6 million pupils go to school hungry


The Manila Times, Sunday, June 11, 2006


Nearly impossible to feed their brains with lessons because

6 million pupils go to school hungry

Basic education: The poverty and malnutrition factors

By Likha Cuevas

WHAT if the classroom shortage, the poor quality of textbooks and the lack of intellectually and pedagogically qualified teachers are solved?  How wonderful it would be if all Filipino children can be in education’s enchanted kingdom.

Do you think the problems of Philippine basic education would then disappear?

Read the rest of this entry »

6 million pupils go to school hungry


The Manila Times, Sunday, June 11, 2006


Nearly impossible to feed their brains with lessons because

6 million pupils go to school hungry

Basic education: The poverty and malnutrition factors

By Likha Cuevas

WHAT if the classroom shortage, the poor quality of textbooks and the lack of intellectually and pedagogically qualified teachers are solved?  How wonderful it would be if all Filipino children can be in education’s enchanted kingdom.

Do you think the problems of Philippine basic education would then disappear?

No! Not for almost one-third of all school-age Filipino children.  Of the 20 million schoolchildren who began the 2006-07 school year last week, almost 30 percent belong to families living below the poverty line.  The children of these poor families, about six million of them, go to school hungry or in a state of malnutrition every day.

Some actually go to school without having had any kind of breakfast, others after eating a handful of rice and a piece of tuyo (dried fish). Well-to-do pupils who are used to three square meals a day might faint with hunger by three o’ clock p.m. if subjected to this kind of deprivation.

These poor children don’t take packed lunch and snacks with them. More than a third of them are likely to be suffering from different ranges of malnutrition.

You cannot think straight—you cannot absorb what you are being taught—when you’re hungry. The body has to address its more basic need first before it can address the cognitive need of the mind.

Signs of malnutrition

Clinical research shows that being underheight and underweight are signs of malnutrition. Studies in 2001 show that 31.8 percent of Filipino school-age children are underweight, 32 percent are stunted and 6.6 percent suffer from wasting disorders.

The Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology said Filipino schoolchildren suffer from protein-energy malnutrition, iron-deficiency anemia and deficiencies in vitamin A and iodine. (See side bar: “What malnutrition does to Filipino school kids.”)

The institute’s researches also show that clinically severe malnutrition and moderate malnutrition exponentially increase mortality risk in young children and that moderate malnutrition may pose delayed cognitive and psychomotor development.

Scientists associate malnutrition with poverty incidence in the country. The National Statistical Coordination Board says that poor families—those with per-capita income below the poverty threshold—made up 33 percent of total families in 2000 and 30 percent in 2003. 

Because too many families could not afford to buy enough food, the government launched a number of feeding programs through the Department of Education as a stopgap measure to address the malnutrition incidence in schoolchildren. This shows the government’s awareness of the relevance of nutrition to education.

Feeding programs

According to the Department of Education, the supplementary feeding program provides additional food equivalent to about a quarter of an individual’s daily food requirement. “It is intended to fill the deficiency in the quality and quantity of one’s home diet,” the department said.

The department is implementing the Breakfast-Feeding Program, School Milk Project, and Applied Nutrition Program. In addition, the Office of the President launched the Food for School Program in 2004 to deal with both the health status and academic performance of elementary schoolchildren in selected schools nationwide.

Rogelio A. Limson, head of the department’s school-feeding program, said breakfast feeding assuages short-term hunger by giving first graders from fifth-class municipalities noodles and biscuits every morning for 120 school days.

Limson said 414 schools and 22,222 pupils benefited from this program last school year, when it operated on a budget of P4 million.

Breakfast feeding is accompanied by the Food-for-School Program under the office of President Arroyo in coordination with the Department of Education, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the National Nutrition Council, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the National Economic and Development Authority and the Department of Agriculture’s National Food Authority.

The Food-for-School Program is carried out in 55 provinces in Regions 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, Caraga and the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. Among the “very, very vulnerable” provinces that the National Nutrition Council has identified were Masbate, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, the priority areas of the program.

Limson said that the preschool (under the DSWD) and first graders from “families that had gone through hunger” are given rice for their school attendance to encourage them to stay in school and complete their primary education.

“Another aim of this program is to address hunger by making the families of these schoolchildren share the rice brought home by the kids,” Limson said. From November 2005 to March 2006 the department recorded a 2-percent increase in the weight of children beneficiaries.

The school milk project is carried out in 615 schools for 120 days and has benefited about 41,660 pupils. Having a budget of P26.4 million, the project aims to improve the nutritional status of children, encourage the habit of drinking milk and help local dairy farmers, who are tapped by the Department of Agriculture to provide milk.

However, since these programs involved doles to underprivileged families or children, the government realized that it might encourage mendicancy among the residents of the serviced provinces. Because of this, Limson said, the applied nutrition program was launched.

This program involves the community and local government units. School gardens are established for food production, and fish and poultry raising are encouraged. Canteen management is taught in schools and 35 percent of the proceeds go to feeding programs to be carried out only for 60 days or up to how long the community can support it.

Sen. Edgardo Angara has found what he calls a “grand scam” in one of the programs. Angara has expertise as an educator, having been president of the University of the Philippines, an agriculture secretary and having initiated the first “Rice-for-Schools” program during the Estrada presidency. He said he has received verified complaints from all over the islands that only 25 kilos of rice are given to qualified pupils from “hungry families” instead of 125 kilos throughout the school year.

Last July 18, President Arroyo announced the release of P500 million for the program. Angara says the budget for the program in 2005 was P1.6 billion for 125 kilos for each deserving “hungry” pupils.

Since only 25 kilos were given to each pupil instead of 125, only one-fifth of the budget was spent. Up to P1.28 billion (or four-fifths of the P1.6-billion budget) could have been scammed. Angara wants a full investigation.

Tackle other problems first before school feeding

However, some nongovernment organizations working with children say that school feeding may not be the best or only solution to health and nutrition problems.

According to Ms. Lulay de Vera-Mateo of Unicef Philippines, the government must deal with hygiene and sanitation problems first because many children in the country suffer from worm infestation. “The school feeding programs may just be feeding the worms infesting these children,” de Vera-Mateo said. The latest study conducted by Unicef, the Department of Health and the UPCollege of Public Health has disclosed that about 66 percent of 12- to 71-month-old (one-year-old to almost 6-year-old) children suffer from worm infestation. In 2003 a Department of Education survey found that 51.6 percent to 77.7 percent of schoolchildren suffer from worm infestation. (See sidebar)

Unicef found that most children with worms suffer from abdominal pains, lack of appetite, perianal (around the anus) itching, anemia and restlessness. Most of the children in the Unicef survey were pale, and those who had good appetite remained thin, lacked energy and could not sleep well.

De Vera-Mateo said that if the feeding programs do not deal with the hygiene and sanitation problems of the households in communities, the programs may not be able to solve the health issues these children face.

Teachers and school administrators must be provided with materials and training modules so that children can learn them and transmit knowledge in their own households and communities. The present educational system, however, is unholistically concentrated only on the cognitive development of children, de Vera-Mateo said.

Moreover, Sophia Garduce, executive director of the Association for the Rights of Children in Southeast Asia, says that school feeding is only a “palliative measure” and is not very helpful, because “these programs reach only a few children.”

“The problems of children cannot be separated from those of their parents,” Garduce said. The government should first do something concrete to solve poverty and unemployment. “If the parents can feed their children, then there is no need for these government feeding programs,” she said.

In the meantime, many children will go to school still hungry and unhealthy this year. Definitely, experts say, this negatively affects their scholastic performance and the quality of their lives.

Do not expect high-test scores this year.

One school uniform

19/09: One school uniform for a whole week

Category: General

Posted by: Raja Petra

Borneo Post

Penan student lives with bare necessities at boarding school; some stop studying due to ‘hurtful’ teasing

KUCHING: Every school day, 13-year-old Wendy Musa wears the same uniform which she washes once a week.

Even if it smells, she still has to wear it till Friday afternoon before she can do her laundry.

This is because she has no spare and her single mother cannot afford to buy her another.

This Penan girl from Ba’ Abang, Ulu Baram, Miri Division, aspires to be a teacher but is uncertain of her future because she doesn’t know how long her mother can continue supporting her in secondary school.

This teenager is the eldest in a family of six siblings and her mother has no other source of income to support the family except self-sufficient farming.

“My mum is jobless and had to ask my uncle for some money to meet my schooling needs early this year.

“My uncle is not working too, so I don’t know how he manages,” she told The Borneo Post recently near her school – SMK Temenggong Datuk Lawai Jau – in Long San, Ulu Baram.

Long San, a Kenyah village is about 240km from Miri and accessible through logging tracks by four-wheel drive vehicles over a six-hour journey.

Some 20 Kenyah, Kayan and Penan villages along the

River depend on Long San – which has a health clinic, primary and secondary schools, coffeeshops and grocery stores, public telephones and two churches – for their survival.

Wendy lost her father in an accident at a timber camp where he worked in 2005.

Her village Ba’ Abang is about six hours on foot – plus another four-wheel-drive through logging tracks – to Long San where her boarding school is located.

“I don’t have mattress to sleep on because I’m orphaned,” she said.

“My mum can’t afford to buy me one. I just sleep on the wooden bed,” she claimed.

According to Wendy, all boarding students have to bring their own mattresses, pillows and blankets and buy their own uniforms and shoes. Their hostel provides only double-decker beds.

“My mum can afford to buy me only one set of uniform, a pair of socks and shoes and a school bag. Only those who have money can sleep on mattresses and have pillows and extra things. Thank goodness, the hostel provides us with meals,” she added.

Wendy was embarrassed to admit she only washed her uniform once a week as she had no spare should she do her laundry everyday.

She also has only one school T-shirt, a pair of tracksuits for physical education which also serves as her after-school casual wear and pyjamas, and a pair of slippers.

“I have neither pencil nor pen. I lost them recently. So I have to borrow from my friend to do my schoolwork,” she said.

Wendy has to make do with whatever she has at the moment. Since she does have money to buy toothpaste, she just brushes her teeth without it.

On Sundays, she attends the church and wears her only white school uniform shirt, a pair of tracksuit and slippers.

Wendy is not alone. Her schoolmate Resening Son is also being raised by her single mother. Her parents divorced a few years ago.

This 15-year-old Penan girl is from Long Ajeng, three hours through logging tracks and another hour by longboat to Long San.

“On foot, it will take me weeks to go to Long San from my village,” she said.

Resening admitted she had been quite fortunate in that her mother bought her a mattress and a pillow as rewards for doing well in school last year.

“I don’t have a blanket yet. It can be quite cold some nights but I’m used to it, I guess. Our hostel has double decker beds.”

Her mother plants padi and gathers rattan to make handcrafts to be sold at Long San to support the family. Resening has two younger siblings.

“There is a fund of RM30 a year to help Penan students. But I don’t think it’s enough because our school T-shirt alone costs RM18,” she said.

Like Wendy, she too has one set of uniform, one school T-shirt, a pair of tracksuit, a pair of shoes, socks and slippers.

“Only the better off can afford two sets of uniform,” she said.

Resening added that the school provided free text books but students had to buy their own exercise books and stationery.

Besides their limited schooling essentials, Resening pointed out that Penan students were often teased or looked down by other students.

“Some tease us for being illiterate (tak kenal bahasa), not developed and all kinds of things. Sometimes, these cause some of us to fight back.

“But some of us are so used of these hurtful words that we just ignore them.”

She said some Penan students stopped going to school because they could not stand the teasing.

“I used to skip schools because of the teasing and sometimes I just missed my home. But I’ve not skipped school this year.

Resening will be sitting for her Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) soon and is determined to prove she is literate and can do better than those who tease her.

She hopes to score two As for her favourite subjects – Geography and History – and Bs for the rest of the subjects.

“I hope to be a teacher too – a geography teacher – because I like maps,” she said.


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