Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

President of the Republic of the Philippines 2001 - 2010

Ways Forward: Effective Local School Boards and Community Involvement

Public Basic Education in the Philippines Today

The major challenge facing the Philippines today continues to be that of poverty and, a key factor is education. At present, public elementary and secondary education in the Philippines continues to be affected by many serious and complex problems. There is a high dropout rate in both elementary and high school and a great number do not finish elementary and high school. Academic performance as measured by the National Achievement Test in Grade 3, Grade 6 and 2nd year High School is very low. Moreover, the National Career Assessment Examination results show that 4th year high school students do poorly in the academic portions: the general scholastic aptitude and the non-verbal aptitude sections. It is also sad to note that many of those who finish college are unable to find jobs while at the same time, many jobs are in search of qualified applicants.

The tables below show relevant statistics supporting the statements made in the previous paragraph:

a. Participation Rates in Elementary and High School (The Dep Ed defines participation rate as the ratio between the enrolment in the school-age range (6-11 years old for elementary and 12-15 years old for high school) to the total population of the age range)

b. Student Achievement in the Elementary

c. Student Achievement in High School

d. National Career Assessment Examination Results

e. Recruitment Yield for the BPO Voice Sector

The problems are great and complex but recent experiences in the work with public schools show how improvement can be realized through community support and active and effective local school boards.

Patikul, Sulu: A Story of Community Support

Last November 2009, the nation was shocked to hear about the beheading of Principal Bong Canizares of Patikul, Sulu. Some months after the incident, Dr. Milwida Guevarra, President of Synergeia Foundation, Inc. wrote the following story showing what community support can achieve.


The schools in Patikul remained closed after the death of Principal Bong Canizares. It was as if the children and teachers were mourning his loss. But the teachers were also afraid to go to school. They were afraid for their safety.

Since there were no teachers in school, the children were forced to miss their classes. The children had no books and other reading materials at home which gave them no opportunity to learn their lessons. The children from Sulu are already the poorest performers in the country with a 37.0 percent average score in the National Achievement test. With almost all the children involuntarily dropping out of school, their situations was bound to worsen. The ultimate victims of atrocities are the children.

The parents asked the teachers to go back to school. In turn, their principals and supervisors sought the help of the Municipal Mayor to guarantee their safety. The Mayor asked the military to send soldiers to Patikul to look after the security of teachers. The military appreciated the problem but had other equally important priorities and was not able to provide the needed guarantee.

So it happened that the schools remained closed until the early part of January. No paper-stars were hung in classroom windows in memory of Christmas. It was an eerie feeling to see the schools like ghost towns.

And then the parents said "Enough!" They could not allow the situation to go on. One parent said, "Wala nang laman ang utak ng anak ko". (There is no learning happening in the head of my child.). The parents held a meeting with the barangay captains. They initially felt angry and then despondent. But eventually, they realized that they are the only ones who could help themselves. If no help was coming from outside their communities, they have to step up to the task.

But what could they do? They were also afraid. Each of them had work to do to earn a living. The farmers had no one to look after the carabaos, goats, plants, and chickens. But a decision had to be made. They listened to their hearts. Which is more important to them: the education of their children or earning their daily wage? The parents unanimously chose education of their children. They want their children to have a better life than they have. "Sana po hindi sila maging mahirap katulad ko." (I dream that they will not be poor like me.), a parent exclaimed.

The parents and barangay officials organized themselves into convoys to serve as security to teachers from the jeep terminal in Jolo, the capital of the province to their schools every morning. The parents converged again every afternoon at 3:00 P.M. to escort the teachers from their schools to Jolo. Bravely, the parents and barangay officials would ride several motorcycles, some ahead and some after the jeepneys ferrying the teachers. One parent fearlessly said that he is now offering his life to guarantee the safety of the teachers. They believe that parents banding together is a strong proof that that the community is committed to look after its own. Heroism is far from the thoughts of parents and barangay officials. It is the love for their children and their teachers that is the source of their strength. "They should harm us first, before they could harm our teachers!" one barangay official said.

Patikul will be remembered for the sad fate that befell Principal Canizares. But this remote town in Sulu should also be remembered for the heroism of its parents. If only for this, Principal Canizares did not die in vain. (Guevarra, 2010).

Ways Forward: Community Involvement and Local School Boards

This paper will describe improving education in the social context of Philippine schools through community involvement and effective local school boards. The first approach is based on the work of the Ateneo Center for Educational Development (ACED) while the second approach is based on the work of Synergeia Foundation, Inc.

Improving Schools through Community Involvement

The school improvement strategy employed by ACED is based on lessons learned from earlier experience in helping bring up student performance in very poor and very large elementary schools specifically in Payatas, Quezon City, the city's dumpsite. ACED began by working with four schools in the area in 2001:

  • Payatas B Annex Elementary School
  • Payatas C Elementary School
  • Lupang Pangako Elementary School
  • Bagong Silangan Elementray School

Payatas is one of the poorest and most densely populated areas of the country. Hence, the students in the schools in Payatas come from families who are mostly urban poor settlers, many of whom work as scavengers in the garbage dumpsites.

The work of ACED with the four schools began with data gathering. Much work was then done to bring the community together (principal, teachers, parents, barangay officials, students) and do strategic planning and prioritizing of goals. The partnership with the four schools, which ACED has carefully nurtured over the years has led to notable results. The need for buildings and classrooms came as a result of the shared and careful planning by the whole community and this impressed Quezon City Mayor Belmonte and influenced him to move forward to build the needed buildings, classrooms, comfort rooms and other basic school facilities. The private sector also came in with other needed inputs, like textbooks, workbooks, feeding programs and other helpful interventions.

The principals and teachers have become more confident and effective in their areas of responsibility as a result of empowerment programs and teacher-training programs. The barangay officials and the parents have become more involved in the development of the schools. The different sectors of the school community have learned to work together towards of improving the schools and raising student achievement. Student achievement in the four schools as measured by the National Achievement Test has improved in different degrees. The most dramatic improvement is in Lupang Pangako Elementary School where the ranking of the school in the division level has moved up from rank 94 in 2003 to rank 18 in 2004 to rank 16 in 2005 and to rank 9 for 2007.

In the work with public schools, ACED emphasizes the importance of the involvement of the entire school community as well as a total approach. It is crucial for the entire school community to come together and 'own' the goal of improving their school. Moreover, it is necessary to address all aspects of schooling e.g. leadership of the principal, teacher training, instructional materials, physical infrastructure, health condition of the students, etc. rather than focus on just one aspect. The overall approach which ACED employs consists of three main components: school profiling, strategic planning, targeted interventions.

The goal of school profiling is to generate baseline data on the school's actual versus perceived situation to help in the formulation of action plans and strategic interventions. The goal of the strategic planning exercise is to allow the entire school community to come together and make the decision to improve their school. The output from this exercise is a realistic and doable school development plan with clear goals and accountabilities.

Targeted interventions are purposeful activities and development programs directed at addressing the actual needs and concerns of a school. The ultimate goal is for these intervention programs to have a direct impact on student performance and achievement. In the effort to achieve scale in basic education reform, targeted interventions organized by ACED (teacher training programs and empowerment programs for school leaders) are being conducted in batches of 300 – 500 participants with explicit provisions that serve to preserve the quality of the various activities and programs.

The initial set of four schools has grown to 8. When the principals were transferred to other schools they asked that their new schools be included in the partnership with ACED. Results have been very encouraging - in the 2007 National Achievement Test, the scores of all the 8 schools increased and in fact, most of them ended up in the top 10 schools of the division. Note from the table below that there are fluctuations in the NAT results over the years but improvement is evident.


Today, ACED is engaged in large scale school improvement efforts such as the development of all schools in Quezon City, Paranaque, 4th District of Nueva Ecija, San Jose City, Nueva Ecija and Bacnotan La Union as well as some schools in Leyte and Negros Oriental. The following table summarizes the involvement of ACED in the development of over 400 schools today.

The improvement of schools in the municipalities and cities where ACED works with the public schools will be a very significant contribution to nation building. The strategies that will be developed and the lessons that will be learned from these district-wide and city-wide projects can serve as a model for developing schools in other cities or municipalities in the country.

From the work of ACED that began with schools in Payatas, we have seen the crucial role of the school principal and the community and the importance of both a holistic and collaborative approach in school development and improvement. We have also seen that local government, especially Mayors, are a major partner in improving the schools.

Lesson Learned. The lesson learned from the work with public schools through ACED is quite clear. The way forward on the mass is to invest in capacity building for all major players: the principal, teachers, parents and barangay officials. Community involvement in school reform can lead to great gains. When the principal and the community are organized and have good plans, there can be very good response from the local government and the private sector.

Improving Schools through Effective Local School Boards

Synergeia Foundation, Inc. is a coalition of individuals, institutions and organizations working together to improve the quality of basic education in collaboration with local governments, parents and the private sector. Synergeia and its partners implement systemic programs to improve learning outcomes, as well as processes on improving learning performance. These are participatory planning, training, financing, and evaluation.

Synergeia works with communities in defining dreams for their children in school and in translating them into targets. Then, targets are translated into a doable work program:

  • Training for teachers on content and creative pedagogy
  • Training principals to be effective managers
  • Provision of basic instructional materials (lesson plans for day to day use of teachers, workbooks for children)
  • Training of parents

In cases where there are needs such as hunger, Synergeia partners with other Foundations to implement a feeding program.

Synergeia benchmarks success through reduction in dropout rates, reduction in the number of non-readers, improvement in proficiency in reading and math. Synergeia uses the following metrics:

  • National Achievement Test (NAT) for Elementary administered by Deped
  • DOLCH Sight Words Test
  • English Comprehension Test and Math test developed by Synergeia

Synergeia tries to attain scale by working with all the elementary schools in a province or in a province.

To attain sustainability of programs, Synergeia partners with the local governments in "Reinventing Local School Boards":

  • Membership is broadened to include business sector, civil society, barangays, and other stakeholders
  • Budgeting the Special Education Fund is made participatory.
  • Meetings are conducted regularly to address problems of schools and evaluate their performance.
  • Resources for education, particularly the Special Education Fund are generated.
  • A performance incentive system for schools, students, and teachers is instituted.
  • Regular communications and feedback system between schools and the community are effected through school summits and a report card system.
  • Barangay School Boards are organized
  • LSBs lead the communities in school improvement programs.

The work of Synergeia illustrates how devolution of basic education to local governments can work. It has partnered with 250 local governments, their communities, and the DEPED in improving achievement of children in reading and mathematics. The students who are under Synergeia's education governance program number about 1.5 million. In Muslim Mindanao, Synergeia has successfully reduced the number of non-readers in Barira from 76% to 47.44 %. Children's average scores in reading have significantly increased in many towns in the country:

  • Negros Occidental  61.75% to 65.78%
  • Bulacan  71.0% to 79%
  • Naga City  35.2% to 51.2%
  • Nueva Vizcaya  62% to 78%
  • Ajuy, Iloilo  36% to 50%

The programs of Synergeia have already resulted in significant improvements in the reading and mathematics proficiency of elementary students, and more importantly, in local governance.

Synergeia in Bulacan. Synergeia began working in Bulacan in 2000 under the leadership of Governor Josie de la Cruz. Over 620,000 pupils from Grade 1 to Grade 6 in 496 elementary schools in Bulacan are participating in the Synergeia program. In the 2000 National Achievement Test (NAT), pupils had an average score of 39.40% in Mathematics and 40.23% in English. Six years later, after interventions of Project JOSIE, pupils achieved a NAT average score of 64.39% in Mathematics and 65.45% in English.

Synergeia in Lipa City, Batangas. Among the 17 communities that pioneered the reading proficiency program, the most dramatic gain was achieved by Project K in Lipa City, Batangas. At the start of the project, grade one pupils' proficiency was measured at 25 percent. This meant, children could read only 1 out of 4 words correctly. Mayor Vilma Santos-Recto was floored upon seeing the results. Fueled by the urgency of the education crisis, various stakeholders including De La Salle Lipa, the local DepEd, local school board and parents, worked together to improve the way children learn how to read in school. After one year, the Division Achievement test results showed that on the average, Grade 1 pupils could already read at 54.0 percent, doubling their score in the previous year's exam.

In 2002-2003, Lipa City's NAT average was 44.85 while in 2006-2007 it was 73.55. The English average in 2002-2003 was 40.15 while in 2006-07 it was 73.06

Lesson Learned. The lesson learned from the work of Synergeia Foundation, Inc. with public schools is also clear. The way forward on the mass is to invest in capacity building for the entire community specifically by reinventing the local school boards.


It is important to note that on the national level, the agencies are organized in a compartmentalized manner. Each agency has the mandate to deliver specific services to the community and the tendency is for the different agencies to deliver their respective services independently. However, the needs of the community present themselves in an integrated manner and this requires the local government unit to address the needs of the community holistically.

The work of the Ateneo Center for Educational Development and Synergeia Foundation, Inc. illustrates the pivotal role of the school community and local school board in school reform. Moreover, these initiatives also show how school reform is possible in scale which is quite important given that there are over 46,000 public elementary and high schools in the country.


Guevarra, M. (2010). Looking after their own. Personal email.

Nebres, B. (2009). Engaging the community, targeted interventions: achieving scale in basic education reform. Educational Research for Policy and Practice, 8 (3):231-245.

The Presidential Task Force for Education. (2010). The Philippine Main Education Highway. Unpublished report of the PTFE to the President and the Cabinet.

www., retrieved May 24, 2010.