MANILA - The Philippines' education minister expressed fear Wednesday of a possible increase in the number of the country's out-of-school youth as a result of the devastation caused by super typhoon "Yolanda" (Haiyan) on Nov. 8 last year.
Armin Luistro said even as the government is working doubly hard with private donors for the rehabilitation of damaged schools in the central Philippines, there are also efforts to account for children who have failed to return to their schools.
"When I toured the affected places at a time that schools have already reopened, I saw some children walking around on a Thursday, which is supposed to be a school day. I was wondering why they were not in school, or do they really intend to go to school?" Luistro told reporters after receiving pledges and actual donations from several private organizations and companies for the reconstruction of wrecked school buildings.
According to the government, close to 2,800 classrooms in various elementary and high schools were totally destroyed while 13,021 others were partially damaged by what was described as the strongest typhoon to hit land ever.
Some 1.5 million elementary and high school students, representing around 7 percent of the country's total enrollment for the current school year, were affected, of which, 254,723 need to be covered by a month-long free food provision in school.
On Luistro's prodding to encourage the start of normalcy, almost all affected schools started operations on Dec. 2 last year to account for and debrief their students. Formal, partial classes resumed only on Jan. 6 this year.
"I'm looking at around 10 percent (of the total affected students) who may either be out of school and may not plan to return. But I will have to validate that number because we have yet to estimate those who might have migrated already elsewhere," Luistro said.
"In past disasters, we really monitored an upsurge in the number of street children, or out-of-school youth," he said, adding that it is important to locate them early on because if they have not been in school for three to six months, it will be more difficult to encourage them to return.
"While almost 100 percent of our schools are in operations now, albeit in very challenging conditions because some are only using tents and other temporary learning spaces, the department continues to be concerned about a significant number of street children and out-of-school youth. And so our mobile classroom program will try to address that," Luistro said.
A 2010 government survey found the Philippines had some 6.24 million out-of-school youth that year, mainly due to a lack of personal interest to go to school, followed by the high cost of education and the desire to work.
Meanwhile, with the donations from at least 22 organizations and companies and from another government agency, Luistro said the funds for the replacement of the nearly 2,800 totally destroyed classrooms have already been secured.
The funds for the repair of the 13,021 partially destroyed classrooms will also have to be sourced from both private donors and the agency's budget.
"Our target is that by May 31, all one-storey buildings must be finished already, so that these can be used during the opening of classes on the first Monday of June," Luistro said. The school year in the Philippines begins in June and ends in March.
"The dream of President Benigno Aquino is that our communities in Yolanda-affected areas will see infrastructures and school buildings being built better," he added, referring to the typhoon by its local name.
Haiyan killed more than 6,200 people, left 1,785 missing, and displaced 4 million others, of which, 101,527 are staying in 381 evacuation centers, including classrooms.