MANILA, Philippines – Three years ago, Oliver* dropped out of school in Muntinlupa City and went as far as Antique to get away from his womanizing father.
Then 13 years old, he took on jobs not fit for his age, often going to friends’ and relatives’ houses for shelter.
But he trusted others too much. After his uncle attempted to sexually harass him, he decided to go home in late 2012. His father may have laughed at him when he recounted what happened, but at least home is safer.
He still looks forward to getting away. This time, though, only on Saturdays. To go to school.
At 16, Oliver says he’s too tall, too old, and too shy to go back to the formal school system. So in February, he enrolled in the main campus of the Alternative Learning System (ALS) in Muntinlupa.
ALS is a module-based, non-formal way to learn designed by the Department of Education (DepEd) for learners who cannot afford to go through formal schooling.
There are so far 37 community learning centers in 9 barangays that has adopted the ALS. Five mobile teachers and 60 instructional managers (IMs) serve out-of-school youths and adult learners in these centers.
Least, last, lost
Oliver, who works part-time on weekdays and studies every Saturday, is just one of Muntinlupa’s 1,604 ALS enrollees in 2013.
His classmates are mostly young students. Seated front and center is a girl formerly enrolled in a private school. She discovered ALS recently, a few years after she stopped schooling because of her family’s financial problems.
To the far left of the room sits a baby stroller. A married couple in their teens bring their child to class.
“Ito talaga ‘yung purpose kasi ng Alternative Learning System, to cater ‘yung least, last, and lost. Ito ‘yung pinabayaan…[at] isinuka ng lipunan. Kung titingnan natin nagkaganyan sila because there are reasons, there are factors na ‘di natin naiintindihan,” ALS-National Capital Region (NCR) coordinator Dr Roger Morales said.
(This is really the purpose of the Alternative Learning System, to cater to the least, last, and lost. These are people abandoned by society. If you look closely, they end up like that because there are reasons, there are factors we don’t understand.)
Improve formal school system
Next month, about 2,000 examinees from Muntinlupa will take the Accreditation and Equivalency (A&E) Test.
The test will determine if a learner already possesses competencies equivalent to that of a Grade 6 or a 4th year high school graduate.
ALS-Muntinlupa division supervisor Dr Diosdado Medina says the number of examinees rose this year compared to only around 1,000 last year.
“Kapag dumadami ang number of learners natin ibig sabihin failure ang formal school system. Matutuwa ako pag kumonti ang enrollment namin dahil nag-improve sila,” he said
(When our number of learners increase, it means the formal school system is a failure. I will be happy if our enrollment decreases because that means they [formal school system] improved.)
In the main campus alone, he observes most of the learners are still young. In an age of global learners, he said the formal school system must improve or else more students will drop out.
A 2010 National Statistics Office survey supports this, as lack of personal interest appears to be the primary reason why out-of-school youths do not attend school.
“You have to know how to dance to all kinds of music. You have to balance it because the out-of-school youth, those are the potential drop-outs whose teachers bore them or nag at them,” Rowena Navarro, a formal school teacher and ALS IM, said in Filipino.
But Eugenia Legaspi, another ALS IM, says she has encountered formal school officials urging students to take ALS.
“Kapag ‘yung bata may problema, pabalik-balik. Kapag nainis na ‘yung guidance counselor, sinasabi nya, ‘Huwag ka nang mag-enroll dito, sa ALS ka na lang.’”
(When the child has problems, he comes and goes. If the guidance counselor gets pissed, he would say, ‘Don’t enroll here anymore, go to ALS instead.’)
“That’s a very wrong notion, because ALS is not a receptacle of students who were let go by or wasted in formal school,” Morales said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Support from LGUs, partners needed
ALS Continuing Education Division chief Sevilla Panaligan says the lifeline of the program’s implementation lies primarily in the local government units (LGUs) and other partners, where most of the funding come from.
Morales agrees, saying some LGUs in NCR actively support the program down to the barangay level. In Muntinlupa, enough funding comes from the division level. Support from the barangays is deemed extra.
But some LGUs are lukewarm.
“[Some local officials say] ‘I’m not for education. My target is infrastructure: roads [and] buildings.’ That’s because those are easier to see, whereas the outcome of investing in people takes longer for one to see,” Panaligan said in a mix of English and Filipino.
In cases like this, mobile teachers and IMs work their magic.
“Teachers do the networking: they keep asking support for the program. What can we do? These teachers are not rich. So we network with LGUs, and sometimes, donors,” Morales said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Every mobile teacher and IM handles 25 to 75 learners, sometimes up to a hundred. Aside from counseling and facilitating, they also raise support to prevent their learners from stopping midway through the program.
Panaligan calls this dedication an advocacy. Morales says it’s passion and commitment.
But Oliver’s teacher Luz Osorio, a retired guidance counselor, says she simply enjoys listening to her students.
“Kahit sabihin mong ganito ako magsalita, magbisyo, ‘ginagalang ko si Ma’am [Osorio]. P’wede ka [kasing] maglabas ng k’wento dun na ‘di makakatagos sa iba. P’wede mong matawag na nanay, p’wede mong iyakan,” Oliver said.
(Even if you say I speak like this, have vices, I respect Ma’am Osorio. You can tell her your stories that others don’t get. You can call her mother, you can cry while with her.)
Oliver wants to take up a computer course after getting his ALS diploma. As soon as he gets a stable job, he plans to leave home again.
His dreams are simple: eat 3 times a day, put up and manage a computer shop, and live as far away from his father as possible.
But for now, he’s taking life one Saturday at a time. – Rappler.com
*Name in the story has been changed to protect the identity of the individual