It’s hard to believe that a week has passed since my last blog posting. That was from Amsterdam, in transit from the board meeting of the Global Campaign for Education.
I have just come from a three-day workshop in Cotabato City, for 102 Instructional Managers from the Synergeia project sites in mainland Mindanao. A similar workshop will be held in Zamboanga next weekend, for the three project sites in Sulu.
I can’t remember when was the last time I visited Cotabato City. Probably during my years as TESDA director-general. I asked about the halal restaurant of the Bangsa Moro women’s coop, which I had supported. I wanted to sample their meals, but was told that it has closed.
In between sessions, I had snatches of conversations with veterans of the MNLF and MILF struggle. It’s a sobering and inspiring experience to listen to their stories. I took some comfort from the weekend news about progress toward a peace agreement.
In her talk to the participants, Synergeia president Nene Guevarra explained the EQuALLS 2 project, which is funded by USAID and implemented in selected sites in ARMM by three organizations.
Synergeia’s area of responsibility are three towns in Sulu – Jolo, Patikul and Siasi, and eight other sites in mainland ARMM – Marawi City, Ganassi and Kapatagan in Lanao del Sur, Paglat and Datu Paglas in Maguindanao, and North Upi, Barira and Buldon in Sharif Kabungsuan.
The project seeks to accomplish three Intermediate Results or IRs. The first seeks to mobilize the community to improve the performance of the formal schools. The second seeks to improve the teaching of English, Math and Science. And the third seeks to improve the relevance and quality of training for out of school children and youth. Our workshop for IMs is under IR-3.
When Nene asked me to help out in implementing IR-3, she said, “This is your chance to test your ideas on Alternative Learning Systems on a larger scale.” She told the participants that Synergeia has focused on improving formal education, but that my advocacy within Synergeia was to also address the out of school youth. The number I usually cite is that for every 100 children who enroll in Grade One, only 45 finish high school.
However, the limited resources of Synergeia did not allow it to address the out of school youth. She added that the strategies for improving the school-based formal education are clearer and have results to show. Education programs for out of school youth tend to be sporadic and not systemic, and Synergeia’s chosen approach to improving education is to be strategic and systemic.
EQuALLS 2 gives Synergeia resources and opportunity to “walk on two legs” toward Education for All in its project sites. But Nene cautions against having too high expectations. She had just come from an “education summit” in Kapatagan, and shared stories she heard from the teachers. One had to swim across a river and ride a horse to reach her school. Volunteer teachers were paid only 1500 pesos. Teacher items were for sale at 180,000 pesos. Many teachers had to make do with one textbook.
Some years back, during my field visit to Naga City for the National Literacy Awards, Mayor Jessie Robredo said, “I know you are concerned about the out of school youth. But I want to focus first on improving the formal school system, to prevent further drop-outs.” He added that if schools perform as they should, we will also have a more realistic sense of how many children and youth need to be offered an alternative learning system.
The argument makes sense, but the existing out of school children and youth, and advocates of ALS can’t wait till the schools perform optimally. We have to make do with whatever limited resources are available to offer the OSCY a second chance at education.
Synergeia has conducted a rapid community appraisal in the 11 sites to have baseline data on how many OSCY are there in every barangay, and how many are interested to join the different ALS courses – basic literacy, PEPT (preparation for placement tests for those who want to re-enroll), A and E for high school equivalency, and skills training for livelihood.
Quite a number wanted to take part in all four courses! What to offer first?
For those whose goal is to get a high school certificate, the A and E course has 150 modules which takes 10 months, ending with a nationally administered test. Realistically, this is is an option for a smaller number. We expect that many more will opt for skills training for livelihood, and we took advantage of the visit to Cotabato to meet the Maguindanao TESDA director to work out arrangements for community-based training.
Given the low literacy level in the ARMM area as a whole, it is the challenge of basic literacy that we needed to address first.
Except for my summer stint with the Mangyans as a young seminarian in the 1960s, I have no experience in conducting basic literacy classes. My work with ELF is focused on functional literacy and beyond.
So I checked with the DepEd about their 27 basic literacy modules and was told that they are being revised; nine are finished, with the others in progress. The Literacy Coordinating Council made their collection of old modules available.
I also got valuable help from ELF leader-graduates. Carling, Helen, Tay Ben of the Paaralang Bayan ng Ayta sa Zambales (PBAZ) shared their modules and methods, and offered advice from their wide experience in conducting basic literacy classes for Aytas. I also checked with Romy in Pampanga about their work with the Aytas and DANGLE’s identification of keywords drawn from their life environment, along the lines suggested by Paolo Freire.
After all the consultations and research, Synergeia had to make a choice. Clearly, the functional literacy modules of A and E are too advanced for the prospective learners. But few of them would need the basic literacy course as such, and may even drop out if we offer the usual basic literacy modules.
Father Nebres of Ateneo, chair of Synergeia, provided useful guidance: “Let’s offer a course that will increase their self-confidence and socialization skills.” If we relate that to the five learning strands of functional literacy, that would be the fourth strand – Self and Community. He added that the last thing we should do is to give the learners a basic literacy test, since that is a sure turn-off.
So we needed to offer a basic course, as an entry course to the other course like A and E and skills training, but not the usual basic literacy course. And it should be something that can be done within the 15 learning days ( group sessions and individual mentoring ) that was in the approved program.
I proposed that we adopt the starting method used by ELF in our Grassroots Leadership Course, which is the Life History Workshop or Kwentong Buhay, where the learners follow guide questions in reflecting on their life and exchanging their learnings from life. The first module will focus on Ako at ang Aking Komunidad. This will be mainly oral – speaking and listening, but we can use it as an indirect validation of their capability to read and write, by asking them to read the questions and write short answers, after they had done the kwentong buhay.
But more important than the validation of their literacy level is the impact that we have experienced of the kwentong buhay. By making their own life experiences the content of the module, we affirm in practice what we tell them is the philosophy of education that we follow, which is learner-centered and life-centered.
The second module will use the same kwentong buhay method ( with some reading and writing validation activity ), but the guide questions focusing on two topics we have developed in the ELF course on leadership and entrepreneurship – human capital and social capital. Rather big words, but the Pilipino is easier to appreciate: Ang aking unang puhunan sa buhay – Pagkatao at Pakikipagkapwa. The third module is Komunikasyon, which includes basic tips and exercises on speaking in front of a group. This will also help them prepare for their graduation ceremonies which should include some demonstration of what they have learned.
The main contents of these three draft modules were subjected to discussion and critique by the prospective IMs in Cotabato. The participants in the Zamboanga workshop will do the same. After the first learning groups in the different sites have gone through them, we can do the final revisions.
So what do we call the course? It is not basic literacy, but it is not functional literacy either, at least not according to the A and E standards. In the last moments before the start of the workshop in Cotabato, I recalled a UNESCO project whose name may just fit – Literacy for Empowerment, or LIFE.