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Whose Development? Urbanisation, Education, and the Digital Divide

In February 2023, a private company conducted a digital literacy workshop for Beta students. Photo by Project Kaluguran.

Spotlighting the digital divide that persists amid rapid urbanization in the Philippines, this insightful analysis examines the film “Lugal Abu (Grey Area)” by EJ Gagui through the lens of education and sustainable development. The piece delves into the barriers that indigenous communities face in accessing quality education and digital technologies, even as they live in the shadows of ambitious “smart city” projects. It underscores the imperative of bridging this divide to ensure no one is left behind in an increasingly digitised world, where digital literacy skills are critical for socioeconomic mobility. By giving voice to marginalised communities, the analysis calls for concerted efforts to uphold the right to equitable education enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals.

This post is part of a series of issue analyses for the Tech Tales Youth film collection. Read the rest of the series here.


Sustainable Development Goal 4 aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for all, with target 4.5 zeroing in on marginalised communities, including indigenous peoples. In the Philippines, the government has enacted policies and programs geared towards the needs of indigenous communities: Republic Act 8371 recognises indigenous communities’ right to education in their own languages and in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods, and the education department’s Indigenous Peoples Education Program has already served 2.529 million indigenous peoples in the first decade of implementation. However, barriers to quality education remain, particularly the lack of adequate infrastructure and resources in more remote areas and difficulties in adapting to digitalised ways of learning.

In central Luzon, indigenous communities live alongside massive development projects and modernisation initiatives; an example is the development of the state-initiated New Clark City in Pampanga, said to be the country’s first smart and “climate-change resilient” city. However, these urbanisation projects do not necessarily translate to communities having adequate access to modern technological conveniences. The digital divide remains; this was especially apparent with the COVID-19 pandemic prompting a shift to online learning modes, which meant that those with limited technological access, knowledge, or skills were left behind.

Lugal Abu shows how education, digital technologies, and the betterment of life are intertwined: students take great lengths to go to school, seeing education as a pathway for achieving their hopes and dreams – earning more, and becoming a teacher or a doctor. But while they are within reach of the up-and-coming urban areas, they still struggle with understanding and accessing the digital technologies needed to achieve their goals and navigate modern society.

There are about 85.16 million internet users in the Philippines, but majority is concentrated in urban areas. In geographically isolated areas, electricity and communications infrastructure remains limited, even more so access to online classes and digital learning materials. At the height of the pandemic, government workers and teaching volunteers banded together to help reduce the potential learning losses among isolated Aeta communities in Pampanga through makeshift learning centres, solar-powered teaching aids, and digital literacy training.

One such initiative to support the education of indigenous communities is Project Kaluguran, which assists the Aeta community in Sitio Haduan in Mabalacat, Pampanga. Its scholarship initiative aims to empower students to fulfil their dreams and support the next generation of students pursue their education. From 10 scholars in the first batch of the project, over 20 scholars are now being supported by the program.

Similar initiatives, both from the government and private sector, are essential to close the digital divide and provide quality education to indigenous communities amid an increasingly digitised learning environment. Online learning modes and digital literacy skills are critical in today’s education landscape, and the challenge is to ensure that those who already face significant barriers to basic education do not fall further behind.

Watch the film