Who said education can only be had in formal and traditional schools?
Thanks to the Department of Education’s Alternative Learning System (ALS), children or adults in the farthest villages can finish elementary and high school through informal schooling.
The ALS is one of the most far-reaching, encompassing and compassionate programs of the DepEd. It entails no cost from the students because no fees are collected. Learners do not have to travel far because their “school” is just within their community. And they can study their lessons at their own pace.
Classrooms can be a churchyard, a covered court, a barangay hall, a hut in the middle of a rice field or a tent pitched on a mountain.
It doesn’t matter where a class is held, learners can gather anywhere and a facilitator who acts as the teacher will deliver their lessons.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones should be commended for her efforts to push this program because it gives heart to the government’s oft-repeated mantra that not one child will be left behind. This “open” education system welcomes anyone and everyone who wants to finish basic schooling regardless of age, gender, religion, status in life or ethnicity.
Children who should be in elementary or high school but who live too far from a public school can enter the program. Those who have dropped out but want to pursue their education are also welcome. Even adults who wish to graduate from high school can join.
ALS graduates who pass the accreditation and equivalency test get a diploma and can proceed to higher education if they choose.
As Secretary Briones pointed out, nothing should stop a person’s learning process. Not poverty, not conflict. Not even war. She should know best, because she got her early learning in the jungles when she and her family were hiding in the mountains during the Japanese occupation.
“My own experience showed that one can get educated without formal schooling,” she told DepEd officials and personnel on her first day of work at the Department. She recalled that when the Japanese invaded the Philippines, a university in Southern Philippines founded by American missionaries closed its facilities and its American and Filipino faculty fled to the hills. A jungle university was set up and the teachers continued to hold lessons in mountain communities amid the war.
She said that her mother gathered the children from the mountain villages and taught them how to read and write.
“My mother, who was a teacher, did not let the horrors of war deter her from teaching,” Secretary Briones explained.
It is perhaps auspicious that Secretary Briones, who advocates informal schooling, was appointed DepEd chief. Because under her leadership, the Education department can strengthen and work for the wider implementation of the ALS program so that more children in remote villages can continue learning.
If there is one program that government should sustain, it is ALS. Shaping and educating young minds is an investment with immeasurable returns. Teachers in remote areas should take their tasks to heart, because they play a huge role in the success of the implementation of such social programs for the poor.
(The author, Loreen Lolita A. Cubero, is Principal 1 of the Batangan Elementary School in Gonzaga, Cagayan)