The Role of State and Non–Profit Organizations in the Education of Disadvantaged Students

by Dr. Aland Mizell

The future of any country depends on the quality of its education system. However, problems naturally occur within a system. No country has succeeded if it has not educated its people because an illiterate population leads to numerous social ills, including poverty, in addition to a lack of national development. Not only is education important to eradicating poverty, but it is also a way to create wealth.

Most often the responsibility to educate lies with individual schools or the government, with the former developing curricula and programs and the latter creating legislation and funding for the mandates, but with both entities working to improve conditions in schools. For example, in the United States the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 sought to aid the disadvantaged K-12 students by calling for reforms and accountability at local and state levels for programs that received federal funding. The programs developed under this legislation have had an impact on many schools.

Although improving all levels of education fosters social and economic growth, primary education is critical to breaking the cycle of poverty and boosting community development. In the Philippines, there are still many children with limited access to education due to economic circumstances, lack of role models, and minimal value placed on education. The Philippine government hopes to solve this education problem, especially among the disadvantaged communities, by offering the Alternative Learning System (ALS), which targets dropouts, whether out-of-school children, youth, or adults, to give them a chance to finish their basic education. Legislation tasks the Department of Education with the challenge of Education for All (EFA) to “encourage non-formal, informal, and indigenous learning system, as well as self-learning, independent, and out-of-school study programs.” For instance, students can go to school only once or twice a day and complete modules to move toward the next level of their education.

The Education for All 2015 Review Report advocates revitalizing the role of the ALS to become more of an alternative to basic education and to assess the students in the programs in a more flexible way, so they can progress. The same report concludes that the program for the Alternative Delivery Mode (ADM) should be evaluated, so that the most efficient and effective ADMs could become integral to the school system. As a complementary program, the Education for All mandate strengthened the ADM effectiveness. Aimed at the high dropout and low literacy rates in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the ADM is a component of Australian government-funded Basic Education Assistance in Muslim Mindanao (BEAM) program. The ADM addresses learning needs of marginalized students and helps prevent students from dropping out. Although they follow the mandated curriculum of the Philippine government, they contextualize the material to better suit the learning needs of this special group of students. According to UNICEF’s assessment of ADMs, they have the goal of making education more accessible and flexible, because they are designed “especially for children who are at risk of dropping out, hard to reach, living in highly congested learning environments, or having difficulty coping with regular school calendar.” The problem with the ADMs, however, is that the targeted kids often have discipline problems or lack role models to encourage them to persevere and to finish; thus, it is not enough just to offer a program. To its credit, the ADM program often partners with NGOs to compensate for this deficit.

Since the government cannot provide models or mentors, it is better for governmental leadership to let NGOs become involved in the ALS and ADM programs to help nurture the talents of children who represent the future of the nation. The state should partner with NGOS and social entrepreneurial companies to help meet the community educational needs.  In some countries, NGOs play a key role in the development process, while in other nations NGOs are weak or perform more of an oppositional rather than operational role because the government is very suspicious of them and often thwarts their service.

Therefore, the impact of NGOs is often determined by the relationship between the NGOs and the state. The Philippines has one of the most vibrant NGOs communities in the world. According to the World Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (WANGO), there are 60,000 registered aid groups, 10, 000 listed civil society groups and around 5000 development programs. However, the government and some members of the community are under scrutiny because of public funds scams in which swindlers set up fake NGOs and embezzled millions of dollars. As a result, NGOs have an even more difficult garnering donations and finding funding sources because of a few dishonest, counterfeit organizations.

Nevertheless, with a history of major contributions to local, national, and global communities, NGOs should have a more central role in sustainable community development. Actually, the local government and NGO partnerships with local governance, designated for the Philippines in the 1987 Constitution and in the local government code of 1991, have achieved significant success. But the problem NGOs are not including in the planning process. NGOs are best associated with small projects and micro level interventions, so that if the government would hand off the ADM program to the trusted and proven NGOs, they would handle them well particularly since they are community-based.

Each sector has weaknesses and strengthens in providing for citizen needs, but when each sector accomplishes what it is designated and designed to do, it can achieve formidable outcomes. The government should draft and enforce laws, and NGOs should provide services that the government is unwilling or unable to offer. For example, some of the students may have a weak educational background and not understand a particular subject very well, but NGOs can offer tutorials to ensure that students learn. Research shows that financial disadvantage and low social economic status, often reflected by the level of parental education, can block a student’s academic success, but programs such as the ALS and ADM in partnership with educational NGOs can significantly advance the level of education in a community and over time in a nation. Nelson Mandela, the renowned anti-apartheid advocate, argued, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The Philippine government working through NGOs has this powerful weapon within its reach.