MANILA, PHILIPPINES (28 February 2005) - ADB has approved a technical assistance (TA) grant of US$375,000 to help develop a comprehensive plan to improve access to and upgrade the quality of education in the poverty-stricken Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Philippines.

The grant, financed by the Government of Australia, will help draw up ARMM's 2005-2015 basic education development plan (BEDP), which will focus on strategies to narrow the education gap between students in ARMM and the rest of the country.

Education in the region is marked by a long history of deprivation and under-funding, resulting in levels of educational development far below the Millennium Development Goals, and well below national levels.

Poverty incidence in ARMM is among the highest in the Philippines, with 71% of the population living in poverty in 2000 as against the national incidence of 40%.

The elementary net enrollment rate in 2001 was 82% as compared with the national average of 96%, while the completion rate of only 40% is just above half that of the rest of the country. The secondary school enrollment rate was the lowest in the country at 39% as compared with the national average of 72%.

"The low level of education has led to joblessness, poverty and alienation from the mainstream Philippine society," says Wendy Duncan, an ADB Education Specialist.

"The challenge is to build an education system that is not only relevant to ARMM and sensitive to religious values and diversity, but also prepares students to take part in the life of the nation."

The BEDP will cover the needs of the entire basic education system, from preschool to elementary and secondary levels, and including nonformal education and madrasahs (privately-run Islamic schools). A central theme will be the integration of public schools and madrasahs into one cohesive, regional education system.

There are 440 madrasahs in the region, with a pupil population of almost 90,000. Most of the madrasahs concentrate on Islamic religious and cultural teachings, with Arabic as the medium of instruction. The graduates often have difficulty finding jobs because they are weak in Filipino, English and mathematics.

Special attention will be given to the needs of girls who are slightly outnumbered by boys in schools, unlike in the rest of the Philippines.

Strategies for upgrading teacher education and for raising education quality through the involvement of reputable regional universities will be identified. In order to ensure the relevance, credibility and acceptance of the BEDP, the formulation process will involve all stakeholders including regional and division education officials, principals and teachers, madrasah operators and teachers, local government, students, parents, and the community.

The Department of Education-ARMM is the implementing agency for the TA, which will take place over 12 months to about March 2006. The Government will provide the equivalent of $160,000 in support for the TA.

ADB has been supporting the improvement of basic education in Mindanao since the mid-1990s through the Secondary Education Development and Improvement Project.

Two other areas the ARMM government regards as critical - the development of a nationally accredited curriculum for madrasahs, and the establishment of a regional information management system - are being supported by the Basic Education Assistance in Mindanao Project funded by the Australian Agency for International Development.

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