METRO MANILA, Philippines - It is 10 pm in Manila. There is a bright yellow moon glistening above the almost empty roads of the metropolis. It is Sunday, the only day in the week when there are no classes and no work.
Little boys and girls are usually sleeping soundly by this time, tucked under cottony sheets or simply in the arms of their mommies and daddies, preparing for another big day in school the next day.
But there is no reprieve for Christine and Ferlin, 11 and 13 years old, from sorting out trash outside restaurants, massage parlors and other establishments that are usually filled to the brim on Sundays.
In this late hour, the two girls are wading through heaps of trash to find whatever stuff they can recycle and sell to junk shops for up to $2 on good days. The meager amount, they would still have to divide between them.
On not-so-good days, they get only $1, which they would still need to half in two.
“We’re looking for anything we can sell – cardboard, cans, plastic containers or paper,” said Christine, her thin hands smudged with dirt and soot.
Like most children whose parents have no jobs, Christine and Ferlin both need to earn extra money so they can spend for the numerous miscellaneous fees that public schools in the Philippines charge their students.
In principle, students should be able to study for free in public schools in the Philippines, numbering to 37,607 elementary schools and 5,359 secondary schools as of end-2009.
However, parents of students who send their children to public schools usually end up deferring the enrollment because of the various miscellaneous fees slapped by the schools.
Christine and Ferlin are neighbors in Krus-na-Ligas, a small lower-to-middle income community in Quezon City.
On this particular night, I chanced upon them in a dark corner filled with trash, outside a commercial establishment, 30 minutes away from where they live.
They spend three to four nights a week scouting nearby streets and villages for recyclable crap they can sell to junk shops.
This is necessary, they said, because their parents have no incomes to fund the miscellaneous fees that their schools charge.
The miscellaneous fees usually collected by public schools consist of PTA (Parents-Teachers Association) fee, school paper contribution and student government fund. The fees can go as high as roughly $20 a year.
The fees can cost a little less than $3 per single requirement.
It is no wonder that some students are dropping out of school.
A recent study of the Department of Education shows that for every 100 students who enroll in the 1st grade, 33 drop out before reaching Grade 5 and 31 out of 100 high school freshmen drop out before reaching their senior year, according to Congressman Raymond Palatino of the Kabataan Party-list group, a sectoral group.
He said that the trend for the past ten years show that for every 10 pupils who enroll in grade school, only 7 graduate.
“Government statistics show that for the past years there was a steady increase in total school enrollment. True. But there were also an increasing proportion of elementary school-age children who remained out of school, based on the most recent Philippine assessment report on the Millennium Development Goals,” Palatino said in his first privileged speech in Congress in May 2009.
Furthermore, he said, in school year 2005-2006, almost 65 percent of six-year old children did not begin their primary education on time. The cohort survival rate was placed at 76 percent in 2001 but it went down to 70 percent in 2006. The completion rate was 75 percent in 2001 but it also went down to 68 percent in the same period. The drop-out rate and repetition rate also deteriorated in the same report.
With this stark reality, it is no wonder that the Philippines is likely to miss MDG 2 which is to achieve universal primary education.
As I noted in my previous post, the goal is to bring the net enrollment ratio in primary education to a full 100 percent by 2015 from 84.8 percent in 2007.
“Similarly, the proportion of pupils starting from grade 1 who reached grade 6 is still at 75.3 percent as of 2007 when the goal is to bring this to a full 100 percent of the population by 2015. Furthermore, the country's primary completion rate is still 73.1 percent as of 2007 when the goal is to bring this to 100 percent by 2015,” according to my previous post.
It is a quiet Sunday evening. Christine and Ferlin should both be in bed. But they can’t just yet. Instead, they will have to wait until their sacks are filled with recyclable trash which they will try to sell to junk shops the next day, just before they leave for school.
Somewhere, buried underneath these heaps of garbage are their dreams of a better future. Christine hopes to become a nurse someday. Ferlin wants to be a teacher.