A $1.5 million grant will see the construction of 60 preschools across the Philippines, giving hope to thousands of poor and malnourished children.

If a child misses their first steps towards education, they face a lifetime of struggling to learn, poor results and repeating grades. In a worst-case scenario, they drop out altogether.

Sadly, a high number of children leave school between grades one to three and this is largely attributed to the fact that many of them, particularly from poor families, never attended preschool. With no basic preparation for classroom activities and little parental support, poor children find it difficult to stay in school.

To help tackle this challenge, ADB - with support from the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction - is providing a $1.5 million grant to improve early childhood education services in poor communities in Luzon and the Visayas.

New preschools

An estimated 6,000 malnourished children living in regions with low school performance will benefit from this three-year project. Sixty new preschools featuring two classrooms and a library will be built and the program will also include school feeding, livelihood program, and teacher training.

Apart from building desperately needed classrooms, the project will be engaging parents and communities, says Emiko Masaki, a social sector economist with ADB.

"Children do not go to school or complete their studies partly because of a lack of interest from the parents, many of whom never went to school themselves. Yes we want to have textbooks and good teachers but this is not just a project supplying classrooms and text books- it is also about helping the parents and the broader community realize the value of early education."

Major reforms

The government of the Philippines has embarked on a major education reform of kindergarten to the 12th-grade (K to 12) education system, which includes universal kindergarten attendance as a key agenda. A bill was passed last month, institutionalizing kindergarten into the basic education system. To improve quality, the Department of Education also introduced a new preschool curriculum in 2010 and 2011, and has launched new programs to strengthen early literacy and numeracy.

The Early Childhood Education project will cost $3.54 million with $1.5 million coming from ADB's Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction, which was established by Japan in 2000. The rest of the project will be financed by the Philippine Government through the Department of Education, and private partners coordinated by Aklat, Gabay, Aruga Tungo sa Pag-angat at Pag-asa (AGAPP) Foundation, a non-profit organization.

"We really want to see an improved foundation for learning," says Masaki. "By improving preschools, we will see more children completing grade one and continuing on to higher levels. Better educated children are more likely to break the cycle of poverty and ultimately lead more fulfilling lives."