Update on the Zero Dropout Program in Northern Samar

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 Las Navas, Catubig and Laoang in Northern Samar. We asked Ruben Simon and Mio Amahan from the FSO group about their experiences with the program.

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

The engagement team’s role in the Zero Dropout Program is to broadly perform program validation – to verify and observe that the program funds are essentially responsive to the needs of the beneficiaries. In order to effectively perform this task, the team noted on-ground observations as well as interactions with the beneficiaries in the assigned area. Furthermore, in order to have an in-depth analysis, the team not only observed the fund’s utilization, but also the poverty and broader economic activities in the covered areas.

What were the general issues that needed to be addressed?

As the main purpose of the program is to reduce, if not completely eliminate, the dropout rate for as many people as possible especially those that have no access to formal financial services, we suggest that the program be made available as a stand-alone product which can be accessible to many more members and non-members of CARD (the program has already been opened to non-members as well, particularly families with out-of-school youth and areas like the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao).

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

Based on our on-ground observations, there were potential risks that the educational loan programs may not be used appropriately. For example, some parents (and legal guardians) may be tempted to use the funds for non-educational purposes. Although we observed no such incidents in our assigned area, the risk is still present. One way to avoid this is through the provision of actual school materials like notebooks, pens and uniforms. But this suggestion must still be studied thoroughly as this would limit the options of the beneficiaries – and we would not want that to occur. The locals we interviewed also suggested expanding the program in the future so it will be able to support beneficiaries entering college, helping them maximize their future employment opportunities. However, at the onset of the K-12 program, its reach can not only be expanded upward (i.e., junior and senior high school up to college) but also downward – at the base (i.e., preparatory to kinder). Focusing on this segment would generally ensure that the children enter school and start on their path to functional literacy.

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

This engagement was life-changing and very personal to us because we were able to witness the situation of the people living in the municipalities assigned to us. We also experienced first-hand that the risks involved are all too real; there was an encounter between government forces and New People’s Army rebels in Las Navas just a day before we left. We learned that the encounter happened around 5 km away from the school that we visited. We could only imagine what the students have to put up with during those turbulent times. Staying there for almost a week and seeing the smiling faces of the beneficiaries as they told stories of how the program assisted them in their studies helped us appreciate our role even more. It was inspiring to encounter the beneficiaries because it gave us a sense of purpose. It was one fulfilling engagement and a breath of fresh air for us, who are most of the time engrossed in urban corporate life.

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

Through our interactions with the community, we believe they felt that we were there to support and motivate them. One telling sign, although this may be trivial, is that they were very happy to see Manileños visiting their municipality – it was very evident. It gave them hope that we from the big city are looking out for them and that we care since we are willing to understand their situation. And that, for us, made a big difference.

How can others contribute to the Zero Dropout Program?

Willing donors can contribute any amount through CARD Inc., which manages the Zero Dropout fund. More than giving contributions, it would be helpful if people spread the idea that the program exists. We should inform everyone that people in the provinces need our help. Anyone can join us in FSRM to further enhance the program. After all, monetary donations are not an end-all solution. What we need are your genius, your young minds and able bodies to join the discourse. Stop being just a keyboard warrior! Think, and most importantly, Act!