Archive for the ‘Education for All’ category

Komunibersidad and PPP

December 3, 2012

Today at the UP College of Education, I shared some reflections on Komunibersidad and Public-Private Partnership or PPP.

The occasion was a workshop among the UP College of Education, the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (UAB) and E-Net Philippines. The three are cooperating in a research project on public-private partnership in education.

From the point of view of E-Net, the problematique is this: We call our advocacy campaign the “3 Rs” – rights, responsibility, resources.

1) We believe that education is a basic right, and we hold the Philippine government to its official commitment to achieve Education for All by 2015.

2) We believe that education for all, or more precisely “quality basic education for all” is the responsibility of government.

3) We advocate that enough public resources should be allocated to achieve quality basic education for all. We have a provision in our constitution that education should be the biggest item in the national budget.

Within this advocacy framework, what is the place of private sector participation in the delivery of quality basic education for all? Is it a necessary supplement or complement to inadequate public resources and capabilities? Isn’t there a danger that it gives the government an excuse not to increase the public resources needed to fulfill its responsibility? Does it not reflect the ideological trend of making the state “retreat” in favor of a supposedly more efficient private sector?

Local government participation

Even before talking about PPP, there is an important issue we need to address within the public sector. The Local Government Code which devolved more authority and responsibility to local governments, included the setting up of Local School Boards that administer a Special Education Fund.

During our workshops with Indonesian counterparts, their criticism of their national government’s failure to provide enough resources, extended to calling the devolution of some responsibility for basic education as a “creeping form of privatization.”

Although we understand the political context that generated such a critique, E-Net Philippine thinks such a critique is overstated.

In fact, both E-Net and Synergeia have favorable experiences in promoting LGU co-responsibility for basic education. The late Jesse Robredo even pioneered what he called “re-engineering the local school boards” to increase the participation of parents and community leaders, with positive results.

Private sector participation

Basic education in the Philippines has never been provided through a purely public system. At least 10 percent of elementary education has been private.  If we include early childhood education, private sector participation is even greater. For some time, in secondary education private sector participation was up to 50 percent, until the economic crisis and the increase of public school teachers salaries reduced it to around 20 percent.

The Philippine government’s commitment to PPP is expressed in the increased budget for GASTPE – government assistance to students and teachers of private education.

E-Net’s previous research into GASTPE did not dwell on the legitimacy of such public-private partnership. Instead, it developed case studies about its positive and negative features and results. The UP workshop is geared to crafting a future joint research project of UP, UAB and E-Net.

What about community participation? 

Although “community” is technically “private” rather than public, E-Net does not want to subsume it under the category of private sector, since this connotes for-profit corporate organizations.

While we press government, national and local, to assume responsibility for quality basic education, we also believe what Jesse Robredo said about making education ultimately a “community responsibility.”

This goes beyond the usual practice of using the PTCA – parents, teachers, and community association – to raise funds. It includes participation in local school governance councils. It is especially important  in the expanded development of ALS – Alternative Learning Systems, and ADM – Alternative Delivery Modes.

Komunibersidad and research into PPP

Before the start of the workshop, I was conversing with the three delegates from the University of Barcelona. I told them the story of Isabelo de los Reyes and how he met the anarcho-syndicalists in the Barcelona prison, which led to his founding the Union Obrera Democratica, which was also one of the base for the Iglesia Filipina Independiente.

They asked if E-net Philippines has regular links with our Latin American counterparts. I said that it is difficult for civil society networks to meet across the globe, since our institutional resources and capabilities are limited. Probably there are more possibilities between universities.

On the other hand they said that inter-university exchanges have their own limitations, and may be limited to academic studies that are not geared to influencing public policy.

That gave me another angle for the idea of Komunibersidad – a partnership between community and university to develop a research-based policy advocacy agenda.

After the opening session, in another conversation, E=net and the UP College of Education agreed to meet soon to develop this partnership.

How Can We Rank Five Literacy Champions?

August 6, 2012

Once every two years, the Literacy Coordinating Council recognizes national literacy champions through the National Literacy Awards.

This year, the LCC has asked me (again) to head one of the final Board of Judges.

There are five final board of judges, one for each of the categories of the National Literacy Awards. Two are for outstanding cities (highly urbanized and component cities) and two are for outstanding municipalities ( class A – 1st to 3rd class, and class B – 4th to 6th class municipalities).

The category assigned to our group  is “outstanding literacy program.”

From programs to systems

When the National Literacy Awards started in 1994, there were only two categories – outstanding literacy program and outstanding literacy worker. That reflected the state of literacy work then – relatively small and limited programs, done by social development NGOs or  part of college extension services.

After a few years, the LCC made a strategic decision. Instead of focusing mainly on individual programs, they created the category of outstanding LGUs, with emphasis on multiple programs integrated into local development plans.

That put literacy in its proper context: Not a stand-alone program, but part of an over-all system. The LCC also promulgated a more comprehensive definition of “functional literacy.” This corrected the dominant but narrow equation of literacy with “basic literacy.” In this new framework, basic literacy is simply the entry level to functional literacy, and even beyond, to “lifelong learning.”

Size does matter

The first time I was invited by the LCC to a final board of judges, it was for the category of outstanding cities, which was won by Antipolo City. In the process, one of the finalists told us: “It’s not fair to compare a smaller city like ours with a few hundred million-peso annual budget, to Antipolo that has a billion-peso budget.”

The discussions that ensued led the LCC to go beyond the general category of “outstanding LGU” to create four categories: 1) Highly urbanized cities, 2) Component cities, 3) Class A municipalities, and 4) Class B municipalities.

The LCC also accepted our suggestion to create  a “Hall of Fame” for an LGU that is voted into first place three consecutive times. This is not just to honor them, but also to create space at the top for other outstanding finalists.

I had the good fortune of being on the board of judges that voted Antipolo City into first place for the third consecutive time. My second stint as a judge wss for the category of Class B municipality, when we voted for Tubungan, Iloilo. Two awards later, Tubungan also joined the Hall of Fame.

Should we not also have different categories for literacy programs?

This is my second time to chair the board of judges for outstanding literacy program.

Initially I thought that compared to the LGU categories, literacy programs should be easier to judge. The LCC has provided us a check list which we used to score the winning entries from the regions. The scores were our basis for unanimously selecting the top five outstanding literacy programs.

Field validation visits followed. Though quite hectic (we traveled to all five areas within July), these visits are the best part of the judging process. I like especially the interviews and interaction, formal and informal, with the program staff and participants.

At the initial briefings, we tell them that they are already all champions. Our field visits are partly to validate the documents submitted to us, and partly to help us rank them from 1 to 5.

I wish we could simply end by saying,”Our visits confirm that all five deserve to be declared outstanding literacy programs.” But we have been required to rank them. This I find difficult.

Unlike the LGUs that are ranked within four different categories, the literacy programs are to be ranked as a single category. But they are quite diverse, and difficult to compare.

Here are the five programs, in order of our field visits:

1) The program in some barangays of Alaminos, Pangasinan is run by a civic organization, the JCI (aka Jaycees), relying mainly on volunteers and own funds.

2) The program in Barangay Ronrono, Quezon, Nueva Vizcaya is run by FCF, an NGO that has been set up and funded by a mining company as part of its CSR and preparatory work in the areas that will be affected by its operations.

3) The program in some barangays of Naga City and some towns of Camarines Sur is run by staff of the community extension service unit of the University of Santa Isabel.

4) The program in some barangays of Digos City and some towns of Davao del Sur are run by a foundation that used to be the community extension service unit of Cor Jesu College.

5) The program among the Mangyans in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, is run by a mission team of nuns from the FMM order.

Seven Questions after Reading the SONA

July 25, 2012

Just before midnight, I finally get to read the full text of yesterday’s SONA.

Girlie asks me: “Why are you scribbling notes?” I tell her it’s to help me analyze the structure and main messages of the speech.

I wind up with 7 pages of notes, using the TN-MN method: TN is taking notes – writing the outline and key points. MN is making notes – writing my comments and questions.

Here are seven questions, and comments, after reading and re-reading the SONA.

1.  What messages did PNoy emphasize and highlight?

I have only the Filipino text, 18 pages on my computer, as basis. I wish I had the chance to watch and listen, and catch his ad libs.

If we go by the principle that the main messages of a speech are what is at the beginning and at the end, this is what I picked up:

From his opening greetings to the closing lines, he reprised his mantra: Kayo ang Boss ko.

Humaharap po ako sa inyo bilang mukha ng isang gobyernong kayo ang boss at kayo pa rin ang lakas. Inuulat ko lamang ang mga pagbabagong ginawa ninyong posible.

Hence the inspirational ending: Inuulit ko: posible na ang dating imposible. Humaharap po ako sa inyo ngayon, at sinasabing: hindi ko SONA ito. Kayo ang gumawa nito. SONA ito ng sambayanang Pilipino. Maraming, maraming salamat po.

It’s a message in the spirit of Lao Tzu’s saying about leaders, that after accomplishing a task, the people should say “We did it ourselves.”

This message has very positive resonance. I wonder how it comes across to those whose expectation is different – that leaders should do things for the people.

2.  How did PNoy respond to the pre-SONA commentaries that he should stop blaming the past administration and focus on what he has delivered about his promises?

I don’t want to read too much into the structure of the speech, since the final text of the SONA is partly “negotiated” and is reported as having undergone repeated revisions.

But I think the SONA reflects what has been reported as PNoy’s sensibility and stand. His message is about change that has happened despite formidable “legacy” problems. Hence throughout the speech, there is a running structure of contrast and comparison, of numbers and timeframes.

This is highlighted towards the end by his response to those who call on him “to forgive and forget.”

3.  What programs did he emphasize?

Going by the number of paragraphs and level of details, I’d say health, up to the vision of  “universal health care.” This is closely followed by education, from basic education to technical-vocational education, to higher education.

He discussed these at length after citing economic growth, as indicators of a key concept of the new Philippine Development Plan – inclusive growth. I sense that health and education are given greater emphasis compared to earlier explanations of the CCT as a poverty reduction program.

4. Should we read anything into who of the cabinet secretaries were mentioned by name and who were not?

This is the stuff of juicy political gossip and speculation.

But just for fun, I listed the names of cabinet secretaries as they were mentioned and commended by Pnoy: Sec. Ona of DOH and Sec. Montejo of DOST, Sec. Luistro of DepEd, Sec. Villanueva of TESDA, Sec. Roxas of DOTC, Sec. Singson of DPWH, Sec. Jimenez of DOT, Sec. Alcala of DA, Sec. Almendras of DOE.

Other senior officials mentioned are ARMM OIC Hataman and Ombudsman Carpio-Morales.

These names were mentioned in the context of the programs and achievements cited positively by PNoy.

What should we make of  those officials who were not named even though programs within their sphere of responsibility were also cited positively? To mention some, there are lengthy passages on environment-related issues, but the only name mentioned is an LGU official, not the DENR secretary. The president vows to finish CARP, but does not mention the DAR secretary. We could even ask why CCT is discussed at some length without mentioning the DSWD secretary.

Maybe there is nothing to this, since defense, foreign relations, and economic growth are also discussed at length without mentioning the DND and DFA secretaries or the economic managers.

But then again, being mentioned in the SONA is a major concern of competitive government officials.

5.  What glaring silences and absences caught my attention?

Obviously, even a lengthy hour and a half SONA cannot mention very issue and sector. Still, I am quite disappointed that some “favorite” concerns of mine didn’t get mentioned at all.

The indigenous people and their issues are invisible. A few days before the SONA, I posted in our Aeta Coordination group my hope that IPs would get even a few lines. Sorry.

Since I work as a consultant to the Secretary of Agriculture, I know that the fisheries sector often complain that though “agriculture” includes fisheries, it is usually only the farmers who get mentioned, and not the fisherfolk. There were efforts to have their issues and achievements mentioned. But, sorry.

There was a mention of the OFW in the closing paragraphs, but no substantial discussion of their contribution and their concerns. Again, sorry.

6. Since both Enrile and Belmonte have brought up the issue of charter change, did PNoy have any response in the SONA?

Can we read this passage as a subtle reference?

Ngunit huwag po nating kalimutan ang pinag-ugatan ng Batas Militar: Kinasangkapan ng diktador ang Saligang Batas upang manatili sa kapangyarihan. At hanggang ngayon, tuloy pa rin ang banggaan sa pagitan ng gusto ng sistemang parehas, laban sa mga nagnanais magpatuloy ng panlalamang.

As the late Inday Badiday would say: “Careful…”

7.  Political commentators say that this year’s SONA is an “electoral” SONA, given the coming May 2013 elections and the October 2012 filing of candidacies. What is PNoy’s campaign message? 

Paparating na naman po ang halalan. Kayo po, ang aming mga boss, ang tangi naming susundan. Ang tanong ko sa inyo, “Boss, saan tayo tatahak? Tuloy ba ang biyahe natin sa tuwid na landas, o magmamaniobra ba tayo’t aatras, pabalik sa daan na baluktot at walang patutunguhan?”

The opening salvo can’t be any clearer.

The challenge will be how to handle the “cognitive dissonance” that will ensue as realpolitik determines some choices of who will be projected as the pro-administration candidates.

Missing the SONA

July 24, 2012

Yesterday afternoon, I was interviewing Barangay Literacy Workers in two barangays of Naga City – Pacol and San Isidro. I headed a group of judges doing field validation of one finalist for this year’s National Literacy Awards.

I missed listening to President Noynoy Aquino deliver his State of the Nation Address.

Early evening, I hoped I would be able to catch a TV replay, or read the text (and commentaries) on the web. But our hosts brought us, for dinner  and overnight stay, to a hot springs resort deep in a valley of Barangay Panicuason, 17 kilometers from the city center.

My first question upon arriving was,”Is there WiFi?” Sorry, not only was there no WiFi, there was not even any celphone signal. No TV either, nor radio.

My initial disappointment took time to disappear, but eventually it did.

Our dinner was a feast of Bicol dishes. And afterwards, we could soak our tired bodies in three different hot water pools, from a warm 32 degrees C to a bearably hot 37 degrees C.

While savoring the pleasure of the hot spring waters, my mind would wander to memories and imaginings of the SONA, past and present. What did PNoy mention, and what were his silences? What did he emphasize, and what were mentioned just for the record? What were the slogans and issues of the “ritual” rallies?

As for post-SONA reactions, were there any other than the usual and predictable, especially given the coming 2013 elections?

This morning, after a late breakfast, I was in Barangay Malbong in the town of Gainza, for the third field interviews. Unlike the other two barangays, the women in we interviewed were barely a year into their 5-module functional literacy course. Although livelihood skills training is supposed to come only after they finish the FL course, the community extension service staff of the University of Santa Isabel flexibly adjusted the schedules, to meet their urgent needs after floods disrupted their lives.

I finally got to scan the text of yesterday’s SONA here at the Naga airport, while waiting for my return flight to MetroManila. Pleasant note: Free WiFi, with no password!

There’s not enough time to give fair comment on the SONA. Perhaps tonight, after a more thorough rereading.

The plane from Manila should be landing soon. I think of missing the SONA, and its connection to a question I keep asking myself since March, after the death of Boy Morales.

During his wake, different speakers paid tribute to what I called his “large organs.” Boy’s heart and mind embraced grand visions and causes. When we helped convene the “new” La LIga Filipina, our shared vision focused on rebuilding our nation. This vision included grand themes like participatory democratic governance, social justice and the empowerment of the poor, sustainable development.

At some point, Girlie asked me, “When it’s your time came to go, what would you want people to remember, and associate with you?”

I didn’t have time to think, because she wanted a quick answer. I said “grassroots communities.”

Later, reflecting on why I said that, I realized that although I remain committed to the larger vision of national and social transformation, I find deeper emotional satisfaction in stories of significant changes happening in local grassroots communities. But also greater intellectual challenges.

I do not counterpose the micro to the macro. They are interconnected, though the causalities are more complex than usually acknowledged. I sometimes talk of this complex causality as  “3 Ms” – multiple, mutual, and mediated.

Between the micro and the macro, there is a needed third Greek word – “meso.”

The day of the SONA is a moment when we focus on the macro – our nation. Benedict Anderson describes the nation as our “imagined political community,” limited, but within the limits, sovereign.

It is easier to do this when in MetroManila, or connected by media, traditional and new. It is more challenging to do this when in one of the poorer barangays in Bicol, without WiFi, celphone signal, TV or radio.

Alternative Learning System: FAQ

January 24, 2010

Almost every day, when I check the blog stats, the blog post on www.edicio.wordpress.com with the biggest number of visitors is the one on Alternative Learning System or ALS.

I am posting this short blog to answer the mounting number of comments, actually queries, on ALS. I apologize to those who have expected individual answers to their comments. I do not usually respond to the comments on my blogs.

FAQ 1: Where can we find the results of the latest ALS exams, administered last November 2009?

Answer: The official results are supposed to be posted in the DepEd website. When I checked the other day, there are no results posted yet.

I can understand the impatience and frustration of the learners and those who have helped them. I have told my contacts in the Bureau of Alternative Learning System (BALS) of DepEd about your many comments and complaints, and urged them to post the results soonest. But so far, no results have been posted.

A point of clarification to those who have vented their frustration on me (I had to delete the more insulting comments). I am not a DepEd official, and have no power at all over when the results will be posted.

My involvement in ALS is as the head of E-net Philippines, a civil society network that does advocacy for Education for All, which includes ALS. Many of our member NGOs offer ALS in cooperation with the DepEd and the LGUs. They are also still waiting for the results to be posted.

So what can we do, other than wait?

Keep asking and following up with whoever is your contact in the BALS and DepEd, including those who have helped you join your learning group in ALS. Any form of pressure on the DepEd can hasten the posting of the results.

FAQ 2:  I want to enroll in ALS. How do I join?

Answer: There are three usual options. 1) Contact your local DepEd (the district supervisor’s office, or even the principal of the local public high school). They are supposed to offer ALS to those out of school youth and adults who want to join. They also have a budget, though limited. 2) Contact your local government official (barangay captain/councilor, or mayor/vice-mayor,councilors). Many LGUs offer ALS in cooperation with the DepEd. 3) Contact an NGO or development agency working in your community. Ask if they offer ALS as part of their programs.

A fourth option is to ask around if there is anyone in your community who has enrolled in ALS, and get information from him/her.

If you have extra energy, I suggest that instead of purely individual effort, you look for others who are also interested to enroll in ALS. Then go as a group to the DepEd, the LGU, or the NGO. If you can contact your congressman or congresswoman, there is a better chance that they will respond to your request if you are a group. Write to the newspapers and call the radio talk shows.

And don’t let the answer to FAQ 1 discourage you.

2010 Update: Like last year, this blog has received many queries and comments about the results of the October 2010 exams. it seems that the DepEd had initially promised the results by November. But based on phone calls to the Bureau of Alternative Learning System (BALS), the test results will not be available until February 2011.

Since it takes time to answer the questions and comments, and we cannot immediately respond to one another, I have opened a Facebook page  – ALS: Alternative Learning System. Check it out and post your comments there, for faster interaction.

Three Phone Calls from Abroad

September 3, 2009

Within the last six hours, I received three phone calls from abroad.

The first was from Singapore. Minette, my daughter in law, works and lives there with my son Yeyi. Our excited conversation revolved around their trip to the Philippines late this month, to celebrate the first birthday of their twin sons, Edric and Yohan on September 19.

Of course there will be a series of reunions with families and friends. Girlie woke up this morning with a bright idea: “Why don’t we invite them all to Bantayog ng mga Bayani? That way we can introduce them to the martyrs and heroes on the Wall of Remembrance, and the Museum.” A visit to Bantayog can give them a glimpse of September 21 and martial law, crucial events that have shaped the lives of our generation.

The second phone call came at 8:30 pm, from the Brussels head office of Education International, which coordinates the teleconference. I had expected it an hour earlier, the usual time for the global teleconference of the board of GCE, the Global Campaign for Education. it took a while before we could assemble a quorum from four continents – Europe, Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

Unfortunately, the connections were poor and patchy. Assibi who was supposed to chair was using her celphone somewhere in Africa, and couldn’t get clear signals. She asked Elie, the former chair, to take over, since he had clearer signals. I guess he must be in Belgium, or somewhere in Europe.

Owain, the global coordinator, led us in discussing the different reports from his office in Jo’burg, South Africa. David Archer joined in from London, Helga from somewhere in Norway, and Bernie pitched in for Maria from his office in Australia. Two colleagues from Brazil updated us about their planned conference on quality.

From what I could gather through the static and fluctuating signals, there was concern about our global advocacy work toward intergovernmental fora. By 2010, we will pass the two-thirds mark on the way to EFA 2015, and the six goals of EFA will be hard to reach in most countries of the South. The global financial crisis makes it more difficult to effectively push for transfer of more resources from Northern countries.

Then abruptly, my line went dead.

The phone rang again after a few minutes. I thought I was reconnected, but it was another voice – Charlotte from London. She works with the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, where a good friend, Ian Linden, coordinates the program on Faith in Action.

Charlotte called to brief me about my participation in a forum on October 6, the third in a series of six fora on Faith and International Development. Our session theme is about Poverty and Conflict, and Faith as a solution or cause. Ian had e-mailed me earlier asking me to be one of two speakers addressing the question, followed by a panel discussion. At first I demurred, but he said that he was interested to find out how my thinking has developed since we last met.

If I remember right, Ian and I last worked together on the Kairos International project in 1989, which built on the initial South African “Kairos Project” and expanded it to neighboring Namibia, to El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala in Central America, and to Korea and the Philippines in Asia. We exchanged experiences and reflections of Christian theologians and activists from these countries, and challenged “right-wing” expressions of faith which condemned Christians who took part in liberation movements and struggles for justice.

That’s 20 years ago.

It’s not just that many years have passed, and we have grown older. Many more changes have happened, in the world outside us, and in our inner world of self-understanding and faith.

Toward the end of the Kairos project, we were sensing that new questions were being posed, because of changes in our respective countries, and the increasingly globalized interconnections. In one conversation, I suggested that one theme we should pursue is “Renewing our spirituality and strategy for justice.”

Cory and a last good bye

August 5, 2009

As soon as the conference we were attending ended, Girlie and I rushed to the Magallanes area. She had been exchanging texts with her brother Phey who was waiting there with his wife Iris since noon. Based on his updates about the progress of Cory’s funeral procession, we decided to join them there, to wave our last good bye to Cory.

The crowd reminded Girlie of Ninoy’s funeral in 1983: “Only Ninoy has drawn this kind of crowd to his funeral. I am glad that the people also turned out for a woman leader.” 

We overheard a young boy ask his mother, “Why are we here?” Her answer made us smile. “It’s history. We want to be part of it.”

I lined up with the crowd, close to the edge. Girlie couldn’t see anything because she is much shorter, and moved back to higher ground. A thought crossed my mind – the crowd was united in waiting to say good bye to Cory, but some divisions were apparent. I had the advantage of height over Girlie. There were those who came in their cars, most of them with fairer complexions. Many more walked or rode public transport, their clothes and faces reflecting their poverty. But all of us were focused on the same thing, craning our necks to find out if Cory’s funeral carriage was in sight. All of us immediately stepped back when the marshalls asked us to give way to the cars, the motorcycles, bicycles, and marchers.

That was my first personal glimpse of the EDSA spirit symbolized by Cory. Our divisions were apparent, but we did not pay them attention. Our sights were focused on what united us.

It’s amazing how patiently people waited. I felt the same. Of course we wanted to see her soonest, but there was no sense of impatience in our expectation. The long wait was like part of our final tribute to Cory.

During the long wait, I recalled two causes close to my heart that I don’t usually associate with Cory. But her presidency was responsible for major policies that promoted them.

The first is literacy for all. The text from Norma Salcedo of the Literacy Coordinating Council acknowledged that it was Cory who signed the law that created the LCC.

The second is participatory local governance. The Local Government Code was also signed by Cory in 1991.

I promised myself that I will honor Cory by reminding friends and fellow advocates of her role in advancing these two causes. They add substance to the usual achievement attributed to her, the restoration of Philippine democracy.

They also contribute to a fairer appreciation of her presidency’s policy achievements, which are judged to have fallen short on the issues of agrarian reform and the US military bases.

Two familiar faces jolted me from my musings, activist-friends who had been marching from the Manila Cathedral, wet from sweat and rain. One of them said, with a mischievous smile, that they saw rival factions of the left marching together, not because they have reconciled, but out of respect. A woman beside me introduced herself and asked: “Do you think the huge turn out is also a message of protest?” I said I think so. But it is muted, implied. The other activist would want it more explicit. “Who do you think is in a position to issue a call to action?”

I recall a pithy Latin phrase. Sapienti sat. To the wise, the message should be enough.

After another hour, there was a buzz of excitement. Cory’s funeral carriage was approaching. I pressed forward with the crowd and managed to reach the front edge. Cory’s carriage passed too quickly, and the snapshot in my mind has only a blurred image of the flag that draped her coffin, the flowers, and the four honor guards who stood straight and tall around her.

Later, Girlie asked me: “I saw you raise your right arm. Was it a clenched fist in salute?” I don’t remember raising my arm. It must have been a spontaneous gesture of farewell.

A few second after Cory passed us, the heavens suddenly opened with heavy rain, the wind driving it to soak all of us despite our umbrellas. It was like a ritual experience, uniting us once more.

Paalam at salamat.

Choice Quotes from Charles Handy

July 30, 2009

On my last trip to Malaybalay, Bukidnon, I picked up a book from the pile on my table, for me to read on the plane. But it was an early morning flight and I slept all the way to Cagayan de Oro. But on the flight back, I was wide awake and managed to leaf through Charles Handy’s The Elephant and the Flea.

Written for his 70th birthday in 2002, the book is still an interesting read, many years after I bought and read it. In fact, it speaks to me more now than I remember it doing then. Most probably it’s because I have gone through the experience of many years that invest his thoughts with greater resonance.

I scribbled in my notebook a couple of his quotes on education. “What you learn through fear seldom sticks. You want to forget the lessons along with the memories of the unpleasantness.”

He contrasts his attitudes and memories about formal basic schooling with those of his wife, Elizabeth.

For Charles, school was “unfair, punitive, and unpleasant. The best way to survive was to find out what the rules were, to keep your head down, and pass the tests that the authorities set you as best you could.” He said it was not the best way for the independent life, and his chapter title is appropriately “Schools for an Old World.”

For Elizabeth, “rules are there to be challenged. Those in authority often got it wrong. You had to stand up for yourself in this world, because no one else might.” No wonder she went through 11 “mostly incompetent” schools before she was sixteen.

Reading his memories of his school days, I recall the minister of education, I think from Uruguay, who asked aloud at a conference in Manchester: When we campaign for universal primary education as part of “Education for All 2015″ are we saying that it’s simply a matter of insuring that everyone goes to the formal school system? Don’t we have any serious reservations about the system as such? Should we not seek changes in the formal school system?

Charles Handy would heartily agree. One of his paragraphs should speak to those of us in the Global Campaign for Education: “I remain convinced that we should use our schools as safe areas for experimenting with life, for discovering our talents – we all have some even if they don’t show up in examinations – for taking on responsibility for tasks and for other people, for learning how to learn what and when we need to, and for exploring our values and beliefs about life and society. For me, that is a more exciting curriculum than one packed full of facts.”

A is for Aeta

July 29, 2009

The PAL flight to Cotabato was bumpy, but landed earlier than scheduled. The ELF and Synergeia team at the Pacific Heights venue were surprised that I arrived early.

It’s the third day of a workshop to orient and train IMs or Instructional Managers who will handle basic literacy courses for out of school youth in the 8 mainland sites (7 towns and one city) assigned to Synergeia under the Equalls 2 project. The room was buzzing with the energy of 94 participants. I recognized a few of them from the previous training of IMs for the LIFE (Literacy for Empowerment) course, and smiled back at their welcome greetings.

When Nene Guevarra asked me to design the training for basic literacy, I said that I don’t have much personal experience in handling basic literacy. My first and last was a summer stint in Mindoro  as a young seminary student, when I taught Mangyans in the mountains of Mansalay.

I requested May Cinco of ELF to take care of designing the training program. She said that of all the ELF partners, it is the Aetas of Zambales who have the longest experience in giving basic literacy courses, dating back to pre-martial law days. Luckily, PBAZ or Paaralang Bayan ng Ayta sa Zambales had a scheduled 5-day training for facilitators of basic literacy. PBAZ is the organization set up by Aeta leader-graduates of ELF’s grassroots leadership course.

May sat in through the five days, and suggested that we adapt the PBAZ training course for Synergeia. She also recommended that we include Helen and Gerlyn in the training team for the workshop in Mindanao.

Helen is a lowlander (whom the Aetas call unat, or straight haired) who has worked with the LAKAS organization of Aetas, and lives in their community in Bihawo. Gerlyn is an Aeta (self-identified as kulot or curly-haired). I was interested to find out how they would fare as trainors and resource persons in MIndanao.

When I came into the workshop hall, May gave me a brief report n the first two and a half days of the workshop. “Yesterday, ” she said, “we asked Gerlyn to do a sample presentation, about vowels, patinig.” She added that she got good feedback for being clear, though she was quite nervous before she started. May felt her hands, and they were cold.  Only afterwards were the participants told that Gerlyn is Aeta.

On m way to the Centennial airport, I picked up Carling Domulot president of LAKAS and one of the key leaders of PBAZ. He was flying to Davao for a meeting, and I offered to share my taxi. 

He talked about his experience in basic literacy. Carling hasn’t had any formal education, but is a great example of a lifelong learner.” He is often invited to speak at various conferences, and gets very good feedback from the audience.

“We start with recognizing the shapes of the letters,” he said. “It took us three days just to learn about letter A.” Why that long? He said it was because they wanted the learners to find the letter A in their surroundings. They ended with the shape of the roof of their houses. They they learned what it sounds. But instead of teaching the learners directly, they were asked, “What do you do when you eat something spicy, like pepper?” They uttered “Aaah!” That’s the sound, they were told.

Why go through all that process? Carling said that of course the shape and sound of the letter can be taught directly, just writing it on a board, and letting learners say it after the teacher. But then, they would not consider it something they discovered themselves. Instead, it is something given by someone else and copied by them. Their shyness and lack of confidence in themselves will be reinforced.

His explanation reminded me of the philosophy and methodology espoused by Paolo Freire. Instead of memorization and rote learning which he calls “banking,” the process of learning even simple alphabet involves a lot of story-telling and discussion which are related to the immediate surroundings and daily life of the learners. In fact, I learned that the first literacy teachers of the Aetas studied Freire’s philosophy and methods.

From Literacy to Lifelong Learning

April 29, 2009

Just got back from a whole day workshop in Antipolo City, convened by the LCC, the Literacy Coordinating Council of the Philippines. Dr. Norma Salcedo, head of the LCC secretariat, asked me to lead the discussion on NGO participation in the LCC.

Used without any qualifiers, “literacy” is understood as basic literacy, or the ability to read and write a simple sentence in any language. It is usually linked to basic numeracy, or the ability to do simple calculations. I said that my impression is that there are not that many NGOs engaged in basic literacy. The few that I know of work mainly with indigenous peoples’ communities. Perhaps it’s because according to the 2003 FLEMMS survey, more than 93% of 10 year olds and older are basically literate.

But the LCC interprets its mission of “universalizing literacy” in more expansive terms. It has adopted a definition of “functional literacy” formulated by a group of experts which goes beyond the former understanding of functional literacy as “reading, writing, calculating, and comprehending.” The first time I heard the LCC definition, my immediate reaction was that it seemed to be indistinguishable from “lifelong learning.”

The 2003 FLEMMS classified 84% of Filipinos and Filipinas between 10 to 64 years as functionally literate, using the older definition. Since the 2008 survey has used the new definition, I suspect that the percentage will go down.

To its credit, the LCC position is more in line with contemporary understanding of literacy. Instead of drawing a fixed boundary between basic literacy and functional literacy, we are asked to consider literacy as a continuum. Hence one mantra in the run up to Confintea VI is “from literacy to lifelong learning.”

We spent a bit of time mapping the different concepts in use in the Philippines. While the LCC uses “basic literacy” and “functional literacy,” Ethel Valenzuela of SEAMEO Innotech pointed out that BALS, the Bureau of Alternative Learning System, prefers to emphasize “life skills.” The UNESCO National Commission tends to use “lifelong learning” and links it to the perspective of sustainable development. She added that she is doing a survey for the National EFA Committee on “basic learning needs.”

Because different government agencies use different terms, we agreed that one of the tasks of the LCC should be to “coordinate” the various literacy-related terms, and clarify their relationship to the LCC twin concepts of basic literacy and functional literacy.

To make the task more challenging, Thea Soriano, national coordinator of E-Net Philippines, added that NGOs use additional terms – popular education, adult education, grassroots education, community education. Soon after EDSA 1986, we tried to promote “popular education” as the preferred concept, but we can’t say that we have succeeded. More recently, we have taken up the concept of ALS or “alternative learning systems.” To some extent, “lifelong learning” has also entered the vocabulary of NGOs.

But NGOs who consciously engage in popular education are a minority. Most would describe their work in other terms – poverty reduction, sustainable development, participatory local governance, asset reform, or even community organizing, and people’s empowerment. While all these include activities that can be described as popular education, or functional literacy, but they do not employ the terms.

Anyway, our discussion moved on to the issue of how to expand and deepen NGO participation in the work of the LCC. One of the members of the LCC represents NGOs, but we want to open channels for greater participation by more NGOs. We agreed on a November target for a national conference of NGOs who are into literacy work and who want to enter into partnership with the LCC.

Meaningful participation of NGOs in the LCC has greater possibilities through the local LCCs – provincial, city, town, down to the barangay. While the LCC has promoted the localization of LCC, most LGUs who have taken up the challenge tend to link up mainly with the local DepEd, with little participation of NGOs.

The setting up of some partnership mechanism for NGOs at the national level is important, mainly for dialogue on policies. But progress in achieving universal functional literacy needs functioning local LCCs that harness the energies of the LGU, DepEd, NGOs, and other community players.

Given the enormity of the challenge, I am reminded of the trick question: “How do you eat an elephant?”

The answer is, of course, “Bit by bit.”


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