The boys aren’t in school and they can’t find jobs either

Official statistics show that fewer boys are finishing secondary school, with the problem most acute in the country’s 5,000 public high schools. [Photo by Jose Enrique Soriano]

WHENEVER perennial job applicant Edwin de Asis hears the words, “We’ll call you,” he knows he has just been turned down. He also thinks he knows why: “They saw on my biodata that I didn’t graduate from high school.”

De Asis was just a sophomore when he dropped out of Kamuning High School in Quezon City in 1997, the year his father, a fishball vendor, died. “I made the decision to drop out on my own,” he says. “The projects and books were too expensive. Whenever you lost a book, you had to pay. Nanay couldn’t afford it anymore.”

That’s the reason he gives initially. But he later admits sheepishly that he would miss class at least two days a week. Whenever the barkada gave the signal, he and his friends skipped school. Some of their fellow truants would go to the mall or computer shops. But the lanky de Asis and his pals would head back to his neighborhood to play basketball. “I’m not into computer games,” he says. “Just basketball.”

Basketball remains a passion. Every afternoon, from 4:30 to 6:30, de Asis and a dozen other male neighbors, most of them school dropouts like him, gather at a dead-end street in Barangay Damayang Lagi in Quezon City to shoot hoops at a makeshift court. They meet again after supper outside a sari-sari store where they drink and swap tales till past midnight.

After all, there usually is no work waiting for them in the morning. Or in the next afternoon or night. Now 22, de Asis says he is lucky if he can chalk up two months’ work in a year as an extra hand at construction sites. “Buhay tambay, ang nanay ang bumubuhay (A bum’s life means dependence on mom),” he says.

De Asis is today’s typical unemployed. The January 2005 Labor Force Survey says the youth accounts for almost one-half of the country’s four million unemployed, most of whom reached only high school. About 60 percent of unemployed Filipinos are also male.

But educators expect joblessness among Filipino males to worsen as more and more boys drop out of high school. “We’ll have more boys joining the ranks of the unemployed. We should not only be worried, we should be alarmed,” says Quezon City values education supervisor Eusebio San Diego. “The boys are being left behind.”

Official statistics show that fewer boys are finishing secondary school, with the problem most acute in the country’s 5,000 public high schools. Rene Romero, presidential assistant on special concerns and projects at the Philippine Normal University (PNU), says the impact of boys not getting enough education is already being felt in the country’s literacy rates and more so in university enrolment. “We are losing quality manpower — men who would be our doctors, nurses and engineers,” says Romero. “We are already seeing that. Wasted ang human potential.”

But that’s not all. Education Undersecretary Juan Miguel Luz says, “Our society, which is family-oriented, is still a society with mostly male-headed households. Imagine when the men aren’t employed, or the sort of work or career they have. It could result in more marriages breaking up.”

Romero says more men are already being left behind by their wives in the workplace — and many are subsequently winding up tending to the home. In his subdivision in San Pedro, Laguna, most of those who stay at home these days are males. “Nagwawalis, namamalengke, nag-aalaga sa bata (They’re sweeping, going to market, taking care of the children),” he says. “The women are working here or abroad. It’s role reversal. It’ll deplete (the men’s) self-esteem, especially in a macho society like ours.”

San Diego says public-school teachers married to less educated men know only too well about the domestic tension Romero and Luz talk about. Some teachers are married to tricycle or jeepney drivers or tambays like de Asis. According to San Diego, these teachers’ marriages are often frayed by a lot of arguments just because they earn more.

In the mid-1990s, then Education Secretary Ricardo Gloria had come up with the slogan, “Be proud to be a teacher; your country depends on you.” To describe their domestic situation, teachers these days have reworked the slogan to “Be proud to be a teacher; your husband depends on you.”

Deployment of Newly Hired OFWs

Professional and Technical 17,974 25 54,256 75 14,968 15 85,617 85
Managerial 242 84 47 16 247 66 129 34
Clerical 3,932 72 1,510 28 1,508 37 2,531 63
Sales 1,662 62 1,039 38 1,605 52 1,464 48
Services 14,483 18 67,943 82 9,338 10 88,669 90
Agricultural 1,993 99 27 1 601 97 16 3
Production 90,379 95 5,036 5 49,476 71 20,407 29
For reclassification 60 85 11 15 10,989 95 590 5
Total 130,725 50 129,869 50 88,732 31 199,423 69

SOURCE: Philippine Overseas Employment Administration

Romero fears it would not only be the wives who would be looking down on their less-schooled husbands, but also their own children as well. Or worse, sons may emulate their fathers and not feel the urgency to go to school. That, in turn, could lead to deviancy and delinquency among the boys, says Romero. He stresses, “The (government) must have a conscious, deliberate plan to draw back the young boys to schools.”

Luz himself is hardly confident that the Millennium Development Goal of full gender equality in education could be attained by 2015, unless, he says, drastic changes are introduced to the school system. “Unless we do something, we are going to see the (male dropout) problem rapidly increasing,” he says. “It will worsen as frustration levels of the boys increase.”

As things stand, women are now posting slightly higher simple literacy rates than men. Males also account for 56 percent of illiterates in the 10-24 age group. University enrolment, meanwhile, has become female-dominated, a trend that began with a handful of courses like education in the 1970s and quickly gathered steam in the late 1980s.

Today data from the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) show females dominating all but five of 19 discipline groups. The exceptions are architectural and town planning, engineering and technology, law and jurisprudence, religion and theology, and maritime education.

CHED statistics reveal as well that there are 23 percent more women than men in the baccalaureate programs, 48 percent more in postgraduate courses, 91 percent more at the master’s level and 67 percent more in the doctoral programs.

Having a college diploma has given women an edge over men, says Romero. He thinks this is why there has been a feminization of overseas employment and, maybe soon, the feminization of even more sectors in local employment.

Plans of Graduating Senior Students

College 75,602 52.5 102,674 58.9
Work 28,733 20 30,330 17.4
Don’t Know 39,574 27.5 41,261 23.7
Total No. of Respondents 143,909 174,265

SOURCE: Department of Education, 2005

In 1992, half the 260,594 land-based Filipino workers deployed overseas were men, and the other half women. By 2003, women made up nearly 70 percent of the newly hired overseas workers, according to figures of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). When it came to professional and technical workers, women outnumbered men, six to one.

Labor force surveys from 2001 to 2003 do show men still outnumber women in local employment as farmers, forestry workers and fishermen; traders and related workers; plant machine operators and assemblers; and laborers and unskilled workers.

Yet Luz says that the undereducation of Filipino men has had a serious effect on the manufacturing industry. He notes, “When we speak of real manufacturing, we’re referring to heavy industries, and these are moving overseas because they can’t find enough skilled men. We don’t have the manpower to support the manufacturing base.”

At the same time, the 2001-2003 labor force surveys show more females than males landing better-paying posts, including as officials of government and special-interest organizations and corporate executives.

Beth Meneses, education supervisor at the Quezon City Schools Division, says the fast-rising female employment has already led to a rise in female-dominated households or those where a female adult member is the one responsible for the care and organization of the household or is regarded as head by the other family members.

The number of female-headed households increased from 1.6 million in 1988 to 2.2 million in 1997, according to a 2001 labor department study. Concentrated in urban areas, most of the female household heads have reached college and earn more than their male counterparts.

The good news is that the education department, schools and civil-society organizations are now doubling their efforts to entice more boys to keep attending class.

In some schools like the San Francisco High School and Ramon Magsaysay High School in Quezon City, for example, a number of teachers have “adopted” poor students, many of them boys. Besides paying the necessary school fees and buying supplies and uniforms, the teachers shell out money for daily allowances of about P20 and, more importantly, monitor the children’s attendance and school performance. Some schools also try to interest their alumni to help out.

They also make home visits to children who have tallied too many absences. In big schools, however, teachers acknowledge that they can’t pay everyone a visit because there are simply too many students.

“You have to spend at least half a day (at each home),” says Philip Austria, guidance counselor at the San Francisco High School. “You’re lucky if you can visit three homes a month. (And) addresses aren’t easy to find; some are nonexisting.”

Austria’s school has decided to give priority to truant students who are still likely to be convinced to return to school. Of the 100 second and third year students identified as such last schoolyear, the school managed to bring back 20. Austria says, “If you manage to bring back one, you should be happy.”

Some parents resent the visits, though, says Lui Libatique, a master teacher at a public high school in La Union. “Some think we’re a nuisance when we go to their houses because we interrupt their mahjongg or card game,” she says. “They don’t even appreciate your concern for their child.”

And some parents end up scolding the child, she says. “They tell the child, ‘You’re an embarrassment, you don’t deserve to go to school, wala kang silbi (you’re useless),'” Libatique says. “They have the wrong approach. We really need supportive parents when it comes to education.”

Determined school officials like Gertrudes Macusi, assistant to the principal at Ramon Magsaysay High School, are also vital. Macusi has taken extraordinary measures to wean male students from distractions that take them away from school. With the barangay captain in tow, she once led a raid on a computer gaming shop located less than 50 meters away Ramon Magsaysay and popular as a hangout among the schoolboys. The shop, which did not have the proper license and permit, was ordered closed.

Macusi couldn’t do the same for the computer shops located in the nearby Nepa Q Mart and beyond the 50-meter distance required by law between schools and such shops. But she got barangay officials to post big signs saying that children aren’t allowed inside the shops during school hours. She would also send the school’s security guard to the market to check if Ramon Magsaysay students were there instead of in their classes.

In addition, Macusi’s school holds night classes for out-of-school adults — these days mostly men in their 20s who want to get a high school diploma.

The Department of Education or DepEd itself has various programs for dropouts. Project EASE (Effective and Affordable Secondary Education) allows children to study their lessons at home or in their workplace if they cannot attend high school for reasons such as inaccessibility to public transportation, being overaged or being needed in the farm. There is also the Learning Support Delivery System, in which nongovernmental and church-based organizations are accredited for functional education and literacy, continuing education and lifelong learning programs.

Enrolment by Discipline Group, Schoolyear 2001-2002

Agricultural, Forestry, Fisheries, Vet Med 46,626 49 48,274 51
Architectural and Town Planning 17,541 70 7,664 30
Business Administration and Related 219,902 34 420,413 66
Education and Teacher Training 106,700 24 332,849 76
Engineering and Technology 284,019 75 93,390 25
Fine and Applied Arts 3,736 42 5,231 58
General 16,970 39 26,657 61
Home Economics 669 10 5,791 90
Humanities 12,304 41 17,361 59
Law and Jurisprudence 11,049 56 8,597 44
Mass Communication 7,627 25 23,011 75
Mathematics and Computer Science 119,191 45 142,943 55
Medical and Allied 41,869 26 122,131 74
Natural Science 9,900 33 20,551 67
Religion and Theology 6,397 82 1,431 18
Service Trades 2,853 19 12,568 81
Social and Behavioral Science 26,427 33 53,650 67
Trade, Craft and Industrial 945 20 3,706 80
Other Disciplines 160,489 87 24,624 13
Total 1,095,214 44 1,370,842 56

SOURCE: Commission on Higher Education

But Luz admits the nonformal learning system has limitations. “The number of dropouts is putting great pressure on the nonformal education system, and that’s underfunded.”

PNU’s Romero believes that school could be made interesting for boys through computer-aided instruction and an enhanced sports program. Luz agrees, but notes the current computer infrastructure in schools is poor: The ratio is one computer for every 100 kids. As for sports, the education undersecretary points out, “The reason the Palaro has not produced great athletes in recent years is you don’t have a pool of physically fit kids. We have no sports program to speak of.”

What Luz feels the government should consider is a “wholesale solution” to address the problem of schoolchildren, especially males, quitting high school.

“Boys want to work,” says Luz, and many of them want to do it as soon as they can, maybe even after high school. “But our curriculum is college preparatory. It does not prepare students for work, it prepares them for college. That means we have to redesign or reconstruct the curriculum to prepare the boys for work.”

What Luz envisions is a five-year high school program with the core subjects taught in the three-year junior high school and electives, including vocational-technical courses, taken in the two-year senior high school to prepare children either for college or work. “You can choose courses where you want to go,” he says.

Luz says high schools should offer the more ambitious industrial-type vocational-technical courses, instead of home- or cottage-style ones. “We should be aiming to prepare them for hotels and restaurants by setting up industrial kitchens in high school,” he argues. “For automotive, we should go beyond the talyer type. We should be talking to industry and ask them to help us set up factory-level automotive classes. For computer, we should be thinking about programming and computer-aided design, and for electronic, training for semiconductors. In the rural areas, we can have the agro-business nurseries.”

Backyard basketball player Edwin de Asis had been gung-ho that he could easily find a job shortly after he left school. True enough, an older brother immediately got him a job as tindero (salesman) at the Tutuban Mall where he was paid P100 a day. He lasted all of a month, the commute extricating a big chunk from his earnings.

The present curriculum, however, would have been ideal for him had he not dropped out of high school. Before barkada and basketball intervened, de Asis had dreamed of becoming a doctor.

De Asis’s mother, a laundrywoman, never knew about her youngest son’s truancy. The few times the teacher confronted the boy about his absences, he would write his own excuse slip. His mother found out he had quit school two months after he dropped out. “She learned about it,” de Asis recalls, “and then we never talked about it again.” — with additional reporting by Avigail Olarte