Today we are having a day-long workshop to plan for an ALS Festival in September 26. It is sponsored by Enet, the education campaign network on EFA (Education For All).
It’s only recently that NGOs in the Philippines have included ALS or Alternative Learning System in their vocabulary. In 1986, soon after getting out of prison, I helped convene a series of consultations on our education work, and the term we adopted and popularized was popular education or “pop-ed.” That seems to have spread, at least among social activists and development workers. A young person from the Cordillera even used it to re-baptize me. Since I had been laicized and was not “Father Ed” anymore, he said friends should call me “Pop-Ed.”
Popular education is usually located within social movements and development processes, linked to community organizing or CO – another keyword in NGO vocabulary. Within popular education, the Education for Life Foundation (ELF), which I helped establish, chose to focus on grassroots leadership formation.
Sometimes we refer to our work on grassroots leadership formation as “alternative higher education.” After all, grassroots leaders e.g. barangay council members, coop leaders etc. need more than basic education.
Enet was organized to insure civil society participation in achieving EFA. When ELF was asked to join, I wondered how we could best contribute. We were and still are not into the reform of formal basic education. We were mainly involved in the education of adults, rather than children.
The education data helped define our place in Enet and EFA. It was quite a shock to learn that of every 100 children who enroll in Grade One, only 45 manage to graduate from fourth year high school. Obviously the formal system of basic education (primary and secondary) serves less than half of the chidlren and youth. There is even an acronym for those outside the system – OSY, out of school youth.
What should be done? What can we do?
One way is to reform and improve the performance of the formal, school-based system, to reduce drop outs and to improve quality. One good news is that there are many more education advocates who are into this – from LGUs mobilized by Synergeia, to parents and teachers getting more involved in school-based management.
This is what Mayor Jessie Robredo of Naga City told me when I was evaluating them for the National Literacy Awards. His point was that optimizing the performance of the formal system will lessen the drop outs and give us a more realistic sense of how many really need ALS. He pioneered in “re-engineering the Local School Board” which improved the education outcomes in Naga City public schools.
But even with optimum performance from the school-based system, there will be those who for other reasons – poverty, part-time work, early pregnancy, different learning styles – cannot go through the usual Monday to Friday, morning till afternoon school routine. They need another way to learn. That’s where ALS comes in.
Fortunately the DepEd has done something about ALS. Financed by an ADB loan, it has produced 150 modules for self-study and group-study, and has set up an assesment system that makes it possible for out of school youth to learn and get the equivalent of a high school diploma. At the ALS Festival, we will exchange our experiences in implementing ALS, and discuss ways of improving and expanding our work.
That’s ALS for basic education. But there is also ALS for higher education. In fact, in the framework of lifelong learning, we need to recognize and develop many ways of learning.