23 January 2007

Screwing the best laid plans

IT'S a cardinal rule in communication not to write anything while you are mad. I've always tried to religiously follow this rule, and it has served me well. But I will make an exception with this one.

In the Naga school board, we have more or less identified the problems facing public schools. A progress report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Bicol, which took much of my time last December, in fact highlighted one of the major problems: the weak holding power of our public schools.

We have no problem with school children entering Grade I. Our problem lies in ensuring they complete Grade VI. As of last year, only 77 out of every 100 reached Grade VI (cohort survival) and 66 eventually completed elementary (completion). And as a result, we are failing in Goal 2 of the MDGs -- which is to ensure universal access to primary education. Of the 30 or so indicators used to measure these MDGs, it is only in cohort survival and completion that Naga did not do well. (I'll blog about its highlights in a future entry.)

Now, we have come up with a program that precisely seeks to address this gap. Called the Quality Universal Elementary Education in Naga (the QUEEN initiative, for short), it has been adopted and allocated funding by the School Board. A multisectoral effort, the board's role here is to help cover the school and miscellaneous fees of financially distressed households.

And this where the problem starts. Invoking a stupid memo-circular that allegedly limits the activities can be funded out of the Special Education Fund (SEF), the city accountant would rather resort to some complicated sleight-of-hand accounting tricks rather than confront the problem head on.

So, the QUEEN project is hanging, the Board's first resolution of the year effectively waylaid, and 30% of our school children will continue to drop out of school on account of poverty -- simply because some short-sighted bureaucrats are choosing to strictly follow the letter of the law instead of letting its spirit guide government and make it more responsive.

Tonight, I'm writing the mayor a more diplomatic memo. But the long and short of it is: the ball is in his hands.


Dominique said...

Ha ha, so I guess the question now is: does the mayor read your blog?

Seriously, though: those are very high dropout rates. Are fees the primary reason why children drop out of school?

Good luck, Willy! That's a fight certainly worth fighting for!

Willy B. Prilles, Jr. said...

I think he does, Dom, and his wife too. Actually, after writing that post, I went up to him and discussed the situation. Suffice it to say that things are now moving forward.

You're correct on the dropout rates. Unfortunately, they mirror the situation in the entire country -- which is even a tad worse. They're simply not acceptable.

Of course, there are many reasons behind it, which is why a multisectoral effort is needed. The Board -- given its resources should address the issue on school fees which serve as barrier to continued access. But at the same time, parents need to commit to send their children to school everyday, and barangay officials and NGO volunteers should help school officials in talking to problematic parents.

Leni said...

We do read your blog, Will. It's one of the few in our favorites folder.

Dominique said...

Wow, with an affirmation like that, the only thing I can say is: w00t! (That's geekspeak for "cool!")