Social Climate

Learning to fish takes time

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Last week, the Department of Social Welfare and Development reported to the public that the conditional cash transfer program (Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, or 4Ps) is “on track to achieve its objectives of promoting investments in the health and education of children while providing immediate financial support to poor families.”

The assessment was based on an analysis of 1,419 poor households eligible for 4Ps, from a survey of 3,742 households in Lanao del Norte, Mountain Province, Negros Occidental, and Oriental Mindoro.  These were households included in the very first stage of 4Ps.  Field interviews of mothers and children, as well as of school principals, midwives, doctors, barangay captains, and mayors involved in 4Ps, were done in October-November 2011 by

Social Weather Stations.  SWS vouches that its field work and data encoding are of high quality and without bias, favorable or unfavorable, for 4Ps.

The DSWD media release cites the following impacts of 4Ps, by comparison with poor barangays also eligible for 4Ps but not yet included in the program at the time of the survey: (a) Enrollment of preschoolers in daycare: 76 percent in 4Ps barangays versus 65 percent in not-yet-4Ps barangays. (b) School enrollment of children 6-11 y.o. (years old): 98 percent versus 93 percent. (c) School attendance of children 6-14 y.o.: 95-96 percent versus 91 percent. (d) Availment of antenatal care by pregnant mothers: 64 percent versus 54 percent. (e) Availment of deworming pills by children 6-14 y.o.: 85 percent versus 80 percent. (f) Availment of Vitamin A supplements by children 0-5 y.o.: 81 percent versus 75 percent.

The 2011 impact-evaluation survey has so much data yet to be analyzed.  The DSWD has pledged to open the underlying raw data to researchers at large, for all to study; then SWS will do its own analysis, too, for public release.

The SWS interviewers found the areas assigned for the survey to be very remote, and the people there very poor, even pitiable.  The beneficiaries appreciate their inclusion in the program very much, and eagerly comply with the conditionalities; for example, children must not be merely enrolled, but must attend school for at least 85 percent of all class days.

However, it should be clear that the 4Ps cash transfers cannot instantly convert households from poor to nonpoor.  This is a program that essentially gives very modest scholarships to improve schooling and health.  Therefore its payoff is not immediate, but later, as the beneficiary-children become more employable and get higher-paying jobs when they become adults.

Yes, knowing how to fish is more lasting than being given fish. But it takes a certain amount of time to learn how to fish properly.

The 4Ps allows a child to stay in the program for only five years.  Personally, I think the government should find resources to allow 4Ps to support a child for 10 years, to be more consistent with its aim for K-to-12 years of schooling.

Bear in mind that the cost of schooling to the family includes the income sacrificed by the children with an opportunity to work for some money and thus contribute to family funds.  This opportunity grows as children get older; boys may have more opportunity than girls.

Suppose a 13-year-old boy can find work for a measly P75 to P100 per day. In 20 work days per month, he can add P1,500 to P2,000 per month to the family income; these are very significant amounts for the poor.  Compare that with the 4Ps allowance per child of P300 per month, or effectively only P15 per day, for 20 school days per month.  It would not be surprising if the boy, perhaps with parental consent, dropped out of school, or cut classes, at the risk of disqualification from 4Ps.

For beneficiary families with teenage children, the 4Ps allowance is a modest helping hand, to lessen what they sacrifice by letting the children try to finish high school.  More schooling for the poor is a great investment. It is not a dole.

The enormous schooling backlog. In the pool of four quarterly SWS surveys in 2012, the average proportion of Filipino adults who did not complete high school—i.e., had less than 10 years’ schooling, in most cases—was 45 percent. Those who had not finished elementary school were 14 percent (or nearly 8 million, given a population of 55.8 million adults), and those who had completed elementary but not high school were 31 percent (or over 17 million).  The 4Ps assists poor families in raising the schooling levels of their children.

Incidentally, the 24.6 percent national jobless rate among adults in the SWS survey of December 2012 (see my “Joblessness and underemployment,” Inquirer, 2/23/2013) consisted of joblessness of 17.6 percent among elementary school dropouts, 27.6 percent among high school dropouts, 27.5 percent among high school graduates who didn’t finish college, and 14.2 percent among college graduates.  Finishing college makes the biggest difference in the opportunity to have a job.

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The evaluation of the impact of the first wave of the 4Ps program was presented by the DSWD at a public forum at La Breza Hotel, Quezon City, on March 1.  See http://pantawid.dswd.gov.ph/index.php/news/325-promoting-inclusive-growth-in-the-philippines-assessing-the-impacts-of-the-conditional-cash-transfer-program, March 4, 2013.  It is based on World Bank Report Number 75533-PH, available at http://pantawid.dswd.gov.ph/images/philippines_conditional_cash_transfer_program_impact_evaluation_2012.pdf (Jan. 22, 2013).

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Contact SWS: or mahar.mangahas@sws.org.ph.

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