Update on Zero Dropout Program in Valencia, Bukidnon

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 Valencia in Bukidnon. We spoke with Michael Eijansantos and Vernie Chris Zabala from MG5 on their experiences with the program.

The engagement team’s role was to ensure that CARD’s implementation of the Zero Dropout Program was in accordance with the agreement between CARD and the program donors (i.e., CARD lends the fund to its members to help their children or close relatives eventually graduate at least from grade school.

We performed our field work in Valencia City, Bukidnon. Here we interviewed not only the CARD personnel and members who availed themselves of the loan but also elementary school personnel and local government unit officials. Our goal was to understand the educational and socioeconomic situation of the area, the relationship between the two and how the Zero Dropout Program fits into the picture.

With regard to the Zero Dropout Program, monitoring is important to ensure that the funds are properly used and the goals set for the program are met. This may require extensive observation of the beneficiaries, possibly until employment. The true test of whether the program was able to help alleviate poverty is whether the beneficiaries were able to find success in the form of decent employment after their education or schooling. This will take a long period of time and a lot of effort to implement properly.

The Zero Dropout Program aims to reduce poverty through the promotion of education. When borrowers seek to avail themselves of a loan, they are assessed on a scale known as the Progress out of Poverty Index (PPI) which helps determine whether they may be living under the poverty threshold. Unfortunately, they are assessed only at the start of the loan period and the understanding of the Index may not be emphasized enough. The program can improve on the periodic monitoring and the strengthening of the understanding of the Index in relation to the overall goal of reducing poverty through education.

We still applied the auditor’s mindset in assessing CARD’s implementation of the Zero Dropout Program. However, we were asking other questions on the factors that affect the incidence of student dropouts and what the government and schools have done to address this issue. Rather than assessing the financial condition of a business entity or advising a client on the status of a certain aspect of their risk management, this engagement required us to understand the status of education and socioeconomic conditions in different areas in our country, and ultimately to think of improvements that may be implemented to help our countrymen.

We account for the figures and information which may be significant in determining gaps and other problems that need to be addressed for the development of our country. While our role only entails collating and presenting the information, we can say that this information can be used to develop policies aimed towards solving the identified gaps.

On a personal note, our involvement showed us that we can help our country in whatever way we can and not necessarily in the form of money. We realized that as we went through the process of assessing the Zero Dropout Program and the related issues in the community, the skills we developed in our audit and advisory involvement may be channeled to other projects that can also lead to greater social awareness or social impact. Our work may not affect anything immediately but we are hopeful that improvements will be made in the near future.

Not everybody has the money and resources to put up a fund exclusively for educational loans to the less fortunate. Nevertheless, we are limited only by our imagination on the ways we can help. For most of us, our involvement may be as simple as raising awareness on the needs of our public schools or as complex as sponsoring feeding programs, school materials and school uniforms for public school students either as individuals or in groups.