Alternative Learning Systems 101
This morning I spoke at a graduate studies class being handled by my father-in-law, Dr. Cesar Villariba. He introduced me as part of “Team Villariba,” since Girlie also pitches in when she is in Lucena City on Saturdays.
The participants are mainly teachers and principals in other towns of Quezon province who are doing their masters and doctorates. Many of them have to wake up as early as 4 am, to travel from their homes to the Enverga University campus in Lucena City, on time for the 8 am session.
“What do you want me to talk about?” I asked. He told me to speak on what’s close to my heart, so long as it is related to education philosophy and management.
What is it that interests me most in education? Yesterday, I spoke on one item of personal interest, at a workshop on “Lifelong Learning” and the prospect of making Lucena City a “Learning City.” Today I chose to speak about “Alternative Learning Systems,” or ALS for short.
Most of the participants had heard of the ALS acronym, and associate it with “non-formal and informal” learning. We started our discussion with the more usual notions of ALS, and then probed deeper into its implications for education philosophy and management.
The pragmatic argument for ALS in basic education is pretty straight forward. The current formal, school-based system in the Philippines has the following performance outcomes: Of every 100 children who enroll in Grade One, only 65 finish Grade 6, and only 45 finish high school.
And yet, the Philippine Constitution and its global commitment to EFA 2015 binds the government to provide basic education to all. How can it deliver on this? One strategy is to reform the basic education system, to make it perform optimally; this also means putting more resources into it. But that can be only one strategy. We need to “walk on two legs” toward EFA.
The other leg is to build alternative learning systems, or ALS, initially for the 11 million- plus out of school youth and adults. Ultimately, however, ALS is needed to give other options to those who are in a different life situation and who have different preferred learning styles.
Fortunately, the Philippines has many elements of ALS not only for basic education, but even for higher education. The “architectural drawings” exist, and are even supported by policy legislation. The problem, as in other areas in governance in the Philippines, is in the “construction” of the system including the crucial element of financing.
I first heard of the DepEd’s ALS for high school equivalency when the Bureau of Non Formal Education, or BNFE, approached me during my stint as director-general of TESDA. They asked if I would sign a MOA recognizing the certification that students receive through ALS for entry into TESDA-approved courses. After studying what they called their “Accreditation and Equivalency” scheme, or A and E, I was happy to sign a MOA. Later, CHED did the same.
When I returned to NGO work, I approached the BNFE for possible partnership. They were glad to link with NGOs, but unfortunately, they told us, there’s no more money from the ADB loan which enabled them to contract NGOs for the pilot implementation of ALS. They could give us a set of the modules, but we have to reproduce them ourselves. They could also train Instructional Managers, but we have to pay them ourselves.
Later, we got more bad news. Instead of giving the nationwide exams for ALS students twice a year, their limited budget would limit the giving of exams to once a year. “How much is your budget anyway?” We asked. To our surprise (or maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised), of the more than 100 billion peso budget of the DepEd, the BNFE got barely more than 100 million pesos.
Later, the BNFE got a new name BALS – Bureau of Alternative Learning System. But a new name did not mean new funds. BALS still gets less than one per cent of the DepEd budget.
No wonder the BESRA (Basic Education Sector Reform Agenda) of the DepEd lumps ALS and ECCD under its strategy of public-private partnership. I suspect that in the mind of the government, there’s more “private” than public in this partnership.
Toward multiple learning systems
Beyond the pragmatics and the numbers, ALS poses deeper questions about education philosophy and management. The current formal education system is described, with reason, as reflecting the “mass production” factory system of early industrialization. That had its usefulness, but it is not appropriate for the knowledge economy.
This is true especially of technical education and higher education.
Again, the good news is that there are key elements of ALS in the architecture of technical and higher education. The bad news is in the lack of resources, and also in some reluctance to construct.
The late Malu Doronilla emphasized that ALS needs also an alternative system of assessment and certification, beyond the usual paper and pencil tests. This is the missing element in the DepEd’s ALS, though they have commissioned the development of a system of “portfolio assessment.”
In technical education, TESDA has a system of RPL or recognition of prior learning, similar to what other countries call PLAR – prior learning assessment and recognition. In higher education, CHED can authorize selected schools to offer ETEEAP, or Expanded Tertiary Education and Equivalency Accreditation Program. This allows schools to give a degree based on the portfolio evidence presented by the applicant.
The Philippines still has a long way to go toward the dream of a “multiple learning system” and its accompanying recognition system of our “multiple intelligences.” But we have taken some important steps. The challenge is to develop a momentum.Alternative Learning Systems, Education for All