Koronadal City, South Cotabato – The Provincial Government of South Cotabato (PGSC) is presently accommodating and supporting more than fifteen thousand scholars through its Free Education Program.
As of February 2021, the breakdown of these scholars is as follows: 15,425 college students, nine (9) law students, and two (2) medical students.
Governor Reynaldo S. Tamayo, Jr. anounced this during his State of the Province Address (SOPA) on February 8, 2021 at the South Cotabato Gymnasium and Cultural Center (SCGCC).
It can be recalled that immediately upon assuming his post, the governor ordered the strict prohibition of collection of fees, including the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) fees, in all public schools, both elementary and high school. College students were also given more scholarships wherever they prefer to study and for whatever course they choose.
This was his campaign promise before he won the election in 2019, as he believes that improved access to education is one of the keys to poverty alleviation.
“Naniniwala ako na ang edukasyon ang babangon sa pagkalubog ng iilang mga kababayan natin sa kahirapan, noon pa man pinagtatawanan tayo dahil nga daw napakaimposibleng mangyari ang ating mga pangako sa taong bayan. Unang araw palang ng ating pagkakaupo nag utos na tayo “na simula ngayon sa unang araw na ito, ay bawal ng sisingil sa lahat ng paaralan mula elementarya hanggang highschool, walang PTA fees o kahit anong bayaran sa mga classroom, dahil libre na ang edukasyon sa probinsya ng South Cotabato.”
He also added that in a span of one year, the provincial government was able to hire two hundred fifteen (215) Provincial School Board (PSB) teachers, and three hundred eighty seven (387) school guards and utility workers.
“Hindi lang tayo nakakatulong sa mga bagong pasa sa board exam na mga guro kundi napatigil rin natin ang pagpasa ng responsibilidad ng gobyerno sa mga asosasyon ng mga magulang ng mag aaral (PTA).”
The governor additionally mentioned that since the collection of fees has been firmly prohibited, the PGSC is mainly accountable in paying for all school requests, such as construction materials, sports equipment, musical instruments, among others, which have amounted to P11 Million.
In order to ensure that this new policy would be properly implemented, the provincial government also provided financial assistance to all public schools. This includes two hundred eighty four (284) elementary schools, one hundred five (105) high schools, and twenty six (26) integrated schools, which received a total of P36,455,300.00.
In the previous administrations, the PGSC has only allotted approximately P30 Million for its Special Education Fund (SEF). Meanwhile, under Governor Tamayo’s leadership, a total amount of P111,941,800.00 was allocated to the SEF from the general fund during his first year.
In terms of the free tertiary/college education, the governor proudly beamed that this specific campaign promised has been successfully accomplished, too.
He significantly thanked the national government for being his number one partner in the implementation of this program. Particularly mentioned was the UniFAST which, aside from shouldering a student’s tuition, also grants allowances.
The Unified Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education Act (UniFAST), also known as Republic Act No. 10687, was signed into law on October 15, 2017. UniFAST reconciles, improves, strengthens, expands, and puts under one body all government-funded modalities of Student Financial Assistance Programs (StuFAPs) for tertiary education, and special purpose education assistance, in both public and private institutions. These modalities include scholarships, grants-in-aid, student loans and other specialized forms of StuFAPs formulated by the UniFAST Board.
Those who are not qualified under the UniFAST scholarship has another option which is the ‘Tulong Dunong’ that gives P7,500.00 per semester for the payment of tuition. Since this amount is not enough in some private instutitions, the governor approached the owners of private schools and universities in the province to ask for a special discount rate, and that he would contribute P2,000.00 for every student, just to ensure that students would no longer be paying anything at all.
All the provincial government scholars claim their ‘scholarship coupon’ at the provincial capitol before proceeding to their respective colleges/universities.