In the latest evaluation of National Achievement Test (NAT) scores, Sarangani students emerged on top of all other students in Region 12 and rated even higher than that of the National Capital Region. This is quite an achievement given that just five years ago, the students were performing quite poorly. Back then, the pupils were able to correctly answer only 4 out of 10 questions.
Sarangani is among the 20 poorest provinces in the Philippines. In the belief that a good education can be a key out of poverty, the provincial LGU launched the Quality Education for Sarangani Today (QUEST) program in 2007 to improve children’s access to basic elementary and secondary education. QUEST put in place mechanisms to elicit the active involvement of communities and the private sector in visioning, planning, implementing and evaluating education programs. This contrasted with the past practice where there was only marginal participation from the community in the activities of the Department of Education (DepEd).
The initial success gained in the municipality of Alabel, especially in generating community support and improving learning performance, encouraged the LGU to introduce the program to all the other municipalities in 2008 and 2009.
To ensure the sustainability of the education reforms, QUEST was institutionalized as a special unit of the Provincial LGU through Provincial Executive Order 2, Series of 2009. This EO also stipulates regular funding for the Program. Other ordinances were issued to adopt QUEST as a regular program and poverty alleviation tool.
Under QUEST, school officials, teachers and community leaders worked with and trained parents and youth volunteers to create a support system that could enhance study habits in school and at home. Moreover, the business sector was convinced to provide school materials annually and to even help construct learning facilities such as the school cum dormitories (School-Dorm) for the children of indigenous peoples (IPs).
The collaborative efforts were carried out through what they called a kape (coffee) and tinapay (bread) sharing system. The LGU and the business sector provide the teachers, school materials, and facilities, while the community provides parent mentors and volunteer workers as their counterpart.
QUEST enabled Sarangani to open 28 primary schools, transform 54 primary schools into complete elementary schools, convert 31 elementary schools into integrated schools and erect 10 Class-Dorms in remote IP communities. Moreover, the program succeeded in providing workbooks for all Grades I and II pupils and manuals for all their teachers.
Under the program, the Balik-Eskwela or Back-to-School campaign encouraged 11,458 out-of-school youth and children to re-enrol. Meanwhile the Sarangani Big Brother (SBB) campaign elicited the support of 1,263 teacher volunteers and 3,759 youth volunteers in helping 27,098 kids become better readers.
Today, Sarangani is recognized as a model in public-private partnership in education and for scaling up an education program. QUEST is now being replicated in the Municipality of Tampakan, Koronadal City, Cebu City, Compostela Valley, Palawan and Semirara.
Sarangani has vowed to continue pursuing its quest for quality education for as long as there is a single child who cannot enter school due to poverty.