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The best gift we can give this Christmas

/ 12:33 AM December 19, 2015

For Filipinos, few occasions are as magical as the Christmas season. With Christmas only a few days away, families are busy decorating their homes, buying gifts for their loved ones, and visiting their relatives. It is a time of kindness, generosity, optimism, and joy—a season that highlights the best in the Filipino.

We hope that this Christmas, Filipinos all over the country and the world would consider giving a gift that pays it forward: the gift of quality education.

Few know that for many Filipino schoolchildren, the pursuit of education is marked by various impediments. Some of these impediments are lack of transportation from home to school and back, lack of electricity and adequate lighting at home and in school, and lack of opportunity to go to school regularly, or to return to it and complete their education.

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Some students literally suffer in getting their education. A number of them cross rivers, walk long distances, or even climb mountains for hours just to get to school; others find it difficult to keep pace with the lessons in class or to do their homework after school.

Out-of-school youth encounter hardship in looking for gainful employment or for opportunities to start their own small business.

At the Department of Education, we have launched various programs with our partners to address the concerns of children and youth in hard-to-reach areas and in difficult circumstances.

These programs are: Pedals and Paddles Project, which provides boats and bikes to students to make their travel to school easier; Abot-Alam, which provides out-of-school youth with opportunities for education, employment and entrepreneurship; LightEd PH, where schools will be connected to the grid and those in far-flung areas lighted using renewable energy, and students will be provided with solar lamps and information technology packages; and Kariton Klasrum, where the DepEd works with children at risk on the streets to reintegrate them in the classroom.

The Kariton Klasrum has been rolled out in Metro Manila, Tacloban, Cebu, Bacolod, Cavite and Samar.

Over 1,600 children are enrolled in the program.

There are now over 2.6 million out-of-school youth mapped under Abot-Alam, with over 1.2 million looking to return to school to complete their education, over 670,000 expressing interest in pursuing entrepreneurship, and over 640,000 looking for employment opportunities. Among the OSY mapped under the program, over 600,000 have enrolled in various education, entrepreneurship, or employment programs.

For LightEd PH, The DepEd has energized a total of 107 schools with the help of its partners. It has also received donations and pledges for over 2,400 solar lamps from companies and individual donors.

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Lastly, for the Pedals and Paddles Project, the DepEd has received donations and pledges for over 500 boats and for over 1,100 bicycles. Since this program was launched, the DepEd and its partners have been able to distribute over 100 boats and over 1,300 bicycles.

What do all these mean? It means that schoolchildren can use their money to buy school supplies and meals, instead of paying for transportation. It means that out-of-school youth have access to opportunities that would lead to a better life. It means that schoolchildren will no longer have to deal with the health risks associated with kerosene lamps or endure long days in school without electricity. It means that children on the streets can catch up with their peers.

We have seen local government units, government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and corporations come together for these programs. However, we need the help of every Filipino in order to ensure that more schoolchildren and out-of-school youth can gain access to quality education and to other opportunities.

You can donate toys, books, medicine kits, and toiletries for the Kariton Klasrum or donate new or used bikes to the Pedals and Paddles Project. If you are a biker, you can teach kids how to ride their bikes. You can also donate for the procurement of new boats, bikes, and solar lamps for students in far-flung areas. If you are someone who enjoys hanging out with kids, you can volunteer to teach children through Kariton Klasrum.

You can encourage your human resources department to adopt these initiatives as part of your company’s corporate social responsibility program, and you can even offer extended internships or apprenticeships to give out-of-school youth an opportunity to learn the ropes. If your company specializes in certain skills, you can conduct basic seminars for out-of-school youth to provide them with the competencies that they need to become more competitive.

We hope that you would consider joining us in our journey to provide quality education to more Filipinos. Any contribution made toward educating our children and developing their talents would create better communities, better cities, and ultimately, a better country.

Mario A. Deriquito (mario.deriquito@deped.gov. ph) is the undersecretary for partnerships and external linkages of the Department of Education. For more information on the DepEd’s programs for hard to reach learners, contact the Office of the Undersecretary for Partnerships and External Linkages at (02) 633-7207, (02) 637-4211, or externalpartnerships@deped.gov.ph.

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