Superheroes: Teachers of the Alternative Learning System
MANILA, Philippines – In every celebration of National Teachers' Month, we commonly see and hear tributes paid to teachers in the formal education sector. Little attention is given to the equally commendable work of teachers in informal education programs such as the Alternative Learning System (ALS).
This year, we wish to turn the spotlight on the story of ALS mobile teachers – the superheroes from the sidelines.
It was a long way to the ALS community learning center (CLC) of Barangay Salawag in Dasmariñas City. After walking past a public market and a bridge, I arrived at a building under construction. On the 3rd floor, amid the heat and noise from the welding machines, I found Ma'am Consolacion Tag teaching the basics of a job application letter. The 20 ALS learners – including a toddler being taken care of by one of the students – were paying attention. This is how a learning session in ALS looks like. (READ: All eyes on ALS, 'centerpiece' of basic ed under Duterte)
Ma'am Tag would not have been a teacher if not for ALS. Growing up in a family of modest background in Zamboanguita, Negros Oriental, she had to work at an early age to support her family. Attending school was a struggle. It was only through ALS that she was able to continue her studies years after she was married.
While juggling her time and work as a wife, a mother, and a leader of their local church's women's group, Ma'am Tag attended ALS classes and managed to pass the Accreditation and Equivalency (A&E) Test. (READ: Catching up on ALS: Challenges of a 'parallel system')
Shortly after, she enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts in Theology program of the Philippine Missionary Institute. Although she was already 35 years old at the time and a mother of two, she was able to complete her studies and even graduate with honors in 2009.
After passing the Licensure Examination for Teachers, she served as an elementary teacher in values education at her alma mater. Two years later, she decided to return to her roots. She started her work as an ALS mobile teacher and has been in the service for 8 years now.
Stories of struggles
Every week, Ma'am Tag travels to 3 CLCs in Dasmariñas to meet her students. Most of the learners in ALS are formal school dropouts. ALS offers them a second chance to continue their studies and earn an equivalent diploma, which can be their passport to higher education or employment.
Every day, she spends 6 to 8 hours for the regular ALS classes. After that, she stays to give tutorials to students who struggle with the lessons.
Sometimes tutorials extend to counseling sessions. Ma'am Tag shared stories of students running away from home or confessing being a victim of violence. As a teacher, she said she cannot just sit and watch. She tries to do whatever she can to help her students and make their situation better. She experienced mediating between a student and his parent to mend their relation. She also helped a student report a case of domestic violence to the barangay Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC) help desk.
"Bilang ALS teacher, bahagi ako ng buhay nila. Bahagi ako ng bawat pinagdadaanan ng mga estudyante, maging mahirap man at malungkot. Hindi ko sila maaring basta lang iwan," Ma'am Tag said. (As an ALS teacher, I am part of thier lives. I am part of every student's undertaking, be it hard and sad. I cannot just leave them like that.)
Ma'am Tag also shared the difficulties faced by ALS teachers in terms of resources.
Over the years, ALS has received less than 1% of the national education budget. In 2018, the budget was even reduced by a million. Resources for the construction of learning centers and procurement of instructional materials are very limited. (READ: Are graduates of alternative high schools ready for college?)
In Dasmariñas City, not all the CLCs are as good and well-designed as the classrooms in formal schools. Most of the time, ALS teachers must find ways to have decent chairs, tables, and learning materials in CLCs. There are even cases when they spend their own money to reproduce modules, purchase paper, pen,and even food for some of their students.
Stories of success
A proud product of ALS, Ma'am Tag is an inspiration to her students.
Shirley, 23, shared how she looks up to Ma'am Tag as a role model in pursuing her dreams. Now a mother, Shirley brings her kid to the CLC just so she can attend ALS classes.
She said Ma'am Tag is very patient not only in teaching her but even in giving consideration to her situation. Whenever she misses a class due to childcare or housework, she said Ma'am Tag always helps her catch up.
Ma'am Tag's dedication as an ALS teacher is reflected in the excellent fruits of her work. Since 2011, she has produced over 200 A&E test passers and graduates. She said most of her former ALS students are now professionals working in different industries in the Philippines and abroad.
There were also ALS graduates who became ALS teachers like her. Ma'am Tag was teary-eyed when she talked about her former students who thanked her for her work in ALS.
"Masarap marinig sa kanila na naging bahagi ako para mabago ang buhay nila (I love hearing them say that I helped in changing their lives)," Ma'am Tag said.
Ma'am Tag wrapped up the lesson for the day and reminded the class about their homework. I took the chance to ask the students about their message for Ma'am Tag for Teachers' Day.
Without hesitation, they said: "Mahal na mahal namin si Ma’am Tag. Siya ang superhero namin (We really love Ma'am Tag. She's our superhero)." – Rappler.com
Anne Cortez is a senior education program specialist at the Department of Education (City Schools Division of Dasmariñas). Her work includes establishing partnerships and mobilizing resources for the delivery of quality education in public schools through the Adopt-a-School Program and Brigada Eskwela.