The School of Life: Learning outside the classroom – Philippines


THERE’S more to a child’s education than ABCs and 123s. In the words of a genius, Albert Einstein, who once did poorly in school, “learning is not a product of schooling, but the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”

Beyond the formal teachings in schools, lifelong lessons that would empower and guide the children once they go outside the “real world” should also be given emphasis. From social media and stress to bullying and peer pressure, children today are vulnerable to walking on the wrong path, no thanks to these bad influences seeping in from the “outside world.”

This is where interventions come in.

Take the case of Kristoff Zyrell Shawn M. Diaz. His father is an overseas Filipino worker. His mother juggles her daytime job and her domestic duties. He grew up with his grandparents. Like any other kid, he enjoyed playing with his friends. But he admitted he liked to pick fights with his classmates. At nine years old, he just recently learned how to read. A quarrelsome boy and a late bloomer he was, never an achiever in his academic class.

But there was potential in Kristoff, as Nico M. Fos, a grade school teacher at the Kapitbahayan Elementary School in Navotas, realized. At 22 and a fresh graduate of AB English, Mr. Fos decided to pursue his passion: to teach kids. He is one of the teacher-fellows at Teach for the Philippines, a nongovernmental organization that encourages young professionals and fresh graduates to volunteer as teachers at public schools.

Teach for the Philippines currently has 140 teachers. A teacher-fellow has a two-year contract. The organization recruits new, young teachers whenever a contract ends.

“When I am teaching, my students learn, but in teaching, I also learn in return,” Mr. Fos, adding that his class, including Kristoff, taught him persistence and how to be a better version of oneself.

Mr. Fos and his student underwent a series of workshops and modules under the Coordinates for Life, a flagship education program under the partnership of Teach for the Philippines and Coca-Cola Fomento Economico Mexicano (FEMSA), a Mexican multinational beverage and retail company and the local distributor of Coca-Cola products. FEMSA developed the program in 2013.

“Kids today are faced with difficult decisions that may be life-threatening or life-changing. The program aims to get children to make the right choices in life. It involves giving them tool kits…to be able to run their life in the right way,” said Juan C. Dominguez, Coca-Cola FEMSA Asian division corporate affairs director.

The Coordinates for Life program taps 16 life skills like assertiveness, empathy, understanding consequences, stress and anger management, and other holistic development modules fit for children going through various stages in life. It traces its roots in Mexico and has expanded to neighboring South American countries including Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Brazil.

In the Philippines, the program had a pilot run in Quezon City last year. Today, it is working with 15 public schools in Metro Manila, where there are Teach for the Philippines teacher volunteers.

Coordinates for Life, which is an intervention program incorporated in the current curriculum, has so far involved 2,178 elementary students and 304 teachers and parents.

“It takes a village to raise a child. Learning shouldn’t be confined within the corners of a classroom,” said Teach for the Philippines founder Clarissa L. Delgado. The organization aims a 100% access to education nationwide by 2050.

The program has achieved considerable success in Latin America, but Coordinates for Life isn’t a one-size-fits-all program. “It (the module) was originally [written] in Spanish and Portuguese. Obviously, there’s a need to adapt to English and Taglish. We also normally work with middle schoolchildren in grades VII and VIII, because where we ran the program in South America, that’s…the critical stages when the kids leave school,” Mr. Dominguez said of the program’s challenges.

In the Philippines, the biggest test was to accommodate the schedules of the teacher-fellows who work full-time elsewhere. They are encouraged to incorporate the skills in the subjects they teach, or to teach them on weekends.

The program aims to be a component of the Department of Education and the local governments “so that it becomes part of the patrimony of the Filipino people,” Mr. Dominguez said.

A bit timid to strangers, Kristoff said he has changed since the program. He started the curriculum when he was in grade III. Coordinates for Life targets Filipino pupils grades III to V. The modules are integrated within the subjects or the students are advised to take weekend classes. Kristoff was happy to oblige. He said he has stopped fighting friends and classmates. He has learned to love books too. He said likes reading “Lolo Ding,” a children’s story about a boy and his grandpa. Kristoff, after all, grew up with his grandparents.

Learning empowers not only the children but also their schoolteachers and their mothers, who are the children’s first and best teachers. “It has a multiplier effect,” said Mr. Dominguez, “it pays forward.”

At Coordinates for Life, parents and educators also undergo trainings. Marivel S. Berangel, 44, a homemaker, is one of the parents who attended a series of weekend seminars on life skills. She couldn’t think of a better way to spend her Saturdays than to learn. She said she wanted to discover basic life skills that she would share with her daughter. Her child, Roxanne, 8, is in grade IV at the Kapitbahayan Elementary School in Navotas. She said she’s now mindful in preparing a healthy baon (meal) for Roxanne. She has also limited her from using social media. Roxanne has her own cell phone.

Next year, the Teach for the Philippines will go out of Metro Manila, further to Mindanao, in Cagayan de Oro and Siargao, where it would also take the Coordinates for Life program to help build other communities. After all, anyone can be a teacher and everyone is a student of life.