Update on Zero Dropout Program – Valencia, Negros Oriental

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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 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 FSRM, was engaged to perform audits of the ZeDrES program in various areas around the country. One of these areas was Valencia in Negros Oriental. We spoke with Belvin Armenion and Carlo Enrico Rivera from MG5 on their experiences with the program.

We were involved in the financial statement audit and program validation, with improvement identification in both cases.

Under program validation, we visited the homes of the clients (i.e., borrowers and their beneficiaries) of the Zero Dropout Program to have a firsthand view of their living conditions and learn how the program helped them gain access to primary education. We then visited the schools and talked with the teachers of the beneficiaries to learn about their school enrollment, class performance, and attendance. Finally, we met with local officials (municipal and provincial levels), school heads (school principals and district supervisors) and local business organizations (e.g., cooperatives) to understand how they interact with each other and gather insights on what still needs to be done to improve local conditions.

Our work cannot end here, however. Our field visit was but a small step in further understanding the context in which this program exists, and the effect it has had on people’s lives. As the fight against poverty through education continues, we must continue to assess this program’s efficacy and provide relevant insights, not just on the program itself, but also on the social reality that this program is trying to mitigate – poverty.

Dropout incidence in Negros Oriental is a bigger concern at the secondary level than at the elementary level. The past three school years in Negros Oriental show an average 0.92% dropout rate at the elementary level but 4.86% average at the secondary level. Usual reasons for dropout are the following (based on data from DepEd – Negros Oriental Division):

1. Family-related problems such as unsupportive parents, early pregnancy and additional family-related responsibilities
2. Individual-related problems such as poor academic performance and health issues
3. Community-related problems such as bad influence from peers and the community, natural calamities and armed conflicts
4. School-related problems pertaining to the inadequacy of the learning environment offered by the school
5. Financial problems

The program can look into the possibility of expanding its coverage to high school. As mentioned, in Negros Oriental, high school students are at greater risk of dropping out than grade school students because of various socio-economic factors.

In a regular financial statement audit, we often engage only those process owners involved in audit-significant processes (e.g., financial statement close process, revenue and collection) within the company. But here, we engaged all people actively involved in the whole program chain, both within and outside the client. It was literally end-to-end: from program founders and donors, to program implementers (CARD-MRI top executives to rank-and-file employees), and then to program clients (borrowers and beneficiaries). We extended further to include the educators (school teachers and principals, and DepEd district supervisors), the local government officials (municipal and provincial level, especially those involved in economic planning), and the local business organizations (e.g., cooperatives).

Furthermore, this engagement was unique and exciting because it touched on socially relevant issues such as education and poverty, and made us contributors (in our little and unique way) to the solution to these issues. The sad truth is that what should be “the great equalizer” – education – has in many senses become “the great divider.” The social sphere has become divided into the educated – those who can qualify for jobs and thus sustain themselves financially – and those who are unable to afford quality education or any form of education for that matter, and thus remain in poverty. It is fulfilling to somehow be involved in trying to alleviate this problem.

We encourage you to read our January 2014 issue of the “Operation Zero” news magazine which focuses on the socioeconomic dimension of the areas we have visited. It is our contribution to the national development agenda. We will email the link to you for your easy reference.

SGV is making a difference in the communities covered through its active role in helping ensure that the mandate of the Zero Dropout Program is met, by providing points for improvement in the program, and by sharing inputs to the national development agenda especially in the areas of poverty and education. As we share the same interest, this engagement also made a significant impact on us as individuals.

They can make a direct cash donation to CARD MRI to provide additional funding for the Zero Dropout Program. Or they can start a similar program aimed at directly helping the poorest of the poor obtain basic education through personally sponsored scholarships. As thought leaders, we can also help others by communicating and emphasizing that education is the key to a better future. Through personal example or dissemination of information on programs like ZeDrES, we may inspire and motivate others to also take action.