Special Feature: Update on Zero Dropout Program in Zamboanga del Norte

Update-on-Zero-Dropout-Program-in-La-Union

Because of his deep concern to improve basic public education in the Philippines, SGV Founder Wash SyCip worked with the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development – Mutually Reinforcing Institutions (CARD MRI) to initiate the Zero Dropout Education Scheme (ZeDrES), a program aimed at reducing the dropout rate among public elementary schools to 0%. To help implement the program, the Kazarian-SyCip Fund was established to serve as an educational loan fund for its beneficiaries. CARD MRI members, who are mostly from poverty-stricken communities, can borrow up to 5,000 pesos for their children’s school supplies, projects and activities. These loans are payable weekly over three to twelve months.

For the past three years, SGV has been engaged to audit ZeDrES, a mission the engagement team has dubbed “Operation Zero”. In 2014, the ZeDrES team focused on fostering employment and entrepreneurship through identification of possible ventures in the areas’ agri-value chain.

One of the areas visited by Operation Zero was Manukan and Pinan in Zamboanga del Norte. We asked Belvin Armenion and Jason Naniong from the FSRM group about their experiences with the program.

1. What was the SGV CARD engagement team’s role in the Zero Dropout Program?

Our goal was to find out exactly how the Zero Dropout Program affects the lives of its beneficiaries and the community since its introduction in the Zamboanga province in 2013. We interviewed CARD members to find out how the loan has specifically helped them. We also asked school teachers, principals, and the provincial Department of Education (DepEd) superintendent about how ZeDrES ties up with the government’s general efforts to curb drop-out rates at the grassroots level. As the program is now in its third year of operation, we wanted to look at the bigger picture to see how education aligns with the livelihood and industry in the province, so we interviewed the director of a local cooperative as well as the city planner of Dipolog. Finally, we performed a process review of the ZeDrES loan origination process at CARD to ensure that operations were running smoothly and that loans were being disbursed to those who needed it the most, the “poorest of the poor”.

2. What were the general issues that needed to be addressed?

Zamboanga del Norte always tops the list of the poorest provinces in the Philippines, with one in every two Zamboañguenos currently classified as poor. Through our observations and interviews, we saw that poverty was linked with the lack of industry. In inland municipalities, the primary industry is farming, but the land is not particularly fertile, and the people are mere tenants, not landowners. In coastal municipalities, the primary industry is fishing, but their income is unstable and dependent on the weather. Although Zamboanga is primarily agricultural with 50% of land use devoted to crop-planting, only 20% of its income is derived from agriculture. Most of the local government’s agricultural programs have to do with rice and corn self-sustainability, meaning they are concerned only with local output, with no drive to market these commodities as exports.

We also learned that most of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA)/vocational centers in Zamboanga offered IT courses rather than practical courses which could benefit the province’s growth, such as agricultural science. This disconnect would lead to a “brain drain” situation, as high school or college graduates would rather head to Metro Cebu or Metro Manila to seek a better future.

In terms of education, the majority of the population are only elementary graduates, which could contribute to the high poverty rate. We observed numerous dilapidated infrastructure, and lack of resources such as clinics, canteens, and libraries. The number of secondary schools is not enough to accommodate elementary school graduates, which may also be a cause for high drop-out rates. Based on our interview with the DepEd superintendent, they have a shortage of an estimated 500 teachers.

3. What are the on-ground observations on how the Zero Dropout Program can improve?

We saw firsthand how CARD has benefited their members through livelihood and agricultural loans. Some of the members we interviewed already have small businesses such as sari-sari stores due to their participation in CARD. Since the ZeDrES program is still somewhat new, its significance is not yet felt in the community. We observed that the ZeDrES loan enhanced the students’ learning experience by providing them with new bags, notebooks, or shoes.

One way to improve the ZeDrES program is to coordinate with the local government units (LGUs) to increase awareness of the program beyond CARD, since LGUs have records on drop-outs in the community.

4. What made this engagement different from other engagements you were involved in?

We were able to observe the process – not just from end to end, but also from top to bottom: from our in-depth discussions with various government offices, to the loan origination process back at the CARD office, the loan disbursement process at the CARD center meeting, our interviews with the members and beneficiaries at their homes. This gave us the unique insight to see how education and livelihood were interconnected, enabling us to provide recommendations which were strategic and visionary yet grassroots in nature. It was clear that top-down initiatives from LGUs need to be combined with the communal bayanihan spirit in order to combat the scourge of poverty.

All in all, we were thankful for the opportunity to be involved in this unique engagement. Our only regret is not being able to stay longer than three days, in order to immerse ourselves further in the community.

5. How has SGV made a difference in the community and in you as an individual?

In several ways, SGV provides policy inputs in the twin spheres of education and livelihood. For example, there are working discussions with the DepEd and representatives from public-private sectors on the acceleration of interventions in areas such as scholarship and vocational or technical programs that would align with the agro-industrial plans of the region. We’re hopeful and optimistic that the initiative – channeled through Abot-Alam in coordination with DepEd, TESDA and the Department of Science and Technology – will lead to concrete and sustainable outcomes.

As thought leaders and forerunners in their own individual fields, each SGVean has the capacity and platform to bring to light the perennial issue of poverty. The aim of the ZeDrES program is inextricably linked to our true goal of nation-building and providing a better future for the 100 million Filipinos.

6. How can others contribute to the Zero Dropout Program?

To support the ZeDrES Program, individuals can make a direct cash donation to CARD MRI. Simple acts like volunteering, sharing articles on social media, and donations in kind can also make a big difference collectively.