Incoming Education Secretary Leonor Briones said “no one will be left behind” (“No one left behind,” Opinion, 6/14/16) in reference to the estimated 400,000 “school-leavers” following the start of the implementation of the senior high school program. With due respect, I’d like to share with her and with the many Inquirer readers our experience with the small alternative learning center (ALC) that we run.
The center has now registered around 80 learners. It’s not, therefore, an overstatement to say that we are feeling the impact of the K-to-12 program. In the coming days, we expect more school-leavers to register. The situation is expected, but I don’t think that it should be called a “dropout crisis” as one senator thinks. Briones knows very well the situation and this should explain her intent to turn that catchy slogan into a concrete reality; that includes an urgent request for an additional budget of P45 billion for education, specifically for the Alternative Learning System (ALS).
One of the things that the Department of Education can do right away is to provide financial support to small and private ALCs or providers like ours.
Our ALC started in 2009 as an outreach program of the Divine Word Seminary, a school of theology in Tagaytay City. We felt that the study of theology must contribute to nation-building and since we have the facilities; aware of the many school-leavers around us, we established the ALC in partnership with the Arnold Janssen Catholic Mission Foundation Inc., an accredited DepEd provider. The center’s mission is not only “Education for All” (Unesco’s EFA initiative) but also free education.
Our learners do not pay for anything—school supplies, handouts, study materials, basic computer literacy sessions. In some instances, the center even provides free transportation and assistance when a member of a learner’s immediate family dies. They are given free access to our seminary’s sports and other facilities—all this, courtesy of generous donors.
The learners attend the modular learning sessions on a daily basis, after all, almost all of them cannot find employment as they are not high school graduates.
Some people may think it’s a dole. But we know very well that learning is stunted by an empty stomach. The method, in fact, has proved effective in both pedagogical and axiological dimensions. Our passing rate was 89.2 percent in the last Accreditation and Equivalency Tests (A&E), much higher than the national rate—in spite of the fact that the center has only one instructional manager (teacher).
Since its inception seven years ago, our ALC has graduated around 200 high school learners. Some of them went on to earn a college degree with help from foundations; others moved on to Tesda or to dual tech training centers. Most of them have landed a contractual job.
“Free education for all” involves the formation of the intellect and the will. Many of our learners have low self-esteem. They come to the center carrying with them a heavy psychological baggage and the stigma of a “dropout.” Learning, thus, is not simply aimed at passing the A&E; in most cases it is a psychomoral formation.
In short, if I were Secretary Briones, I would share a slice of the budget pie to small but efficient ALS providers so that they can give a decent salary to their teachers and tap as well the services of one or two professional counselors. In that way the “no left behind” slogan will not remain an apocalyptic lip service.
—FR. RANDOLF C. FLORES, SVD,dean of studies, Divine Word School of Theology,and site coordinator, SVD-ALS Center, Divine Word Seminary, Tagaytay City