Of children out of the school system

The notion is that it is financial poverty that keeps children out of school. An evaluation into the school assistance project my former employer funded gives a deeper understanding about children’s reasons. Five hundred or so children said, starting with the highest count: they have lost interest; they needed to baby sit their younger siblings; their parents couldn’t pay for their school fees and schooling materials; early marriage; they needed to help their parents with the farm/livelihood; they were scared to go to school; they needed to work. Contrary to popular belief, the inability of parents to pay children’s school fees and schooling materials came in third, not first.

What do the data tell us?

First, the school is a significant factor affecting children’s interest toward school and learning. The extent to which interest is sustained is proportionate to the quality of education in the schools. Many public school classrooms are in disrepair and lacking sanitary facilities (as basic as clean well lighted toilets). Many public school buildings are more than 50 years old thereby a danger to children using them. (During Typhoon Megi, in Isabela, the school buildings that went down under the typhoon winds were old and rotting inside the walls.) Many teachers are limited in knowledge of teaching approaches appropriate to children. The world, as can be glimpsed from the Internet and research products, is talking about a wide range and emerging approaches to teaching and learning and many teachers here have not heard of any of these. Many schools have been left behind.

Second, these children belong to large families and because parents cannot afford to pay for outside care (neither do the DSWD day care centers provide this type of care), older children are forced to leave school to baby sit (while their parents are at work, in the farm or elsewhere). I once asked a grade school-aged child why she wasn’t in school. She said she had to baby sit her sibling, a toddler. I didn’t push further because I saw tears at the edges of her eyes.

Third, marrying and leaving home young seems to children the better option over the daily grind of taking on the responsibilities and stresses at home. The promise of love and security (which these children don’t have at home with their parents) in marriage is a lifeline to them. But when children marry they produce families that are also poor. Rare are those who found their way out. I’ve met one but it came with a price.

Fourth, children are taken out of school by their parents into the farm, the sea (to fish), or other forms of labor because school doesn’t bring food to the family table anyway. I’ve seen teenager boys who’ve long ago dropped out to become fishers looking like adults, their skin leathery – they’ve been hardened by their work, the sea, the weather. I once witnessed a mother selling her young daughter to a foreigner. The transaction was most business like, as if the daughter was merely a kilo of fish or a cavan of rice. In this light, you understand why families make a bee line to Willing Willie, gyrate a bit or sing a bit (even if they’re out of tune), in return for some cash (much much more than their daily budget of PhP100). At least they don’t have to sell their bodies. These families are riding on the human’s instinct of survival.

Lumped with the “other reasons” are drug use. It follows. You understand why poor children experiment with it, to escape their shitty lives. Discovering that they’re able to experience “peace” and “heaven” in the midst of hell for a few hours they’d continue creating that experience.

In conclusion, we’re looking at parents who were ill prepared for the responsibilities that go with having children and a family. These families are not only poor but because of material deprivation have become dysfunctional. Adult responsibilities (perhaps to stave off stress-related breakdown or insanity) are heaped on children’s shoulders, stunting and destroying young lives in the process.

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