'Text-for-Change' bill to address health woes among pupils
The problem of undernourishment among 16% of pupils in public schools could be solved with the approval of a proposed "text-for-change" measure, Independent Senator Richard J. Gordon said today.
Gordon said that the Department of Education's (DepEd) current programs to address malnutrition in grade school pupils can be strengthened, lengthened and made available to more students if more funds are allocated for that purpose.
"Millions of school children are afflicted with preventable and treatable but potentially fatal diseases, making most of them miss out on school days. Worse is that many of them do not eat enough of the right food they need," he said.
"Our pupils need not only quality education but also health and nutrition programs to ensure that they will perform well in school because they are properly nourished and physically fit," he added.
DepEd Secretary Jesli Lapus said about 16% of students in public schools are undernourished. Such condition leads to absenteeism, which is a major deterrent to the consistent productivity of the pupils.
To address this problem, the DepEd launched supplementary feeding programs that aim to improve the nutritional status of the children and increase retention rate. The program has duration of six months for kindergarten, grades 1 and 2 students.
This problem of malnutrition among students, along with other pressing problems plaguing the country's educational and health care systems, has led Gordon to file Senate Bill 2402, the Health and Education Acceleration Program (HEAP) Corporation.
"The inadequate fund for feeding programs is just part of a bigger problem. We also have to address the lack of school clinics and clean comfort rooms and the shortage in health manpower," Gordon, chairman of the Senate committee on government corporations and public enterprise, said.
Under the HEAP bill, a corporation will be established to manage funds that would be remitted by giant telecommunications companies from a small portion of their net revenues from local text messages which reportedly reach two billion daily.
The funds would be used to fill the gap in the country's health care and educational requirements.
Government statistics show that the country's public school system is confronted with a shortage of at least 12,000 classrooms, four million seats, 63 million textbooks, 39,000 teachers and 8,000 principals.
Meanwhile, the country's school health profile shows that aside from malnourished pupils, school children aged 6-12 years old suffer from iodine deficiency (11.4%), iron deficiency anemia (37.4%), Vitamin A deficiency (36%), worm infestation (67%), and dental caries (97%).
A large gap in school health personnel is also evident with a ratio of one medical officer to 80,000 students; one school dentist to 20,000 pupils; and one school nurse to 5,000 students.
"With this HEAP measure, we can resolve all the problems in our educational and health care system. If we effectively implement this program, in five years' time there would be a big improvement in the quality of our country's education," Gordon said.