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Philippines: Girls are equal to boys in Philippine schools. Or are they?
“We girls stay because we have more dreams, and we are more ambitious, more patient,” she added.
Education experts in the Philippines echo Vernelou’s observation. They are alarmed by a decline in primary school enrolment rates and increasing dropout rates that seem to afflict boys in particular.
But do lower school dropout rates mean that girls are free to excel?
Not necessarily, says Emmeline Verzosa from the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women.
“Yes, girls are in school. But what are we teaching them?” she asks. “They may be able to recite their rights and responsibilities, but how are they practiced? Are they taught how to stand up for themselves?”
“Often, it’s the teachers that have to be sensitized first,” says Ms. Verzosa. “They play an important role. The government has started to train teachers in gender awareness, but it takes a long time to change [attitudes].”
In recent years, the school curriculum has been revised and now requires that all subjects be taught equally to boys and girls.
In Vernelou’s school that is the case. But in her friend Maria Concepcion Trinidad’s school, girls are trained in home economics and boys in electronics.
Education sector in crisis
Boys’ higher dropout rates could be linked to the expectation that they will add to family income. But, without doubt, the current crisis in the education sector plays a role.
Due to large and increasing costs for servicing the debt, government spending on social services has decreased. In 2004, only 12 per cent of the budget was allocated to education. Poorly trained teachers and a fast-growing population don’t help.
‘Child-friendly’ is the way forward
The President has declared education a top priority and promised a dramatic turnaround by 2010. The Department of Education recently launched a far-reaching reform agenda called ‘Schools First’.
The goal is to empower schools and communities to create better and friendlier learning environments for children.
The Child-Friendly School System, an initiative implemented by the Philippine government with UNICEF support, puts children at the centre and encourages strong community participation. Under the scheme, boys and girls are treated with equal respect and are allowed to flourish without stereotyping. Schools that have adopted the concept record lower dropout rates.