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May 25, 2012

Philippines Look to Bridge Education Gap

by Simone Orendain

MANILA - In the Philippines, the new school year begins in June and a few dropouts in the Manila area are hoping to be back in a regular classroom by then.  Right now, a pilot program of the national education system is helping them catch up at “pushcart classrooms.”  These mobile classrooms travel to street corners in six of the most impoverished neighborhoods of the metro area, complete with books, supplies, a meal and throngs of volunteers. 
On a street corner in the Novaliches neighborhood just north of Manila, dozens of children are busy with school work shaded by a tarp against a searing sun.  The kids, ages five to 18, read, write, draw and do arithmetic problems as they sit at plastic chairs and tables borrowed from the local town council.
A wooden cart painted in shades of green is near the entrance to the makeshift classroom.  The pushcart- or “kariton” in Filipino- is a cupboard on wheels that typically holds school supplies, books, personal hygiene items and meals.  
“All of them are street children, they are not studying,” said Yolanda Peñalosa, a public school teacher who volunteers at the pushcart. "Volunteers spend two hours each Saturday doing one-on-one lessons with the children who are first assessed to see what level they are in.  The goal is to get them back into a formal classroom. “… because of the reason the father has no work, the parents they are separated.  Problems have been encountered to make them stop.”
While  public education is free in the Philippines, school supplies, uniforms and meals are not.  The expenses can exceed some impoverished families’ budgets.
Seven-year old Marvin stopped school when a typhoon washed away his family’s house.  Marvin mostly spends his time playing outside and helping his mother with chores.  He says his father is unemployed.
Marvin says his father’s life is dominated by gambling and alcohol.  Because Marvin was recently in pre-school, his teacher says his chances of going back to regular school in June are strong.

Efren Peñaflorida created the pushcart classrooms to give any child the ability to go to school. His “Dynamic Teen Company” manages the pushcart program and links needy students with sponsors.
“Kariton classroom is like a sparkplug.  It’s an enticement to entice children to love learning, embrace learning," Peñaflorida stated. "Because we believe if these kids are able to love learning, it will love and embrace them back.”

By the end of next school year, Philippines Education Secretary Armin Luistro wants at least 10 pushcart classrooms in Manila and later, in other major cities. “It’s all about focusing on the needs of the child, where that child is," noted Luistro. "In this particular case, they have learned how to survive on the streets.  They have learned the liberality and freedom that the street offers and we don’t want to curtail that freedom right away.”
At the Novaliches pushcart classroom, 18-year old Marietoni Candelaria looks to the day that she can be reunited with her five siblings.  They were abandoned years ago and shuttled off to different relatives who could not afford their schooling.  

Candelaria says being in the pushcart classroom is a big deal.  She is focused on finishing high school, securing a college scholarship and getting a job so she can raise her siblings under one roof.