Investments in education pay off for Cagayan de Oro, Agusan
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY—As a fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, a 2022 assessment found that over 18,000 learners from Grade 1 to Grade 6 in 36 schools in this city, the regional center of Northern Mindanao, were struggling to read, impairing their academic performance and the prospects of moving up the educational ladder.
“It was a worrying situation,” Jordan Ian Apat of the City Mayor’s Office told the Inquirer.
Lucky for them, a corps of local government scholars has stepped forward to address the problem. They organized “Project Pagbasa” that runs reading tutorials in schools serving five villages.
“The effort helped improve the school performance of the learners that some even made it to the roll of honors by the end of the school term,” Apat recalled.
Because of its success, more schools in other villages have asked Mayor Rolando Uy to also include their students in the project.
Project Pagbasa is a by-product of the local government’s college scholarship program that began around 1989. From just several hundreds, the coverage expanded to at least 2,000 beneficiaries in 2013 when outgoing Misamis Oriental Gov. Oscar Moreno first took the reins of the city.
By 2016, the program was strengthened through an ordinance, ensuring regular funding, and creating an office under the city mayor dedicated to running it.
Generally, the scholarship grant is awarded to only one member of a family, with the beneficiary having to maintain a prescribed average grade for every term. Those unable to do so will be placed under probation to give them the opportunity to catch up on academic performance.
Although scholars receive tuition subsidies and monthly allowance, they are not prohibited from working during their extra time.
Devoid of politics
When the program became a regular feature of the local government’s social service delivery, measures were taken to “depoliticize” beneficiary selection sometime 2017 and 2018, recalled BenCyrus Ellorin, currently a consultant for Uy.
The services of a third party was employed to administer an aptitude test for would-be scholars among graduating senior high school students. Those who pass the test are subjected to further screening until the quota for the year is filled. Scholars are free to choose their college courses.
Beyond the provision of funding for their education, the local government put in place support measures to ensure that the scholars hurdle college life. Mainly, there is mentoring and peer coaching, especially by their “upperclass.”
After graduating, scholars are required to render return service to the local government for a year, which guarantees employment after earning their diplomas.
However, they can also do this while working on their degrees, through student community work, which is the popular option. Those who implemented Project Pagbasa were scholars who did community work.
To hone their capacity for community work, the local government set up some kind of leadership academy to train them on skills such as project management and community organizing. The local government also set up a funding facility that the scholars can use for their community initiatives that are chosen after a project pitching round.
Further, the scholars undergo training and seminars on active citizenship to deepen their commitment to the development of their community and society.
Given the formation they have undergone, many scholars have become active in community life such as filling seats in the Sangguniang Kabataan of their respective villages.
“So the program is not just helping to send them to college. It has evolved to include molding them into responsible citizens,” Apat pointed out.
With a funding of P240 million for this year, the local government opened 2,500 scholarship slots, and it will be the same quota for the succeeding ones as Uy had targeted to reach the program’s coverage to 10,000 scholars at a given school year, Apat said.
This means that in about three years, the program will be able to produce up to 2,500 new college graduates annually.
“This should help increase the competitive edge of the city and Misamis Oriental, in particular, and Northern Mindanao, in general, as an investment destination given the quality of its workforce,” Apat explained.
As of 2022, Ellorin estimated that since its inception, the program has produced around 10,000 professionals, mostly in the fields of education, business and criminology.
With the current inadequacy of nurses, Uy has ordered adjustments in the intake of scholars, allowing third year and fourth year nursing students to be taken in so that by the time some of them graduate next year, they can fill in vacant positions in the local government-run hospitals and other health facilities in the city.
“We hope that can make a difference in the local health system,” Uy said. “My aim of expanding the program is simply to give the youth hope for a better future.”
In Agusan del Sur, a scholarship program that originally aimed to produce new professionals among the youth from poor families had evolved into a potent strategy of addressing the lack of health service providers in the province.
In less than a decade, the medicine scholarship of the provincial government had produced 37 doctors, helping to ease the burden of taking care of the health and medical needs of over 700,000 people spread across 13 towns and a city.
After rendering their return service of eight years, as government employees, some of these physicians had gone on to become specialists in various medical fields and are now practitioners in top hospitals in the country. Others have chosen to stay and oversee the public health system, mainly through the DO Plaza Memorial Hospital, five district hospitals and a host of rural health centers.
For medicine students, scholarship grants include monthly stipends, uniform and book allowances, and support for board exam reviews.
Agusan del Sur Gov. Santiago Cane Jr. noted that the provincial government’s scholars had a 100-percent passing rate in the medical board exams.
Other fields are covered by the scholarship program although lately, the provincial government encouraged would-be beneficiaries to focus on agriculture, especially soil science, to support its drive to reinvigorate farming in the province.