From Fri Aug 11 15:45:06 2000
Date: Thu, 10 Aug 2000 21:40:34 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <>
Subject: DEVELOPMENT-PHILIPPINES: Poverty Kicks Children out of School
Article: 102283
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Poverty Kicks Children out of School

By Marites Sison, IPS, 9 August 2000

MANILA, Aug 8 (IPS)—On a searing Wednesday afternoon, Filipino vendor Ditas Bondoc is unmindful of the heat as she crouches in a corner by the entrance of the city hall building, making brisk sales of bottled water, menthol candies, biscuits and cigarettes.

Helping her mind the wares are her 13-year-old son Bryan and 12- year-old daughter Mely, who have come home from school to give Ditas a hand in selling.

Ditas has been manning her post at the city hall building of Quezon City, north of the Philippine capital, since 6 a.m. She does not expect to leave until 6:30 p.m., when the last civil servants shall have called it a day.

I have to work hard, she says of her routine that lasts five, sometimes six, days a week.

Ditas is struggling to support six children aged 12 to 24. Three, including Bryan and Mely, are enrolled in public school. Three are out of school.

On a good day, 46-year-old Ditas earns about 600 pesos (13.48 U.S. dollars). This, she says, is enough for food, the children's school allowance and jeepney fare, and other household expenses. Because they live in a shantytown, they do not worry about rent.

But she is trying to scrimp enough so that another daughter, 17- year-old Rowena, can enroll in a vocational course in October. She wants to go to school. I told her that if I'm able to save for her tuition maybe she can go next semester), she says.

It's a pity. My children are not slow learners. They're diligent students. But I really can't support their schooling), she muses.

Had it not been for the fact that her three younger children were adopted by foster parents from Germany and Switzerland through an NGO programme in her community, Ditas says they might have also quit school a long time ago.

Public elementary and high school education are free in the Philippines. But other expenses, such as allowances, entrance fees, uniforms, shoes and supplies, are borne by parents. Ditas' children receive care packages and gift cheques from their foster parents every schoolyear, but she says these are not enough.

Like other Filipino and Asian parents, Ditas values the education of her children but is torn by many concerns—most of them economic.

Government statistics in 1994 put the number of youth between 7 to 24 years old, who were out of school, at 3.8 million in this country of 75 million people. About half of that are between the ages 7-12. Most drop out in the first and second grades.

The current figure of dropouts is expected to be higher, experts say, if one considers specific factors like the economic effects and dislocation caused by the war between government troops and Muslim separatist rebels in Mindanao, southern Philippines.

A 1999 study by the U.N. Children's Fund cited poverty as the major reason that makes children unable to complete schooling. About half of the Filipino population fall below the poverty line and live on one U.S. dollar a day, say World Bank estimates.

The highest percentage of drop-out rates has been recorded in the country's poorest provinces, particularly in western Mindanao and the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the site of the raging conflict.

Labour induced by poverty is also a key factor in drop-out rates, according to professor Eric Torres, president of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers.

Many children, particularly in the rural areas, drop out of school during the harvest season when parents need extra hands to increase their meager income. Many eventually fall into the cracks, and never go back to school.

The 2000 Human Development Report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) bears this out. In its list of six countries (five in Asia) cited for their high numbers of child domestic workers, the Philippines was first with at least 766,000 child labourers.

When youngsters are not out in the fields or in the case of the urban poor, in the streets and factories, some have to take care of younger siblings, the UNICEF report said.

Social factors such as overseas employment, triggered mainly by poverty, has also had an adverse impact on families and on education.

Majority of the one million Filipinos who left the country in the late eighties women who worked as domestic workers in Hong Kong, Europe and the Middle East. Most left behind husbands and young children.

One of those children was Eric, 19, whose mother works as a domestic helper abroad. The eldest of three children, he was on his second year in university when he quit school.

The tuition is high, he replied when asked why he stopped school. He says his mother's monthly pay, about 6,000 pesos or 134.8 dollars a month, was not enough.

Eric says there are many out-of-school youth in his squatter community in Caloocan City, north of Manila. Because they are not preoccupied with anything, they form gangs. They engage in riots, he explains.

Others become addicted to drugs or alcohol, added 22-year- old Benny, a friend of Eric's who dropped out of school five years ago.

Eric adds that violence is also a fact of life in his community, where the youth are prone to experience police brutality especially when authorities come to demolish shanties.

Eric and Benny say they have managed to stay away from trouble by becoming community activists. They are members of Akbayan, a youth group with members from different backgrounds—peasants, urban workers, out-of-school ones, urban poor and professionals.

We're jealous, to be honest about it, says Eric when asked how he feels when he sees people his age going to school. Education is a right. We also have a right to study, but we can't do so because we have no money.

Student leader and Akbayan head Renato Reyes says the priority that the government puts on education is quite pathetic.

He says the government allotted 172 billion pesos (3.8 billion U.S. dollars) for debt service and only 95 billion pesos (2.13 billion dollars) for education in its 1999 budget. Torres adds that the education budget was cut by 2.9 billion pesos (65.16 million dollars) last year. What government is giving is not enough for the growing number of youth who want to study, Reyes says.

He adds that most schools increase their tuition fees, but do not plow back their earnings to improve facilities. The high cost of education and the lack of credit facilities for students make it hard for those who want to continue studying, he says.

Likewise, a report published by the Philippine Centre for Investigative Journalism in 1999 pointed to corruption as a factor in the non- delivery of educational services.

The government has been looking at the private sector and donor agencies for support in education. The Manila-based Asian Development Bank (AsDB) has been tapped to finance the initial stages of a new, non-formal accreditation and equivalency programme that taps out-of-school youth and adults aged 15 and above.

But social activists believe the main responsibility for education remains with the government, if the cycle of lack of access to education is to be broken.

What about the youth who is exposed to violence and criminality in the squatters' area, what will become of him, do you think? Chances are he will perpetuate the cycle of violence, poverty and criminality he has been exposed to, Reyes explains. We cannot really blame him but the system who bred him.