Update on the Zero Dropout Program in Talacogon, Agusan del Sur

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Believing that proper basic education can help us rise above poverty, hasten development and bring about positive change in our country, SGV Founder Mr. Washington SyCip conceptualized, initiated and funded the Zero Dropout Education Scheme (ZeDrES or Zero Dropout) program with Mr. Paul Kazarian through the WS Family Foundation and the Kazarian Foundation. The program is being implemented by the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development – Mutually Reinforcing Institutions (CARD MRI). The program aims to enable Filipino children, especially the poorest of the poor, to enroll and complete their elementary education.

The SGV ZeDrES team, headed by Market Group 5 and Financial Services Risk Management, was engaged to perform audits of the ZeDrES program in various areas around the country. One of these areas was Talacogon in Agusan del Sur. We spoke with Arjay Elnas and Eduardo Boyose from MG5 on their experiences with the program.

The SGV CARD MRI team performed a special audit for the Kazarian-SyCip Fund. We were sent to the province of Agusan del Sur to check the impact of the program on the lives of the beneficiaries. In addition, we visited the local government (provincial and municipal level), the Department of Education (DepEd) division office, and a local business association to better observe the local government involvement and socio-economic activities in the area.

On the micro level, we noted that classes were held irregularly during the rainy season (November to March) due to flooding and overflowing of the Agusan River. This phenomenon is normal to the town as it is located on the lowland just beside the river. To help students keep up with lessons, teachers often conduct make-up classes on weekends.

On the macro level, there’s still much work to be done as the program is still not widespread based on the 2011 DepEd Philippine dropout rate per region report. The program may consider adopting a more aggressive strategy in ARMM and Region IX, the two areas with the highest dropout rates in the report, to extend the program’s outreach coverage. According to the Philippine Poverty and Education profile published by the University of the Philippines – School of Economics last September 2013, for every 100 students that enter Grade 1 nationwide, 18 will drop out by Grade 2, 4 by Grade 4 and 10 by Grade 6. Of the 68 who will finish Grade 6, only 60 will enter high school and only 45 will graduate. Only 26 of the high school graduates will enter college and only 13 will graduate.

One key improvement from last year is the lowering of interest rates and the offering of the program as a stand-alone loan rather than as part of other loan products. After interviewing parents with more than one child in elementary sharing in the proceeds of one loan, we realized that offering such members multiple educational loans to cover more children at the lower interest rates would be of great help for the children, the ultimate beneficiaries. Because the loan is offered on a rolling basis and partner institutions (local and international) help fund the program, many families are still served.

Also, the program may be linked to other programs offered by CARD MRI, such as livelihood and business opportunities, to teach parents (borrowers) other ways to earn income. The goal is not just to ensure that the borrowers can pay the loan, but also to help them sustain the educational needs of their children in the future even without the ZeDrEs loan. With this, CARD MRI programs can complement each other.

We believe that there must be more programs aimed towards helping these children and their parents. Both the public and private sectors, including us individuals, must think of ways to help them. We just hope that the program continues to serve its purpose and would grow to help more people that are in need.

The engagement was not limited to the financial aspect of the project. In a sense, it became a kind of social responsibility assignment. Our procedures helped evaluate the program’s effectiveness and identify possible areas for improvement in helping to uplift the lives of less fortunate Filipinos by providing low-interest educational loans.

One of the teachers we interviewed said in the local dialect, “Maayo jud ni inyo gibuhat sir kay ma monitor jud kung nagamit ba sa sakto ang gipahulam nga kwarta.” [What you are doing (conducting a special audit and interviewing the teachers) is really good to check whether the funds lent to borrowers were used as intended].

SGV’s involvement through the special audit helped ensure that the fund was managed accordingly and that the money lent to borrowers was really used for the beneficiaries’ school needs. When the program meets its purpose, we can say that SGV helped make a difference in those communities.

Conducting the special audit showed us how difficult life is for those students. Some have to walk several miles just to attend classes. Others have no choice but to stop schooling because their parents can’t afford to pay what we consider petty expenses in school. Yet, we have seen in these children’s eyes their eagerness to learn. We felt really lucky that during our elementary and high school days, our parents were able to provide us with almost everything we needed in school.

Interested individuals may contact the Resource Management Unit Head of CARD MRI and overall in charge for the implementation of the program at 049-562-4309. Donations may also be deposited directly to CARD MRI’s bank account and they will be glad to give additional details upon inquiry.