by LUIS CARLO S. LIBERATO
MANILA–DISTANCE not only makes the heart grow fonder; it has also kept most children of women overseas Filipino workers from dropping out of school.
Thus cites economist Alvin Ang of the University of Santo Tomas in his recently released study titled “Determining the Social Costs of Overseas Filipino Workers’ Remittances: A Check through Education Indicators”.
Amid the tide of a nationwide rise of drop-outs and the slump of kids’ school participation and cohort survival, Ang rides against the commonly-held belief that distant parenting strategy doesn’t work.
He asserts a contrarian belief that this strategy keeps OFW children in high school.
The results for children of OFWs are even more encouraging, says Ang of the UST Social Research Center, if women are the ones abroad.
Women’s migration pushes children to stay in school, Ang told the OFW Journalism Consortium.
Using mathematical formulas in Economics called “regressions,” Ang’s study showed that international migration positively affects education indicators such as drop-outs, school participation, and cohort survival.
The effect is also regardless of gender, his computations revealed.
Drop out rates lessen in number, while school participation and cohort survival rates rise. It’s just that in all three indicators, women get more positive results, Ang said.
Ang admitted getting surprised with the results, knowing first-hand the social costs associated with parental absence: he was away from his family for a long time in Japan on a study grant.
Contrast also Ang’s findings with data from the Department of Education: secondary education drop-out rates nationwide rose as of school year 2005-2006.
Drop-out rates for both elementary and secondary levels, according to the government education agency, went up by above seven percent and nearly 13% in school year 2005-2006, from 6.98% and 7.99%, respectively, in school year 2004-2005.
High cost of education coupled by lingering poverty has been cited by pundits as reasons for these increases.
Ang’s study cited the reasons for those who didn’t drop out.
IN Ang’s study, which was presented at the Sixth National Social Science Congress last May, overseas migration of parents increases cohort survival rates and school participation rates.
His data on cohort survival and school participation looked at children belonging to the 10-14 and 15-19 years-old age groups, across Philippine regions, as well as the number of male and female OFWs coming from the annual Survey on Overseas Filipinos.
As for drop out rates, the age bracket of his data covers 13 to 16 years old.
He chose these age brackets because a recent paper by another economist, Rosemarie Edillon of the Asia-Pacific Policy Center, wrote that high school children of OFWs “are worst off in terms of time and money.”
This was where Ang hurled what he called “interesting conjectures.”
“The absence of the female migrant is a strong incentive to remain in school…[indicating] that OFW children are studying hard despite the absence of mothers (and) thereby dispelling that they are worst off.”
He added that “absent mothers increase the chance of children completing (high school).”
But if the mother is here in the Philippines, all the more that “children want her attention,” says Ang.
He posited that children adjust to a situation of parental absence while children with no OFW parents prefer the “traditional family set-up” where both parents are present.
Still, money is part of the story: Ang’s data were on the number of OFWs, not on remittances.
While his study doesn’t mean discouraging results for male OFWs who also bankroll children’s education, Ang noted women OFWs make the difference.
“The absence of mothers is already the worst case scenario for a (Filipino) family tradition where the father is the breadwinner, so children really must study hard.”
Of course, he says “it is but proper (for the children) to study hard, returning the sacrifice and finishing (school) on time.”
TWO children of OFWs the OFW Journalism Consortium talked to prove Ang’s point.
Shara Mae Lirag is a candidate for honor roll in government-run Bagumbong High School while Elaine Eusebio, likewise, in privately-run Manila Cathedral School.
Books are piled across the Lirag household dining table where 14-year-old Shara Mae was set to start her two-hour daily study regimen.
The house is quiet, like there’s an unwritten rule for the Lirag brood of four girls to mimic a monastery.
“If I don’t want to be disturbed, I also don’t want to disturb others [my three sisters] while they’re studying,” she says.
The two-week-old message from her mother Erma in the United Arab Emirates is still stored in her mobile phone. Shara’s mother wants her to gun for an academic scholarship.
Reference to that message rattled her and begs off to go back to studying.
Her father Constancio, 48, says seeing their children get college degrees is their only wish.
He says wife Erma sends P5,000 every month for the school needs of Shara and her sister Hanna Nicole.
“That’s a big help since they’re both in public school,” Mr. Lirag said adding the money goes to class projects and school supplies.
Mr. Lirag said he helps augment the family income with his earning as a passenger jeepney driver plying the Taft Avenue route.
I’m just a high school graduate, Mr. Lirag said. They could be more than that, he added waving his hand towards daughter Shara lost in her book.
A competitive class environment, meanwhile, is what also drives Ms. Eusebio, an incoming sophomore at Manila Cathedral School.
She says she doesn’t want to frustrate his father Hector, who works in a car painting company in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Still, she also considers studying hard self-motivated.
“The academic honor was a fruit of all my sacrifices.”
Her father, whom she hasn’t seen for a year, remits at least P15,000 monthly.
“The money is primarily for Elaine’s studies, and only a few from those amounts are spent for other purposes,” said Marites Eusebio, Elaine’s mother.
Ang said that children of OFWs like Lirag and Eusebio are also pressured to avoid getting into the drop-out roll.
Previous studies, including some surveys, had pointed to the fact that children of OFW parents are academic achievers or have met school requirements.