By Esmeralda G. Salcedo, EPS II
During the surge of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the global health crisis has alerted all social institutions to ‘new normal’ protocols. Significantly, the pandemic has unveiled problems in the Education System of the Philippines, further staggering the effect on underprivileged children, out-of-school youth (OSY) and out-of-school adult (OSA). The Department of Education (DepEd), reported that almost 4 million students were not able to enroll for the 2021 school year. Moreover, the 2017 Philippine Statistics Authority data showed that 9 percent or 3.53 million of the estimated 39.2 Filipinos aged 6 to 24 years old were considered OSY/As. Due to this pressing dilemma, the Alternative Learning System (ALS) was established.
The pandemic’s occurrence made Alternative Learning System (ALS) a crucial element in ensuring that all students, both formal and non-formal, continue their education. Many believe that since Alternative Learning System (ALS) is already performing the learning system in advance, there will be fewer issues. In spite of that, the fact that ALS students come from underprivileged communities, groups with disabilities, indigenous tribes, people deprived of liberty, and individuals who have been impacted by war or natural disasters, puts the system on par with formal education. The new normal was only addressed earlier by ALS teachers.
Prior to the pandemic, formal education was frequently conducted in classrooms with teachers attending to their students in accordance with their grade level and needs. Teachers can support one another and work together for the good of their students. Daily interaction also makes it simpler to keep tabs on the student’s well-being. Everything can be done in one location.
Expounding on the areas of learning in ALS, it includes various salient features. These include communication skills, problem-solving and critical thinking, sustainable use of resources, development of self and a sense of community, and expanding one’s world vision. These features explain the overall goal of the education system, which is inclusivity, and equality, regardless of socioeconomic status.
In Alternative Learning System (ALS), learning takes on a new level. Teachers visit locations where they interact with their students, out of youth and adults, who are not currently enrolled in school and who, for various reasons, have been unable to complete their education. Indigenous people who reside in remote areas without access to transportation are among those who have dropped out. To get to these places, teachers must walk for hours, swim across rivers, and climb hills and mountains. Some even make multi-day trips just to reach these areas. No wonder they were called mobile teachers.
In addition to having to travel a great distance, not having a conducive space is also a challenge. Mobile teachers meet learners in makeshift classrooms or under trees in the absence of Community Learning Centers. If they are taking classes outside, a sudden downpour could halt the lesson. The learners are also distracted by the noise and other people walking by, which makes the lesson last longer.
Inconsistent attendance of the learners also poses a concern. Some of the ALS students were also working adults who support their families. In such cases, teachers are obliged to conduct home visits and investigate. Then, discussions are held to develop solutions that will enable the learner to move forward. Most often, the teacher would adjust to the schedule preferred by the student.
Another challenge is that educational resources are inadequate and don’t meet the needs of the students. Teachers have to outsource the appropriate learning materials for them. Some areas have an unstable internet connection to access these materials on the internet. Hence, they have to find a good spot to download these. Added to this is the late release of their allowance, as they rely on it for the expenses involved. Some of them take money from their own pockets to cover the cost.
These are only a few of the problems our Alternative Learning System (ALS) facilitators have faced and still is being faced throughout the pandemic. But the pandemic did not only bring difficulties and problems. It also led teachers and students to have a stronger relationship along with their families. Sweat and tears are indeed spent. There are many who took the initiative to make sacrifices for the good of others. Some have gotten sick and some lost their lives in serving their students and their families. This pandemic has shown that nothing can stop these teachers from helping their students, even going the extra mile to fill-in the missing gap in the education system.
And so we are proud to say that despite the pandemic trying to bring us down, our Alternative Learning System (ALS) facilitators and students have worked hand in hand to cope through it. And true, the output is never 100% success, but knowing that there are people who managed to go out of their comfort zones and wore masks to continue to reach their goals, then we can be confident that we have won against covid-19.
For Alternative Learning System (ALS) teachers with families, being apart from their loved ones is also a challenge, primarily if they are assigned to distant or remote areas. Trainings and seminars are also required in their position to make them equipped, which lasts for a few days. Therefore, great effort, courage, and flexibility are needed to be one of them.