By Esmeralda G. Salcedo, EPS II
A famous Filipino quotation goes like this, ‘Habang maiksi ang kumot, matutong mamaluktot!’ (if the blanket is short, learn how to fit on it!) This very quotation sums up how badly each individual from different sectors need to graciously and patiently endure this pandemic to be able to survive it.
While the world has been turned upside down, the need to continue and move forward did not stop for both the teachers and the students. Even if the world tried to stop and take its rest, the pressure on the education sector seemed unstoppable. Along with medical frontliners, educators and education facilitators were also silently battling in the battlefield against the unseen enemy to continue to resuscitate the education system in our country.
Unfortunately, many of our unsung heroes in the education sector were left unnoticed until this day. And sadly, some of these unsung heroes are now sleeping in death as they chose to do their responsibility to educate children in the face of this pandemic. The majority of our teaching force are also technologically challenged. So the sudden change in our education system also turned them blindfolded in this warfare. Many students also were left with only two options: to continue or to stop. Like their teachers, many of them are struggling due to their families loss of income and the incapacity to move forward with the expenses of providing proper tools to attend their classes. Most of our students are also working students so when pademic hit, an added problem arose. Indeed, getting education had its price- laptop, gadgets, and good internet connection.
Our future is significantly shaped by what we learn in school. For this reason, young people must be educated in order to prepare them for the challenges that lie ahead in life. However, not all Filipinos can afford to attend a formal school. Recognizing this, the Philippine government long ago established ALS (former Nonformal Education Program) for all Filipinos. Out-of-school youth and adults who were unable to complete their basic education are the target audience for this program, which equips them with the necessary skills to find employment. Years later, ALS added proficiency classes with the intention of awarding high school and elementary diplomas to qualified students. Apart from dropouts, ALS also helps people deprived of liberty, rehabilitation patients, people of indigenous descent, people with disabilities, and those who have been impacted by armed conflicts or natural disasters.
Prior to the pandemic, ALS had already established a flexible method for its learners. Designed as a self-paced blended learning program, ALS combines the modular approach and instructional approach of assigned teachers. Depending on the learners’ level, ALS modules are self-paced, with pretests and post-tests that evaluate the competency individually. Instructions from teachers are added at basic levels or when the learner needs guidance. With the help of the barangay, Community Learning Centers were set up, dedicated to meeting the learners. Some of these were part of the barangay hall or a makeshift classroom to accommodate the class. Teachers are also committed to assisting learners, even going beyond their comfort zone to provide monitoring and support individually. In the case of the learners’ frequent absence, the teachers offer their unwavering support by conducting home visits and resolving any issues to bridge the gap. All these, together with the learners’ steadfast motivation to study, give ALS one step toward the goal of providing education for all.
However, the pandemic’s presence threatened this goal. With COVID-19 ravaging the globe, many parents fear for their children’s safety. Some resort to petitioning for an academic freeze for the school year 2020-2021. This meant that all students would stop their education, including those in the ALS Program. In response, the Department of Education, in cooperation with UNICEF, released the Basic Education Learning Continuity Plan. This intervention ensures that the learners can continue learning with the help of health and safety protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In addition, the ICT4ALS and ALSware platforms were launched, providing ASL teachers and learners with online access to learning materials that they can freely use. Vaccination programs were held in many areas to cater to all Filipinos and suppress lingering unproductive ideas regarding the scare.
Despite the government’s efforts, many parents still rejected the idea and did not allow their children to enrol for that school year. As cases of COVID-19 increase and the government continues declaring lockdowns, unemployment has begun to emerge as an issue. Some of the ALS learners were among those in the working sector, providing for their families while studying. Lacking financial stability, these learners opt to shift their focus from studying to working and finding a means of getting by. Some also lack devices for their online access as well as internet allowance. Others in remote areas have poor internet reception, depriving them of accessing materials online. Delayed release of operation funds also challenged the ALS teachers in providing support for the learners, and they ended up covering some expenses.
Even with these circumstances, the ALS program managed to get through the pandemic. With support from various organizations, teachers, and the community, learners are able to withstand difficulties. Improvements in the ALS program, such as micro certification, where the learners can earn a certificate after acquiring the needed competency, add to the flexibility of the program. This proves how ALS will continue post-pandemic and beyond.