Street-smart math kids now scholars

Fritzie Rodriguez
Street-smart math kids now scholars
Three boys show us that personal circumstances are not obstacles to talent and hard work

MANILA, Philippines — Remember that kid who crunched big numbers on YouTube? He’s now famous and a scholar!

In July, a two-minute video of a “street child” solving square root problems went viral. 

The young math whiz is Baby Boy “Gerald” Dela Cruz, an 11-year-old sampaguita vendor. After going viral on Facebook, Gerald’s video was aired on GMA’s television show Wish Ko Lang which then provided him and his family some financial assistance.

Later on, his friends — Argie Limsic and Joel Amora — also displayed their math prowess and were featured on ABS-CBN.

On Friday, October 10, all 3 boys received scholarship grants from the Metrobank Foundation, Inc (MBFI), which will provide them with uniforms, school supplies, and daily food allowances until they graduate from elementary school.

The boys’ scholarship is supported by MBFI’s Metrobank Math Challenge (MMC) program – an annual math competition that aims to awaken greater interest in math among elementary and high school students across the country and to discover mathematical talents among the youth.” The boys will also be tutored by Farrell Eldrian Wu, one of the 10 smartest kids named by the Business Insider of New York.

“We are very happy to help the kids stay in school, cultivate their interest and excellence in math which are aligned to MMC program and commitment to education,” said MBFI Executive Director Nicanor L. Torres, Jr. “This is because of their strong interest to learn, specifically in the field of mathematics despite their social economic status.” 

The boys’ story, no matter how inspiring, also reveals a starker reality – a country where work and education compete for a child’s full attention. 

School vs. the street

The three boys are currently enrolled at Antonio Regidor Elementary School in Sta Cruz, Manila. Gerald is in 4th grade, Joel in 5th, and Argie in 3rd. 

“They all have problems with attendance,” said Fatima Felicia, the school’s math coordinator. “Sometimes, they only attend classes once or twice a week. They choose work over school.”

Felicia shared that Argie dropped out for two years, Gerald for a year, and Joel has always been struggling with absenteeism.

All of them have guardians, but have spent a great part of their youth out in the streets. “Gerald and Joel used to sleep along sidewalks,” Felicia said.  

Gerald came from a broken family and is being raised by his grandmother. “At least now, they rent a place in Quezon City. The problem now is that he lives so far from school, sometimes he still skips class,” added Felicia.

While Argie lives with both his parents in a small home, Felicia observed that Joel still lives in a kariton (pushcart) with his parents.

Felicia, who has closely communicated with the boys, said Gerald honed his math skills in the street. “He learns fast. He also uses his math skills for work,” she added. 

The children were taught by a group of UST engineering students they met while selling chicharon during the day and sampaguita at night.

Street children

In spite of their circumstance, the boys are relatively fortunate. Over 3,000 other kids live along the streets of Metro Manila, according to the 2010 data of the Department of Social Welfare and Development. Some are working, some are studying part-time, and some are barely surviving. 

There are approximately 5.5 million Filipinos aged 5-17 who work, according to 2011 data from the National Statistics Office. Instead of spending their time studying and enjoying their youth, they work to earn a living. (READ: PH child poverty increasing)

UNESCO also ranked the Philippines as the 5th country in the world with the highest school drop-out rates.

Unfortunately, some children get caught up with illegal activities. The National Capital Region had the highest number of children in conflict with the law as of 2009, according to the Juvenile Justice Welfare Council.

The story of the 3 young math wizards, however, serves as a reminder – that all a child really needs is a boost.

Home, school

“Parents have very critical roles as motivators,” Felicia stressed. “Even if teachers push kids to attend class, in the end, the children will still listen to their parents.” 

But what happens when children cannot even depend on their own parents? 

“It happens, it will be difficult. But there are people who are willing to help,” she said.

Felicia admitted that although the Department of Education is doing its best in trying to provide the needs of all schools, resources may still be limited. “This is where non-governmental organizations come in,” she added.

She encouraged parents and children to grab such opportunities so as not to waste a child’s skills.

Teachers also observed that many students go to school hungry. “If they don’t eat anything at home, how can they learn anything at school?” 

Felicia urged parents and schools to work together in harnessing children’s full potentials.

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