In an apparent vote of confidence for the recently signed peace deal in Mindanao, the Australian government has pledged AUS$85 million (over US$88 million) to support education programs in the island.
The Basic Education for Assistance for Muslim Mindanao will target 95 percent of public schools, covering five provinces and two cities in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), a statement from the Department of Education (DepEd) said.
It is seen to impact students enrolled in 2,347 public elementary and secondary schools as well as 20,000 out-of-school youth.
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The project comes after the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in October signed a breakthrough peace framework agreement following protracted negotiations.
President Benigno Aquino III said the deal ushers in lasting peace and development in the conflict-battered region.
"This project will benefit the last, the lost and the least in the most isolated barangays in the ARMM," Education Secretary Armin Luistro said.
Funds will be focus on boosting early education, particularly the government's universal kindergarten program; strengthen technical and vocational programs; and building more classrooms while opening more schools.
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"The success of this endeavor will mean much not only to the children of ARMM but to all Filipinos," Luistro added.
For his part, Australian Agency for International Development Assistant Director-General Rod Brazier was quoted as saying that the program aims "to provide a capable education system that contributes to peace and stability for a brighter future for the children of Mindanao."
"As a good neighbor, we want to help and you can count on us to do so for as long as it takes," Brazier added.
Thanking Australia, ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman meanwhile stressed that addressing education concerns effectively solves half of the region's problems.
"We want to say to our donor and government partners that you can bank on our commitment and action," Hataman said.
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