US Govt. Pouring More Assistance to Mend Mindanao’s Rickety Education System

During a project site visit in this province, Thomas P. Crehan, U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) chief of education, said for this year alone his government is allocating $12-million or P500-million, the bulk of which will be spent in more than 700 public schools in Central Mindanao, Zamboanga Peninsula, and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

“Mindanao has the lowest economic indicators in the country, so with the education indicators. This is where the need is. The education level in Mindanao do lag behind the rest of the Philippines’,” he told PeaceWorks.

He said the money is part of the USAID’s $59-million five-year educational plan for Mindanao under the Education Quality and Access for Learning and Livelihood Skills (EQUALLS), which started in 2006.

Between 2006 and 2011, USAID will help the Philippine education sector by training more than 24,000 teachers in English, science and math and providing learning and livelihood training to 100,000 out of school youthS.

“We are concentrating on grades one, two, and three. For the most part, we are looking at the basic education and out-of-school youth,” he said.

Crehan said they have also partnered with different private agencies and several foundations to boost their educational program in Mindanao.

Last week, USAID together with Petron Foundation held a groundbreaking in Sarangani province for the construction of 120 classrooms and the rehabilitation of 480 classrooms in the next four years to help alleviate the classroom shortage and improve access to basic education in conflict-affected areas of Mindanao.

For this year, at least 20 new classrooms are scheduled to be built, and 54 classrooms will be repaired under the USAID-Petron program.

“The USAID-Petron partnership will equip new and refurbished classrooms with water and electricity, desks, teachers’ tables and chairs, blackboards, cabinets, fans, clocks, and toilets,” a press statement said.

U.S. ambassador Kristie A. Kenney and Petron chairman and chief executive officer Nicasio I. Alcantara have signed a Commitment to Partnership agreement, for which the USAID and Petron Foundation pledged $1.25 million each, for a total of $2.5 million, for the construction and repair program of 600 classrooms.

Crehan, along with local government and education officials here, led the Department of Education’s “Brigada Eskwela” program in cleaning up and repairing dilapidated school buildings in at least three remote schools in this province.

Yasmin M. Sabal, principal of Sanga-Sanga elementary school here, said they expected a surge of number of students to be enrolled this academic year.

“With at least 600 elementary school children expected to enroll this year, we are facing a problem where to put them since we have only six classrooms and these include from grade zero to grade six,” she told PeaceWorks.

Crehan said as part of the Brigada Eskwela, the USAID will provide P5,000 worth of construction supplies each to 729 public elementary schools in the three identified regions. The supplies were identified by the school heads and teachers who were consulted by EQuALLS2 through its three implementing partners: the Education and Livelihood Skills Alliance (ELSA), Save the Children, and Synergeia.

The Philippine Business for Social Progress, also a partner agency, also gave at least 7,000 textbooks and construction supplies worth of P3.5-million in this province and Basilan.

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