Like most school children in remote areas in the Philippines, Rizel Tague had to walk many kilometers if she wanted to continue on to higher education.
Schools in remote areas can usually accommodate children only up to the third grade. From the fourth grade onwards, pupils have to transfer to a different school which, most of the time, are some distance away.
“Our area was not accessible to transportation so we had to walk long distances, even take a boat and cross two rivers just to get to our school,” Tague says.
The long journey and expense that schooling entails often compel parents to simply pull their children out of school.
To improve primary education for children in impoverished areas, Coca-Cola Philippines launched the Little Red Schoolhouse (LRS) project in 1997. Its first schoolhouse, in Trento, Agusan del Sur, was a three-classroom building outfitted with the necessary furniture and fixtures, its own water system, and a toilet for each classroom.
“The Little Red Schoolhouse project made a big difference when it came to our community. The children became happier because the classrooms were more conducive to learning. The teachers were also able to teach better because they could freely move around the classroom,” explains Leilani Rosada Abunday, a teacher from Agusan del Sur Elementary School. Due to the lack of teachers and the relatively small school population in remote areas, most Little Red Schoolhouses have been set up as multi-grade schools, with a teacher handling two or three grade levels simultaneously in one classroom. This way, a three-classroom schoolhouse with three teachers effectively becomes a complete elementary school.
But teaching multi-grade classes requires special skills not typically possessed by an elementary school teacher. Thus, LRS teachers are given workshops and seminars on multi-grade instruction.
“LRS was a big help to me because I was not familiar with the multi-grade instructional system. But thanks to the training and workshops, I became a multi-grade achiever,” says Alejandro Ayusip from Mansilay Elementary School.
The communities where the schoolhouses are located also received a big boost. Parents were organized to maintain the facilities and some organizations have also involved themselves to become cooperatives. Services have improved, courtesy of local government units, in the form of cemented roads, running water and electricity.
“We now have electricity in our community and the road has been cemented for better access. Ever since the building was constructed, a lot has changed in the community,” Tague notes.
The Department of Education has cited the LRS project as a model for private sector and government collaboration, with partners working to make it a success.
The project has revitalized communities and increased educational attainment levels for rural children. It has improved enrollment in the multi-grade schools from 45 percent to as much as 200 percent. Seven Little Red Schoolhouse teachers have been recognized by the Department of Education during its bi-annual National Search for Multigrade Teacher Achiever.
Cited by DepEd as being exemplary among more than 21,000 multi-grade educators nationwide were Edna Duhaylungsod of Calamba, Misamis Occidental; Alejandro Ayusip of Tagkawayan, Quezon; Leilani Abutay of Trento, Agusan del Sur; Nenita Eugenio of Angadanan, Isabela; Lilybeth Gomez of Datu Odin Sinsuat North, Maguindanao; Maria Daylin Garcia of Unisan Quezon, and Alexander Gonzaga of Balingasag, Misamis Oriental.
The LRS project is one of the four key initiatives of Coca-Cola’s Live Positively program, which is the company’s commitment to making a positive difference in the world by integrating sustainability into everything it does. The other three are Agos which builds ram pump systems in 100 poor upland communities, the Nutrijuice nutrition program for rural communities, and the Women Empowerment through Entrepreneurship in partnership with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
Since its inception 15 years ago, the Little Red Schoolhouse project has built 98 schoolhouses with 287 classrooms in 48 provinces, among them Zamboanga del Norte, Maguindanao, Agusan del Sur, Biliran, Sorsogon, Kalinga and Apayao. It has benefited over 59,438 schoolchildren, trained over 2,600 teachers, and so far produced nurses, policemen, skilled workers and teachers.
As part of its 100th year anniversary celebration in the Philippines, Coca-Cola plans to build its 100th Little Red Schoolhouse this year.
Most importantly, the Little Red Schoolhouse project has given children from remote areas a reason to hope for a better life. Just like Rizel Tague who was once an LRS student and is now an LRS multi-grade teacher.
“The LRS is not just a building; it is designed to help mold students to become productive members of society. I am one such example as I came from the system as a student and now I am a teacher at the LRS, giving back to the project that helped me become who I am today,” she says proudly.