by Taila Mueller
3.8 million Filipino children drop out of school between grades 1-3 because they are not school ready and suffer from malnutrition. At our second Manila Roundtable this year in August on Early Childhood Development (ECD), APC members came together to continue discussions on how to collectively address this educational crisis, this time with the goal of walking away with concrete commitments. The Ayala Foundation and its co-chairman, Fernando Zobel de Ayala, hosted the meeting to better understand the context and contribute to an APC member lead initiative. Lead by the Zuellig Family Foundation’s chairman, Ernie Garilao, and the Knowledge Channel’s Rina Bautista, the ECD initiative aims to develop an integrated pilot that stitches together interventions to address the gaps in childhood development using a lifecycle approach.
Children from the ages of 0-5 require a multitude of interventions to ensure healthy growth and development, starting with the optimal nutrition of a pregnant mother, adequate breastfeeding, healthy meals, and stimulation-based activities for toddlers in the pre-kindergarten years, the latter which has a huge positive impact on their ability to learn in primary school. In the Philippines, where poverty is pervasive, and stunting rates have remained stagnant at 30% for the past few years, the government has given the overwhelming mandate to prevent stunting (the hindered growth and development of a child from poor food intake). This task is complicated by the plethora of government agencies that cover the necessary public services needed to address this problem. At the same time, political devolution has meant huge disparities at the local level in how programmes and policies are implemented and coordinated.
Guest speaker, Ms Teresita Inciong, of the national Early Childhood Care and Development Council, an agency that was created in 2013 to support the governments’ entire range of ECD programmes, was invited to provide an overview and advise the group on where gaps are. The Council has successfully supported the building and revitalisation of over 680 local daycare centres across the country which offer care for infants and toddlers. Ms. Inciong hopes that greater awareness amongst parents of the benefits of early learning will lead more to use local daycares and also to focus on home-based care. She noted that the capacity and training of local child development workers needs to be upgraded in these centers. ZFF’s experience with local governance and leadership programmes they have implemented has shown that for this to work, one has to go to the areas where political willingness is high and there is a progressive mayor ready to take this on. Mr. Garilao believes that having a local coordinating social worker at the community level can also support families, especially the most marginalised and impoverished, to access health and educational services. This also ensures a continuum of essential activities for healthy development.
Shocked by the statistics, Mr. Ayala expressed concern that the repercussions of this crisis will lead to a lost generation for the Philippines. He proposed a simple but effective media and advocacy campaign to address the crisis. The target audience would be local governments, parents, especially mothers, and teenagers, as there is also an alarming rise in teenage pregnancies which compounds the underlying problem of stunting. Ms. Bautista, who leads the Knowledge Channel, will spearhead the advocacy and awareness approach and campaign while ZFF will aim to continue to engage and integrate other agencies to champion a campaign and develop further measures to integrate services that impact children from the ages of 0-4 years old, where support and coordination are most needed. The Ayala Foundation also hopes to garner momentum around this campaign by mobilising the business and philanthropy sectors in the coming months.