• Opinion
  • August 16, 2019
  • 10 minutes
  • 0

Can the Philippines end violence against all odds?

Opinion: Safe schools require money and manpower — both are sorely lacking in the Philippines

This opinion article was written by Alberto T. Muyot, CEO of Save the Children in the Philippines and former senior official in the Department of Education. For more like this, see our violence prevention newsfeed. 

In a rural elementary school in the Philippines, a teacher administered a penalty of one whip from a bamboo stick on the students’ buttocks for every incorrect answer in an arithmetic quiz.

In an urban high school, a male student was beaten up by his classmates as an initiation into their gang. His girlfriend, also a classmate, got it worse. She was raped by her male classmates for her initiation.

In an upscale private high school, a student with a learning disability was bullied by his classmate, and when he fought back, the father of the bully charged the school, carrying a gun and threatened to shoot the bullied student.

These were among the cases I encountered when I was a senior official in the Department of Education of the Philippines.

The reality is that violence pervades the school system, not only in the Philippines but also in other countries, and not enough is being done to address it.

Violence shouldn’t be shrugged off

Violence in school, such as physical or humiliating punishment inflicted by teachers on students and bullying by fellow students, is not being given enough attention in the Philippines.

Oftentimes, adults dismiss these as things that every child goes through in school, and the child is expected to be able to handle it on his or her own.

Thus, the child is told to just accept violence as part of normal school experience. But violence in school needs to be stopped. It is not part of a child’s education and neither does it contribute to the learning process.

The problem of violence in school in the Philippines is widespread. In the National Baseline Survey on Violence Against Children in the Philippines published by the Council for the Welfare of Children in 2016:

  • 14.3% of children experienced physical violence in school
  • 23% of children experienced psychological violence in school
  • 5.3% of children experienced sexual violence in school
  • 3 out of 5 children experienced bullying

While the data is recent, it reflects a trend that has been going on in schools in the Philippines for a long time.

Fighting back

In 2012, as a response to the prevalence of violence in schools, the Department of Education came out with its Child Protection Policy which declared a zero-tolerance policy against violence in all elementary and high schools, covering around 23 million children in public and private schools.

This was later complemented by the Anti-Bullying Policy which implements the Anti-Bullying Law.

Each school is required to have a local child protection policy, a functioning school-child protection committee, and programs to prevent violence against children in school. The six-person school-child protection committee is composed of the school principal, guidance counsellor, a teachers’ representative, a parents’ representative, a students’ representative and a village representative.

There are more than 45,000 schools in the Philippines, but only 390 guidance counsellors

At the same time, nationwide courses and education programmes of trainers on child protection were conducted over a period of two years. These newly educated trainers in turn conducted local training sessions for more than 45,000 schools.

In the course of the roll-out a major gap was identified and addressed. Realising that the school-child protection committees will not have the capacity to handle the referral of serious cases, such as sexual abuse cases, the Department of Education also established a corps of Child Protection Specialists who will support school heads in referring cases to medical professionals, social workers and law enforcement (see also this later memo from 2018). The structure for child protection in school was now formally in place in the Philippines.

Progress isn’t cheap

Four years after the introduction of the policy, an internal assessment was conducted in 2016-17.

In this assessment, it was revealed that, while the structure was in place, there were major issues that needed to be addressed in order to make the functioning school-based child protection system a reality. The first issue was the severely insufficient number of guidance counsellors in the country.

While there are more than 45,000 schools in the Philippines, there are only 390 guidance counsellors in the public schools, with most of them assigned only to the bigger high schools. There are very few of these counsellors in the Philippines because the law requires that they have a master’s degree in guidance and counselling before they can qualify to take the national licensure examination.

Secondly, there was no regular funding in the school budget for the child protection committees.

School officials have been advised to use the Gender and Development (GAD) Fund, on the principle that child protection issues are also gender issues, but even the GAD fund is insufficient.

Each child must be protected from violence in school, and there are no acceptable excuses not to do so

As a start, a minimum of $22,5 million per year will be needed. This is the equivalent of spending $500 in each of the 45,000 public schools or $1 on each of the 22,5 million students. This money should be used for conducting anti-abuse and anti-bullying prevention programs in schools and for referring cases to specialists.

Currently, there is less than $1 million in the annual budget of the Department of Education earmarked for child protection in schools, which is used primarily for training activities.

Thirdly, even if the schools are assisted to refer cases, the specialised services of medical professionals and social workers were often confined only to the large urban areas. While the Child Protection Network has more than 80 clinics in government hospitals, these are mostly in the cities and provincial capitals.

The bottom line

However, simple solutions can be found to address these issues.

Despite the opposition of the professional guidance counsellors, a corps of trained para-counsellors — non-professional councillors who step in when the workload is too big for the trained counsellors — has to be established in the school system. The current practice of designating teachers as “guidance teachers” is a start but without specialised training, they may end up causing more harm than good.

Officials from other countries in Southeast Asia have come to the Philippines to learn about child protection in schools, as abuse and corporal punishment in schools is a shared challenge throughout the region.

Establishing school child protection committees is a good start, but technical and financial support by education ministries and local school boards to the schools must not be neglected.

With regards to the budget for child protection programs, these will have to be made part of the annual School Improvement Plan and funded through the school’s annual operating budget.

To enable this, the expenditure must be included in the Department of Education’s budget in the annual General Appropriations Act. To address the last major issue, the budget must also include the funding for the expenses for bringing the child to the Child Protection Network clinics.

The bottom line is that each child must be protected from violence in school, and there are no acceptable excuses not to do so. Alberto T. Muyot

(Picture credit: Unsplash) 


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