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Social inclusion

Poverty continues to  be a social disease that has plagued our country through many generations and has yet to be resolved. Working pro bono for a non-governmental organization (NGO)  established to help disadvantaged children go through and finish college, I have seen how restrictive the conditions of poverty can be to the children and their familes. Unable to get a globally competitive college degree because of poverty, a child is relegated to a vicious cycle of poverty, growing up not economically and socially better than his parents. He is, therefore, socially excluded, together with the great majority of the population.

Social inclusion is defined by the World Bank as being included in “the process of improving the terms for individuals and groups to take part in society. Social inclusion aims to empower poor and marginalized people to take advantage of burgeoning global and local opportunities. It ensures that people have a voice in decisions which affect their lives and that they enjoy equal access to markets, services and political, social and physical spaces.” It is considered one of two goals to eliminate extreme poverty by 2030 and promoting shared prosperity.

Access to quality and globally competitive education is a fundamental right of every child and it is the duty of the state and its constituents to provide this to everyone irrespective of his economic and socail standing.  Unfortunatey, this is easier said than done. At the root of social exclusion and access to quality education is poverty, a complex problem requiring a complex solution.

On the one hand, the government cannot be accused of curtailing, if not eliminating, poverty.  Many programs have been studied and implemented by the government with the help of interational agencies and private sector. And yet, today, more than 25 percent of the population of more than 100 million people continue to suffer in abject poverty.  To complicate things, all these efforts are marred by a host of issues, like corruption. Statistics reveal that only 12 percent of those who enter elementary eventually finish college, most of them from lower quality institutions that cannot
compete globally.

As I engaged with the familes of the children the NGO helps, I listen and hear the hopeless feeling in their hearts of not being able to give their children the opportuntiy to finish college and extricate themselves from the poverty cycle. I grieve with them.

Their hopelessness stems from their inability to give their children quality college education. Hard as it is to say, not all colleges are created equal. You have to have affordable and quality education that the poor can access.

The private sector has also taken upon itself assitance in providing college scholarships to those in need. But this only impact a small segment of the the vast majority. These scholarships are so difficult and so competitve that only a few from the poor ever get one.  Unfortunately, even these effort to provide access might be a little too late.

To improve the chance of a disadvantaged child to enter a university, intervention has to start at the preschool level all the way to Grade 12 and beyond. Assessing the intervention efforts available today, there aren’t too many organizations that view these long term. And it gets worse in the rural areas.

Raising the ability of a disadvantaged child to compete with the more priviledged children is a complex problem. It encompasses a host of interrelated concerns covering: nutrition, economic and financial, education support at home, pyschosocial well-being and strong moral values. It, therefore, requires a complex solution, one that addresses each component singularly and from multiple angles. While it’s fine to provide scholarships and affordable college education, it cannot be inclusive if only a small segment of the millions of grades K to 12 students gain access and actually get a college degree and eventually acquire gainful employment, with incomes enough to get them out of the poverty rut. It has to start early.

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The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Finex. Finex Free Enterprise is a rotating column of members of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines appearing every Wednesday and Friday in  the BusinessMirror, Banking and Finance section.

 

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