Update on the Zero Dropout Program in Oriental Mindoro

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 San Teodoro and Baco in Oriental Mindoro. We asked Dennis Sam Lim and John Arididon about their experiences with the program.

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

The engagement was designed to assess and evaluate the effectiveness of the Zero Dropout Program. We interviewed selected beneficiaries regarding the program’s impact on the continuing education of their children. Specifically, we inquired about how the loan was spent, its impact on their budget, and the children’s performance in school.

We also tackled some important factors that would directly or indirectly contribute to the success of the program. We interviewed teachers and school principals, local officials, and local cooperatives within selected municipalities in Oriental Mindoro. Our inquiries focused on the following:

► Existing and/or planned programs geared toward curbing school drop-out rates
► Existing and/or planned programs to reach and encourage more indigenous people to acquire education
► Main sources of income of residents
► Local officials’ livelihood programs and projects that will benefit residents
► Coordination and cooperation of the those sectors to improve children’s education and address impediments to its success

What were the general issues that needed to be addressed?

The unstable sources of income of families, distance of schools from indigenous communities, and the low teacher-pupil ratio are the main reasons why some of the children dropout from classes.

The lack of regular income is particularly true for indigenous people, many of whom regularly migrate to new places in search for work. This also forces the older child to remain at home to attend to younger siblings.

In some instances, children who live far from school stop attending classes and choose to help their parents with household chores instead. However, we appreciate the alternative learning system of the Department of Education wherein mobile teachers visit remote communities. We hope to see this program improve and increase in coverage while new schools have not been constructed.

Additionally, the low teacher-pupil ratio impairs the teachers’ responsibility to monitor and manage students. As we understand, teachers regularly visit the pupils and their families especially if the children miss classes for a couple of days. In addition, if the pupils’ performance declines, they invite the parents for a talk. With the low teacher-pupil ratio, the concerns and problems of some pupils may not be addressed promptly.

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

The Zero Dropout Program is a promising effort to help the parents finance their children’s elementary education. Based on our observation, CARD members appreciate the program as it augments their budget for expenses from the opening of classes and throughout the school year. However, the daily expenses of the family and the lack of attention from teachers may negatively affect the children’s attitude towards education. Hence, moving forward, the program may wish to consider partnering with the local government and businesses as well as the Department of Education to strengthen its objective.

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

This engagement not only improved our knowledge but also made us aware of the things that matter most. Poverty is just a consequence of issues that have to be addressed now. And we believe that the lack of education is one of these issues. Education gives children access to their dreams or aspirations. When they start to own their rights and hopes, they start to believe that they can. They establish goals and dreams in life, and they pursue it. As long as everyone is given the chance to receive education, everything is possible.

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

SGV is true to its goal of building a better working world. The Firm believes that better communities help build the foundation for a better working world. Helping businesses flourish is not enough. SGV believes in the importance of education and equality in honing a better world.

How can others contribute to the Zero Dropout Program?

To contribute to the program, people can make direct cash donations to CARD MRI. We also highly encourage others to promote awareness of the program.