IN WHATEVER way it may be argued that the Constitution says education must be accessible to all, if the State itself is not in a condition to respond, then such right cannot be executed nor exercised to this purpose; especially those who cannot afford or are kept away from school because of various reasons.
Gangs, vices, and fitting in
Charlyn S. Nadong, 22, of Barangay Bucana, dropped out twice in high school. First, because of peer pressure and boredom, second because her family went to Bohol. She was just one of many schoolage girls then who found it difficult to stay in school because of the many reasons that is driving these same children out.
With help from the Tambayan Center for Children's Rights Inc. she returned to school, finished high school, and was all set to take up a course on nursing aide in San Pedro College.
"I went as far as enrolling," she said. She did have a look-see of the school when classes opened, and then she backed out.
"Students there looked classy, it was scary. I wasn't able to adjust," she told Sun.Star Davao. Nadong, who is boyish and lumbers more than sashays, said she did not mind wearing uniform skirts in high school. But the uniform they were to wear in college scared her as well.
"The students wear stockings and neckties!"
Now, she is enrolled at SMIT Computer School.
"Normal lang ang mga tao didto (At SMIT, the students look like we do)," she said with a smile.
Trivial, we might say. But how the not so ideal young ones fit into the school environment also plays a role in their desire to carry through with their education.
"Laay (Bored)," was a common reason given by Nadong, Jessiel A. Taladua, 15, of Quezon Boulevard, Rodessa S. Mora, 17, of Quezon Boulevard, Arsely Batula, 13, of SIR New Matina, and Abegail A. Lumingkit, 16, also of SIR, on why they first dropped out.
Their classrooms are cramped, their teachers do not interest them (sige'g text-text), their gangs are waiting outside, and vices abound.
"Gangs in high school are the fraternities in college," Batula said in the vernacular, and you can't stay away from them lest be left to the mercy of gang members who are out to prey on the unprotected.
"If you do not have a gang, there's a chance you'll be hurt by some gangs just for the heck of it," Nabong said.
Pushed on who are those who are able to resist being in gangs among the public high schools in urban poor communities, the girls were quick to say, "mao 'to silang mga tarong (they're the good children)."
The girls who went to one big high school downtown described an alley just outside their school where the likes of them hang out, smoking, puffing "botoy" (marijuana) supplied by fellow students and some adult pushers, and drinking liquor.
That place was closed by authorities, and then was opened, and now they are not sure if it was again closed.
Poor facilities, quality
Department of Education (DepEd) Regional Director Susana Teresa Estigoy never denied the region's public schools are short of principals, teachers, books, toilets, or that we have a high drop out rate and a low survival rate.
"In 2004, the Philippine government reinstituted a plan to extinguish illiteracy in the country which is through Education for All (EFA) Plan by 2015. This is in fulfilling the spirit of the ultimate vision of the Philippine Constitution in making education accessible to all.
"But so long as we the government cannot provide well and the children and youth cannot go to school, or learn to read and write, then we cannot reach that goal by that time as targeted. We need everyone's support to attain that to make everyone literate and educated," Estigoy said.
Socio-economic difficulties are the greatest obstacle to education, she said.
This, however, is like the chicken and egg question, DepEd-Davao Region Alternative Learning System (ALS) division chief Merly Jayagan.
"If a person is uneducated, it is because of poverty, but this person also becomes poor because he is without education. When you think of it, we are no longer at liberty to think which came first. What is important is we know this is a cycle and both sides have to be addressed at the same time," Jayagan said.
In school year (SY) 2010 to 2011, DepEd-Davao Region expects a target enrollment of 641,872 for elementary and 245,748 for secondary.
Under formal schooling, in SY 2009-10, the region showed a participation rate in primary elementary school of 72.86 percent, a completion rate of 58.02 percent, and a dropout rate of 0.48 percent.
For the secondary education, under the same SY, the region had a participation rate of 38.64 percent, a completion rate of 52.24 percent, and a dropout rate of 6.23 percent.
To keep them in school
"Our goal really, if we cannot have it that everyone goes to school, that at least those who are in school will really graduate and will not stop. What we want is to really have a zero percent dropout rate," Estigoy said.
In DepEd Davao Region's projection of shortages for SY 2010-11, the region has a lack of teachers, 2,787 for elementary and 2,649 for secondary. The region also needs 1,272 elementary classrooms and 1,267 for secondary. As to various classroom furniture needed, by 2011 there will be a shortage of 140,055 for elementary, and 53,115 for secondary.
In the city, DepEd school division superintendent Helen Paguican said on SY 2009-10, the survival and participation rate in elementary has continuously dropped since five years before.
"In the elementary, if there are 100 boys who enroll for Grade 1, only 64 will graduate Grade 6. For the girls, if 100 enroll for Grade 1, only 74 will graduate Grade 6. In the secondary, it's the same story. Only 63 boys out of 100 finish fourth year while only 77 out of 100 girls finish high school," Paguican said.
Asked what could keep them in school, the girls of Tambayan who have experienced dropping out several times and still need a lot of prodding to stay in school say, support must first come from the family and not just through financial means.
Their parents' absence during Parents Teachers Association (PTA) meetings was a shared source of disappointment. They feel as if their parents do not care about how they are doing in school.
"It is not the practice for teachers to directly tell the students where they are failing or are encountering problems in, rather, these are told to parents. But since our parents don't attend these meetings, we never know," Taladua said in Visayan.
Their "ates" in Tambayan, on the contrary, serve as their guardian of sorts who monitor their school attendance and grades, and thus somehow fill in the gap left by parents who are busy eking out a living. But that's only for them who are served by this center. There are thousands of others who just drop out, without getting any help.
Nadong, being the eldest among the five, had an even more insightful explanation.
"It all starts from the family, and then the community and then the school," she explained. "The family will provide the support for children to go to school."
"Kung tibay ka, makalusot ka sa barkada (Once honed well, then you can stand up against peer pressures)," she added. But then if the quality of education isn't there to provide the environment for learning, then the child will again find a reason to drop out.
In high school, the girls said, they have as many as 60 to a classroom designed for 40. By the end of the class, Taladua said, only around half are left.
"Gilaayan na, giinitan (Many leave out of boredom, others because it's so uncomfortable inside)," Nadong said.
Unimaginable as it may be, but many families in slum communities can barely scrape along. Taking out even a small amount as P20 from the day's food and necessities budget is already a big cut.
Thus, school expenses are something poor families can hardly afford.
The five girls enumerated their needs as school supplies, materials for projects the subject which require the most materials being MAPEH (music, arts, physical education, and health).
They have at least six subjects in all, each one requiring project materials every grading period -- meaning four times in one school year.
"If you don't have a project, then you fail," Nadong said.
One project can cost from P20-up. There is also the PTA fee, which is usually P700, and then what they call "homeroom", which is P50 per student.
Asked to explain homeroom, the girls said, this is supposed to pay for the fixtures and decorations of a classroom.
"Electric fan, kurtina, bisan unsa, unya kada tuig nagasingil na parehas ra man imong makita (electric fans, curtains, anything, and they charge every student for this every year even though you see the same fixtures and decorations)," Taladua said.
Some public high schools even require students to buy exam handbooks at P25 per handbook for every major subject every examination. Thus, one student will need around P125 per exam period.
All five girls said that the "no collection" policy of DepEd only means handing over a promissory note that the amount required to be paid during enrolment will be paid later. Nothing is really free, they said. Everyday, you will need some money -- for food, for school supplies, for projects, for fare.
The good ones find jobs to sustain their education, others just drop out to fend for themselves, while other drop out and get in trouble.
Estigoy described child labor as the "gravest" reason for children of school-age not to go to school. "Child labor is most persistent in Compostela Valley which is a mining area. This is also persistent in Davao del Sur, where many children work in sugar plantations.
In the city, child labor is prevalent in areas of Bunawan, where there are quarries, Bankerohan, Agdao, and Sta. Ana where there are markets vendors, Paguican said.
A high dropout rate and a low participation rate for secondary education can implicate many social effects, Paguican said, saying a low participation of males in school could "breed domestic violence, high crime rate, insurgence, and eventually poverty."
Thus, we see the vicious cycle.
"We need to reach all these dropouts and find ways to return them back to formal schooling. But to do that we also have to make sure their families can provide for them," Estigoy said.
"That's why Deped have evolved, that we cater not just to the children but also to the parents. We also provide them with livelihood skills. If we do not do that, we would just go on with this cycle of poverty and illiteracy," Estigoy said.
The vacuum of dropouts, including the illiterates, is what the Alternative Learning System wants to conquer.
"ALS is another kind of education that does not need to take place in school but is just as good as formal schooling. Under ALS we teach both non-formal and informal education, that is, learning outside the school system and attaining other skills which make a person ready for employment," Jayagan said.
ALS has two major programs: (1) the Basic Literacy Program, a community-based educational program for illiterate out-of-school children, youth, and adults; and (2) the Accreditation and Equivalency (A and E) Program, wherein a certification of learning is given to out-of-school youth and adults after undergoing a curriculum of vital learning areas of a person equivalent to elementary and secondary education.
"Despite this discouraging numbers of dropouts and illiterates, we have the ALS showing us that there is a way out, 'ika nga the 'One Way Out' of the lack of knowing; that there is a good chance for everyone to become productive citizens, have jobs, and fulfill self-appreciation or dignity," Jayagan said.
In the 2009 A and E Test, the region topped nationwide in terms of the number of test takers and test passers, with a passing rate of 28.12 percent. Region 3 (Central Luzon), NCR (National Capital Region), Region IV-A (Calabarzon), and CAR (Cordillera Administrative Region) follow the region.
In the region, the city was the top performer garnering 45 percent of accumulated passing rate from both elementary and secondary, said ALS supervisor for Davao City Leticia Telesforo.
The city is followed by Digos City with 35 percent, Panabo City with 33 percent, Samal City with 31 percent, Compostella Valley with 25 percent, Tagum City with 22 percent, Davao del Norte with 22 percent, Davao del Sur with 17 percent, and Davao Oriental with 15 percent.
The region as of 2009, has an estimated 155,344 unschooled waiting to be served.
"As of last year, the region is at 93.32 percent literacy rate, with a 6.80 percent illiteracy rate. The existing 155,344 illiterates in the region in 2009, is already an improvement to the 160,933 illiterates recorded in 2008," Jayagan said.
The city's ALS division on June 15 will have its last day of registration for the A and E Test set for August.
"These registrants for the test have undergone months of learning. They were recommended as qualified to take the test so they can advance to secondary education or college but if we do not see that are fit to take the exam then we recommend that they undergo more classes," said Alicia Dabalos, a mobile teacher, serving as registration head.
Dabalos was awarded three times for her dedicated service as a mobile teacher. She was awarded as the Top 2 performing mobile teacher nationwide in 2008, and twice in the ALS regional awards in 2008 and 2009.
Dabalos, who has served for seven years, said her inspiration has remained the joy brought by teaching the unschooled.
"Siguro tungod kay ni-agi pud ko ug sobrang kalisog gyud bago naka-graduate. Naa na koy anak katong nakagraduate ko. Karon akong anak pud mobile teacher napud.
Siguro nakita niya ang kagwapo sa pagtudlo ka katong mga wa gyuy nahibawan (Perhaps it is because I myself underwent extreme difficulties before I was able to graduate college. I already had a child then. Now my daughter is also a mobile teacher. Perhaps she saw the beauty in teaching the illiterate)," she said.
Dabalos in 2003 was assigned to Malabog District, teaching members of the Matigsalog tribe. From 2004 to 2008, she was assigned in Baguio District and taught Bagobos. From 2008 to present, she teaches in Matina District, to a Badjao tribe of a small community who chose to stay in the urban area to find a living.
As for ALS learners Roda Lomandong, a 33-year-old single mother, and Junvie Alindajao, 17, the chance to go back to formal schooling and eventually get jobs is their prized dream.
Lomandong said she had to stop schooling in her final year in high school as her mother got sick and after which she got pregnant. She now has three children, whom she raises on her own.
"I do not want that my children experience the discrimination I felt when I was not able to finish my schooling. Now that I can manage to provide for them I will have it that they stay in school," she said.
Lomandong took ALS classes starting January 2010 and can now take the A and E test for her to finish secondary education by August. She said she has made plans to take skill training on welding so she can find work abroad.
Alindajao stopped for five years in his first year in high school as his single mother cannot provide for them five children.
"On the first years after I quit school, I was a problem child. I always went out and would not listen to my mother. I am thankful that I was able to realize by myself that I would not reach far in my life if I cannot finish schooling," he said in the vernacular.
Alindajao plans to take a course on seamanship. Asked where he will spend his earnings, he said he plans to help his mother and siblings.
"I want to have a house for my family and help my siblings. That's really my dream," he said.