Defeating the Education Deficit

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By Patricia Vega

When classes opened last month, an estimated 23.4 million students from all grade levels trooped to school. For each student, the Philippine government has allocated nearly Php 8,000 for a year’s worth of instruction.* What sort of education does this amount buy? One burdened by a deficit of resources.

Although the 2010 education allocation is Php 20 billion more than last year’s, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers posits that the newly-sworn in Aquino administration has actually inherited a budget deficit of Php 91.4 billion to cover the existing shortage in school facilities, materials and teaching gaps. ACT national chair Antonio Tinio estimates the following shortfalls in our public school system: 61,343 classrooms, 816,291 seats, 113,051 water and sanitation facilities, 4,538 principals, 6,473 head teachers, and 54,060 teachers. Around Php 400 million is needed to purchase complete sets of textbooks for all students. What these numbers underscore is the inability of government resources to keep up with the surge in population.

Clearly, public education cannot be left in the hands of government. The private sector and non-profits have been particularly active in implementing programs that supplement the public school’s meager resources and less than par curriculum. The Brigada Eskwela campaign refurbishes existing classrooms and equipment. Concerned individuals and groups build library collections for provincial schools. A number of corporate foundations institute feeding programs and medical/dental missions, donate textbooks, or take a gifted few out of the public school system altogether by awarding scholarships. All these programs address the schools’ lack of resources, but don’t address the poor quality of instruction brought about by the high student teacher ratio.

Ideally, one teacher should handle about thirty students, but in our public schools, a ratio of 1:65 is the more likely scenario. Couple this with shortened teaching hours – classes are taken in two, sometime three shifts – and you have a teacher who is unable to fully devote equal attention and instruction to each student.

Volunteer organization Hands On Manila takes a different approach to the education deficit, with their flagship initiative, the Hands On Schools Galing Mo Kid (GMK) program established in 2006. While some mentoring programs focus on curriculum-specific tutorials, GMK provides high-achieving youngsters with volunteer mentors. The program runs on a three-year cycle: the selected students enter the program as 4th graders and “graduate” at the end of their 6th grade school year.

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But why target the smart ones? GMK believes that engaging the top students will help them become better members of the community. Mentoring gives them opportunities and resources beyond what the public school system can provide. They, in turn, can share what they have learned with their peers at school and in their neighborhood.

The mentoring group meets every Saturday morning and goes through modules that supplement classroom learning with life skills and values formation. The curriculum follows the “learning by design” framework, which encourages critical thinking by providing concrete situations to explain the lessons; this approach makes it easier for students to retain, understand and apply the information given to them. A module on the environment bridges science facts with social consciousness, while the creative writing sessions help them practice English.

But perhaps the most interesting sessions are the entrepreneurship classes for the fifth grade students. The year-long module teaches students basic business math, introduces them to the concept of marketing, guides them through the process of writing a business proposal, while developing the confidence, creativity and leadership skills to succeed as an entrepreneurs. This is supplemented by workshops with businessmen and field trips to successful enterprises. At the end of the year, the students–either individually or as a group–are expected to present and defend a proposal, which they should implement the following school year. Hands On Manila provides seed money, based on the strength of the proposal. Students are expected to recoup this investment and return the seed money at the end of the school year.

Eleven fledgling businesses have been created so far–-ranging from personalized ballpens to a superbly marketed banana-cue stall (it has its own jingle!)-–all of which have successfully returned their seed money to Hands On Manila, while earning a little profit for themselves. Program officer Miel David notes that the experience has helped the students understand the importance of sustainability–that an individual must first self-sustaining in order to help others on a larger scale.

David also notes that even the adults involved are encouraged to try their hand in entrepreneurship–a happy outcome that Hands On Manila did not expect. While helping their kids keep track of their earnings and expenses, parents also learn or improve business skills. Some mothers have taken over their children’s projects at the end of the GMK run, expanding the business to augment their household income. Even the mentors are getting in on the action. Not wanting to teach lessons they did not understand, one batch of volunteers developed and worked on their own business plan alongside the students!

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GMK graduated its first batch of students last March, and is currently selecting its 4th batch of incoming students. That’s 30 alumni, and 90 current students learning the importance of helping one’s self and country. If each of them do their own small part in improving the community – whether it’s tutoring their classmates, spearheading garbage segregation, running a local microenterprise, or writing all about these experiences – then slowly but surely, the negative impact of their teachers’ attention deficit will be overcome.

Hands On Schools Galing Mo Kid has mentoring programs in Pembo Elementary School in Makati City, and Plainview Elementary School and Nueve de Pebrero Elementary School in Mandaluyong City. For further information on the Hands On Schools Galling Mo Kid program, visit http://galingmokid.blogspot.com

Other references:
http://www.allheadlinenews.com/articles/7018925815?Report:%20Philippine%20Public%20Schools%20Average%2065%20Students%20Per%20Class
http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/breakingnews/nation/view/20100609-274722/GMA-leaves-with-classroom-teacher-shortages

*Figure derived by dividing the 2010 education budget (Php 185.5B) with expected number of students enrolled for SY 2010-11 (23.4M)

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