Synergeia’s #MEKA Goes Viral

#MEKA is Synergeia Foundation’s ongoing campaign to transform local leaders, institutions, and communities into champions for education. With its launch on Facebook, it certainly has doubled Synergeia’s potential of spreading an epidemic of hope in the education sector.

The #MEKA campaign was launch during the 13th Washington SyCip National Education Summit in September 2019

In contemporary tech lingo, #MEKA defines Synergeia’s commitment to spark a movement for good education governance and articulates the distinct culture and value system that fuels it: Relevance- MEKAbuluhan; Knowledge- MEKAtalinuhan; Discovery- MEKAtanungan; and Brilliance- MEKAgalingan.

Proof to the positive impact of the Synergeia ideal is the awarding of the Seal of Good Governance to local government units (LGUs) that excel in spurring community collaboration to design and implement sustainable education programs that boost learning outcomes of children in their localities.

Since 2017, with staunch support from USAID and advocates from the private sector, Synergeia has been conferring the Seal, not only to crown achievements, but also to challenge the entire Synergeia community to aim higher at boosting enrollment rates, increasing the number of successful primary school graduates, reducing the number of non-readers and frustrated readers, and transforming local school boards and school governing councils into true education champions.

“We award the Seal of Good Governance as proof that their success is not just anecdotal but that their efforts have truly yielded fruit,” said Dr. Milwilda M Guevarra, Synergeia President and CEO

The granting of the Seal likewise serves as a barometer for readiness of Synergeia leaders to harness their resources to sustain and scale education governance reform from the “bottom-up.”

“All of us here are leaders of Synergeia,” affirmed Synergeia Chairman Fr. Jose Ramon Villarin, SJ, at the recently concluded 14th Washington SyCip National Education Summit.Our role as Synergeia leaders is to act as a catalyst. A catalyst stimulates action that pulls us together and pushes action from inside ourselves. It brings together our individual work and energy to come up with something bigger than our individual efforts combined.” Fr. Villarin added that, this time, “copying” each other’s best practices is not only allowed but even beneficial to the dissemination of the Synergeia vision and mission.

This year, 27 LGUs were honored with the Seal and received from the Summit’s major sponsors generous support to sustain their advocacy: P75,000 worth of gas cards from SEAOIL, P79,000 worth of phone cards from Smart Communications, and a package of children’s books from SGV Foundation worth P50,000.

Leaders of the three firms had nothing but heartening words for the Synergeia community.

Mr. Wilson Tan, Chairman and Managing Partner of SGV and Company, reiterated his company’s confidence in the Foundation’s bid to “improve basic education in the Philippines as a means of alleviating poverty” after the heart of Synergeia’s Chairman for Life and SGV Founder Washington SyCip.

For his part, Mr. Darwin Flores, Vice President for Community Partnerships of Smart Communications, a Synergeia supporter since 2017, emphasized the need for connectivity to support young learners in the New Normal, recognizing “the role of education and local governments in producing the leadership and capital for nation-building.”

Finally, Mr. Mark Yu, President for Retail and COO of SEAOIL underscored the need to cultivate a new breed of leaders in pandemic times: “…strong leaders who are grounded on the issues and focused on solutions… adaptive to the dynamic and uncertain environment, that can generate trust (and) move communities towards positive results.”

Speaking for this year’s Seal of Good Governance awardees, two-time Seal recipient, Vigan City Mayor Carlo Medina, went back to the basics, calling for unity and single-minded pursuit of the Synergeia vision and mission: “This is not an award for any one person, this is an award for the community. We can all persevere to defy gravity.”

About Synergeia

Synergeia, founded in 2002, is a non–profit organization of individuals, institutions, and organizations working to improve the quality of basic education in the country.

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Mission possible: Datu Paglas mayor reshapes learning model in pandemic era

A Sangguniang Kabataan assists a child at a learning session in Datu Paglas, Maguindanao

By Manolo Serapio Jr.

Datu Paglas was the first municipality in Maguindanao province to tap the Sangguniang Kabataan, or youth leaders, to mentor children who are struggling with remote learning. Six months into the program, the children have a clearer understanding of their learning modules, says Mayor Abubakar Paglas.

“It’s a big challenge to make children learn during a pandemic so we’re finding ways to continue teaching them,” he says.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, many local governments have taken steps to ensure that learning continues in their communities with schools across the country closed.

Datu Paglas, with a population of under 30,000, has not recorded a single case of COVID-19 transmission since the pandemic began. Amid weak Internet connectivity, the town implemented in-person tutorials, becoming the first municipality in Maguindanao to make use of the SK to tutor children whose parents cannot mentor them because they work or they’re unschooled.

These in-person tutorials are typically done in open areas with learners and volunteers adhering to safety protocols. It’s yet another innovation from the municipality which has won the Seal of Good Education Governance four times, in recognition of its efficiency in delivering basic education to its constituents and improving learning outcomes.

It was among nine local government units that received the Seal for a fourth time since Synergeia Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development began awarding it to cities and municipalities annually since 2017. A total of 27 local governments won the Seal during the 14th Washington SyCip National Education Summit held virtually last month.

Mayor Paglas says he is happy with the continued recognition of the municipality’s efforts towards education. But he says the real mission is to overcome illiteracy.

“What we want is for children to be able to read and for those who can read, that they’re able to understand what they’re reading,” he says.

‘No one should be left behind’

The town had been implementing a summer reading program before the pandemic hit. This was replaced in November by the SK mentoring project initiated by the mayor to help children cope with the learning modules.

All 230 leaders and members of the Sangguniang Kabataan are spread out as volunteer teachers in the 23 barangays of Datu Paglas during the week to mentor students from Grades 1 to 6.

Twenty-four-year old Ivan Kamamang focuses on slow learners in his barangay, making sure they are able to understand difficult subject areas like mathematics with examples that are easier to grasp.

With a degree in secondary education, Kamamang and his SK team spend three days a week tutoring children in all eight sitios in Barangay Bunawan. They travel by motorcycle to reach remote areas to make sure that all children who need help would be attended to.

“Our goal is that no one should be left behind when it comes to education in Datu Paglas,” he said.

Now, Mayor Paglas and the Local School Board are in discussions with teachers to produce modules that children can comprehend more easily. “To improve education in Datu Paglas, we need to focus more on comprehension. A lot of children can read but they don’t understand what they’re reading,” he admits.

‘Most powerful legacy’

Datu Paglas has been a local government partner of Synergeia since 2004. Before the pandemic, the Local School Board together with the different departments of the local government visit all the schools to conduct workshops with all stakeholders including the School Governing Council leaders and members.

In 2019, they conducted workshops – similar to those done by Synergeia – in all 27 public schools in Datu Paglas including three high schools.

At one of the parenting workshops in Tocao Madidis Central Elementary School, one of the issues raised was the increase in absenteeism among students during the month of October.

These students skipped classes because they worked in the banana plantations during the harvest season. The municipal government has since issued an ordinance to prevent child labor.

“We told the parents that they should not bring their children with them during harvest time because they should be studying, not working,” the local chief executive said.

Datu Paglas was also one of the municipalities that joined the virtual writeshop with Synergeia months before remote learning in public schools began in October. Nearly 300 teachers participated in the writeshop where they submitted lesson plans and received pointers and assistance from Synergeia in polishing them.

Synergeia works in partnership with USAID and the United Nations Children’s Fund, supported by the Government of Japan, in improving the quality of basic education in Datu Paglas and other municipalities in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

“Local governments should support the education of children even during the pandemic because it is the most powerful legacy we can leave them,” says Mayor Paglas.