension, I sell the idea only after exposing them to a course on Basic ICT Literacy and Web appreciation; otherwise, the exercise would be like teaching people how to make ice cubes when they still don’t have the faintest idea of how a refrigerator or freezer works. The three-day course starts with the benefits of the computer and the internet and how it can make their lives and work easier and more exciting. The course usually begins with an introduction on basic computer operations. Computer literacy definitely starts with knowing how to turn on the unit, but cyberworld can only be accessed and enjoyed when one starts to know how to maneuver the mouse. There are some cases where I have to hold the hand of the participant to show them how to use the mouse.
On several instances, there were hands that I felt were shaking when I held them. I don’t know if it was me, (ha ha, dream on) or the mouse that was sending shivers in them. After being comfortable in the operation of the computer, I allow them to browse to their heart’s content. I silently observe the participants and the common topics that they are browsing. It is really very telling. Ladies usually browse about “artistas” while men usually browse in “sexy” websites (despite my warning to be careful because of the viruses they may get while downloading). It is only after sometime that I remind them to please browse agriculture related websites.
The issue on email addresses is really funny. Few only have active email accounts. Many had “once upon a time” created email accounts only because it was required by the “ever popular” GSIS. The problem is they have either forgotten their username or password or the actual email address. Many of the accounts have expired due to non-use. So I require them to please write in their notebook their email address, username and password, with a silent prayer that they won’t forget it this time so that the account will remain active. From the email account issue alone, the state of ICT in agricultural extension can already be gleamed. Anyway, I had a fun time listening to the participants after they have successfully created their accounts. They begin to collect email addresses from their fellow participants and send each other messages. After sending a message, they call their classmates across the room to inform them to please read their email because they have sent a greeting, normally, just “Hi, practice lang ni”. Delay in receiving the email is a cause of complaint. I tell them that “web traffic” may have delayed their messages.
After a day and a half, alas, I am now ready to present the e-extension program. I start with an overview of the program. I also present to them the Online Updating of AEWs Profile and allow them to update their own profiles. Then, I let them access the e-extension site and e-learning site. The problem was, accessing our sites at the same time by a class of 30 is a battle in patience. The servers usually time out or the internet connection literally crawls. After almost a day of waiting for websites and webpages to load, many only reach as far as the introduction to the e-course for those who opted to enrol in the courses. But the real question is, will they ever get to finish the course? When the e-learning course started in 2008, T-shirts were given out to graduates as a sort of incentive for course finishers. Still, my enrollees to graduates ratio is low. How much more now when I have only my smile to thank them for their efforts? Why the pessimism? Well, for one, majority of the Municipal Agriculture Offices do not have internet connectivity. Second, many of these offices have only 2-3 computers that are assigned to their Boss and the Clerks. Third, their Bosses do not really appreciate ICT.
So what now?
They are asking ATI to give them laptops and connectivity! Surely, giving out basic computer equipment and a few months experience of internet connectivity will, for starters, be a big boost to enable agricultural extension workers to shift their mindsets and make them more receptive to computerization. But then I quickly zoom-in to the present, checked my charming smile, which is all that is left (after the last of the t-shirts was gone) to lure the participants towards the beauty and practicality of exploring cyberspace.
Faced with this bleak reality what else is left to do? Do I cry or what?