Improving functional literacy in the Philippines

Over the years, the Philippines has consistently made a significant stride in its functional literacy rate. Functional literacy, as defined by the National Statistics Authority is the level of literacy which includes not only reading and writing but also numeracy skills that would help people cope with the daily demands of life. Based on the 2013 Functional Literacy, Education and Mass Media Survey (FLEMMS), the country registered a 90.3% rate, which means that nine out of every 10 Filipinos aged 10-64 were functionally literate.

While the national rating showed an improvement from the 86.4% in 2008 and 84.1% in 2003, there still seemed to be gaps at the community level. World Vision conducted a baseline study in Siayan, Zamboanga del Norte in the same year the FLEMMS was published. Results showed that the proportion of girls and boys aged 11-13 that are functionally literate was at a critical rate of 44% which means that below 50% of the students were able to read with comprehension by the end of their basic education. The municipality of Siayan is part of the Zamboanga Peninsula which had a functional literacy rate of 87.5% in the FLEMMS result.

Contributory to low functional literacy is the high rate of school dropouts. The survey further revealed that one in every 10o or about 4 million Filipino children and youth was out-of-school in 2013. Of the total number, 22.9% got married, 19.2% lacked family income to be sent to school and 19.1% lacked interest in attending schools.

These figures, including a series of consultations with partners and stakeholders, allowed World Vision to revisit its education programs in the Philippines.  The organization, in the past years, has been investing more on hardware interventions such as provision of supplies and materials, construction and repairs of classrooms,” shares World Vision’s Education Manager Geomel Jetonzo.

While such intervention was helpful, the organization realized that there was not much soft interventions which could help directly translate to quality learning outcomes. Hence, issues on low functional literacy for school-aged children became a priority in WV’s new country strategy. This was also in alignment with the Philippine government’s plan of action.


Integrating hardware and software interventions

World Vision’s approach banks on the capacity of the community to address illiteracy issues among children, youth, parents and caregivers in both formal and non-formal learning environments. It focuses on the participation of local stakeholders, capacity building of teachers and volunteers, development of locally-relevant learning materials, and tracking of improvement of reading, basic math and essential life skills outcomes.

In Zamboanga del Norte, World Vision, with the help of generous donors and partners, has helped the local government in the repair of school classrooms and several reading facilities. This was complemented by a culture of reading program where parents were trained to better care for and support their children’s learning. Teachers, on the other hand, were further trained to incorporate skill-building into their regular curricula.

15-year old Lea tutors fellow children during weekends and summer vacations (Photo by Joy Maluyo/World Vision)

Children are also involved in helping boost the functional literacy of our fellow children,” shares 15-year old Lea, a World Vision sponsored child and an active member of the Barangay Children’s Association (BCA). Lea tutors younger children on Math, English and Science during weekends or during summer vacations. She, along with other trained BCA members started the tutorial after they were trained in 2015.

It feels good when parents approach us and say that their children got high grades,” she adds.

In another baseline study conducted by World Vision in 2016, the functional literacy rate across World Vision’s assisted areas was at 76.53%. In Siayan, Zamaboanga del Norte, the rate went up from 44% to 62.64% which amounts to 50%-70% of the students that were able to read with comprehension by the end of their basic education. The increase was significant within the 3-year interval but it also shows that there is more to be done as the rate is still 17.36% short of the 80% threshold.

To date, World Vision continues to work with the Department of Education, the local government and community volunteers across its 38 area programs in the Philippines. World Vision has catered to more than 85,000 children through its education interventions and has trained 2,571 teachers and 3,606 community educators in context-based teaching methodologies for reading and literacy building. And 15,231 Children are currently participating in after-school literacy activities.

In a separate root cause analysis by World Vision, results show that low functional literacy could mean low resilience to respond to abnormal conditions and could increase a child’s vulnerability to exploitation. This could also result in unpreparedness for gainful employment and eventually increased dependency on welfare programs.

One of the government initiatives to address this is the Education for All (EFA) Post-2015 Agenda.  EFA identifies nine strategic tasks to achieve its goals, including the provision of opportunity for out-of-school youth to learn through the Alternative Learning System (ALS). In 2016, World Vision complements with this agenda by monitoring almost 8,000 youth attending the program. It also explored opportunities to enable the youth to land in better jobs.

18-year old Jason graduates from a 2-year auto-mechanical training program (Photo by Mong Jimenez/World Vision)

In Macabug, Leyte, 18-year old Jason draws closer to his dreams after he graduated from a 2-year auto-mechanical training program in 2016. In partnership with Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and funding from Isuzu, Jason and a hundred other students became part of the education-to-employment scheme for deserving graduates.

Our works also extend to education in emergencies,” says Jetonzo. The Philippines is the third most disaster-prone country in the world. In 2011, more than 30,000 students were affected by several disasters. The exponential increase to 1.3 million school-aged children was seen in 2013 when typhoon Haiyan ravaged Central Visayas. More than the damaged classrooms and other school facilities, these occurrences contributed to the decline in number of students attending school.

During emergencies, World Vision works alongside partners and stakeholders to ensure that children and their families are protected and are provided with emergency essentials. In close coordination with the education department, World Vision also sees to it that children are not only provided with a safe venue to continue their learning process but are also given psychosocial interventions,” Jetonzo adds.

World Vision’s typhoon Haiyan response in the last three years has catered to 23,000 children through classroom repair and construction, provision of temporary learning spaces and distribution of learning kits. Recently, World Vision also responded to the needs of the displaced children and their families from Marawi City in Mindanao.

“While much is being done on the ground, numbers would tell us that the work is far from over. The 90.3% rate means that we still have 9.7% or almost seven million Filipino people to help. For World Vision, we continue to weave our programs in education, economic development, disaster risk reduction and management, health and nutrition and child protection to ensure that the results these interventions create are contributory to the improvement of the country’s functional literacy and most especially, to the well-being of children,” explains Jetonzo.

Written by Florence Joy Maluyo, World Vision/ First Published July 16, 2018/ Updated January 24, 2019

World Vision is a global Christian relief, development and advocacy organisation dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice. World Vision serves all people, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, or gender.

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