Free pre-school for Philippine children

MANILA, April 29, 2011 (AFP) – Millions of Philippine children are being offered crash kindergarten lessons for free to help them prepare for school, the education ministry said Friday.

The government crafted the seven-week programme after observing that many students went through the first three years of primary grade school without learning to read, ministry spokesman Kenneth Tirado told AFP.

Another problem is high drop-out rates, with six percent of Filipino children failing to finish primary school, Tirado said.

He said there were more than two million children aged between five and six getting ready for the start of the school year in June, and all of them had been strongly encouraged to join the kindergarten program.

He said the classes, which began this month, were being held at all public schools for free.

While Tirado said he could not give figures on how many children had taken up the offer, he said about half a million took part in last year’s inaugural program.

Education Minister Armin Luistro said in a press release the kindergarten program was an important foundation for children’s school careers.

“When young children are better prepared on the ways of school life, they develop a positive attitude in schooling. Thus, they value learning more, strive to excel and are more likely to finish basic education,” Luistro said.

Longer-term, President Benigno Aquino’s government has also pledged to get parliament to pass a law that, by 2016, would extend the students’ stay in high school to six years from four years, according to Tirado.

Compulsory schooling, which begins at age six, is currently 10 years and the extension would take it to 12 years.

“We will add two years in high school to expand their learning time and stretch their skills development. As it stands, the curriculum is too congested and they lack ample preparation for college and for work,” he said.

“It would improve not only our global competitiveness but would also work for their personal benefit.”

Tirado acknowledged there was some opposition to lengthening high school, mainly because it would cost parents more.

One in four families in the Philippines live on a dollar a day or less, according to a 2009 government survey.

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