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Fighting in the trenches, ALS instructors push for support

Instructors of ALS say that the program’s goal is being challenged due to the ongoing pandemic.

An educator’s greatest asset is their compassion—mainly driven by the desire and enthusiasm to see their students thrive. This mission also includes assisting students whose education was halted by some unforeseen or uncontrollable circumstance.

The Department of Education’s (DepEd) Alternative Learning System, or ALS, is a more accessible and specialized program catered toward learners who aspire to complete their education. The program offers out-of-school youth and adults an opportunity to learn basic and functional literacy skills. As accepting a diverse set of students invites problems that would not be present in a formal classroom setting, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic further complicating the situation, what does it take to become an ALS educator?

Prevailing, still

Grim as the fact may be, not every learner has the opportunity to finish their studies in the existing formal education system. Economic, social, and health-related problems caused by the pandemic have forced many students to discontinue schooling and focus on fortuitous events and other urgent responsibilities. Macroel Reyes, an ALS mobile teacher, has been aware of the harsh realities his students face. “Dito sa kanila, kahit bolpen lang, envelope lang [ang binili], malaking isyu na,” he shares. 

(For them, even just purchasing a ballpen or an envelope could be a burden already.)

Having spent six years as a mobile teacher, Reyes considers his work as a step closer to his goal of inspiring students. When he was just starting, he recalls adapting to the availability of his students rather than his own schedule, “May mga pagkakataon na [magtatanong] ng mga alanganin na oras ng gabi. ‘Di mo naman sila ma-ignore kasi baka ‘yun lang ‘yung oras [na available sila].”

(There are times when students raise concerns late at night. You can’t ignore them because that might be the only time they’re available.)

Joseph Dela Rosa, another ALS mobile teacher, says he pursued teaching as he wanted to work immediately after college. Just like Reyes, he found himself working beyond prescribed school hours to accommodate the needs of his students, even if it meant staying up until midnight to answer inquiries, and creating short video clips to simplify certain lessons. “Naglalaan kami ng extra time sa mga learner, lalo [na’t] alam namin na mahalaga para sa [kanila] ang kanilang ginagawa,” he opines.

(We allocate extra time to the learners, especially since we know that what they’re doing is important to them.)

However, there are those who think that ALS is inaccessible, hindering the proper utilization of the program. “Kasi [ang] iba kapag nakita, ‘Alternative Learning System’, [sasabihin], ‘Ay English, mukhang mahal,’” Reyes clarifies. As such, prioritizing the program’s accessibility is the end goal. DepEd made ALS completely free of charge, unlike its local and international counterparts. “Kapag may nag-iinquire, ‘Sir, magkano ‘yung bayad?’—walang bayad,” he affirms, sharing that this grounded strategy is used for the program’s promotion.

(The moment Filipinos read “Alternative Learning System”, they immediately think it’s expensive because it’s in English….But, whenever someone inquires, “Sir, how much is the fee?”—I tell them it is free.)

Treacherous waves

Despite its beneficial intentions, ALS was not spared from the shift toward a fully online setup as soon as the pandemic started.

Dela Rosa states they had multiple options to accommodate the needs of students prior to the pandemic, utilizing a modular-based program. “Noon, sa mga community learning center [idinaraos] ang pagtuturo sa ALS,”  he shares. “Kung nasaan ang mga learner na nais matuto, doon isinasagawa ang klase na maaaring sa barangay [hall], classroom, ilalim ng puno, o mga outpost.”

(Before, teaching under ALS was conducted in community learning centers. Wherever the learner wants to study, that’s where the class is run—whether that be in the barangay hall, classroom, under a tree, or in outposts.)

Now, the necessary resources are more difficult to access; ALS instructors and learners alike grapple with technical difficulties. Learners have to accomplish modules electronically, forcing them to go through an adjustment curve. Slow internet connection has also been a recurring issue with Reyes’ students—some staying disconnected for as long as 20 minutes. 

Still, instructors empathize with the students and give them as much patience as they can. “Hindi mo siya pwedeng ikagalit,” Reyes expresses. “Thankful na dapat na ako nun, kasi nakapasok siya eh.”

(I can’t be mad about it; I should already be thankful that they were able to attend.)

On the other hand, instructors have to deal with scant resources as well, often stretching their finances to purchase learning materials for their students. “Dumadating kami sa punto na ‘yung sarili naming funds, sarili naming salary, [minsan] kalahati nito ay nabibili namin ng mga ink [o] pagpapagawa ng printer,” Reyes admits.

(Sometimes we are forced to fund these learning materials using our own money, often using up half of our salaries to buy ink or to have printers fixed.)

No one left behind

The online setup may have caused difficulties but it has also brought novel opportunities, opening doors for all Filipinos across the globe. Reyes reveals he even had a student working as a housekeeper in Dubai who took ALS together with her son.

Reyes also shares his experience with two senior citizens who decided to pursue ALS together in 2016. He recalls one of them saying that he wanted to hang his own diploma on the wall of their house, alongside the diplomas of his family members. “Nagtanong daw yung apo niya, ba’t wala ‘yung [diploma ng] lolo nila. So kumbaga, ‘yun ‘yung [nag-udyok] sa kanya na, ‘Bakit hindi ko subukan?’ Ngayon, meron siyang diploma doon sa dingding ng bahay nila,” he shares.

(His grandchild asked why his diploma was missing. That was what pushed him to try ALS. Now, he has a diploma hanging on the wall in his home.)

This shows the flexibility and inclusivity of the program, where neither age nor physical distance matter. All it takes is the strong-willed demeanor to kickstart one’s journey toward what was once unattainable.

Right to a ‘second chance’

The rigid nature of formal education leaves little room for error. “Kung mawala sila doon, wala na,” Reyes laments. And it is for this reason, stressful as the situation may be, that the people behind ALS continue to persevere. “Kami ang magbibigay ng second chance para sa kanila,” he explains.

(If they drop out of it, they’re done… But we’re the ones who will be giving them a second chance.)

The Philippines may be far from ensuring every citizen has access to quality education, but ALS plays a crucial part in closing the education gap for those rejected by formal schooling. Dela Rosa wishes for all citizens to be aware that in ALS, “walang pinipiling edad at [anumang] estado sa buhay.”

(ALS doesn’t mind one’s age or walk of life.)

Many challenges lie ahead for the future of ALS in the country, but the groundwork for it has been laid. Beneath everything stands a sturdy foundation—the commitment of ALS educators to their mission of giving second chances to Filipino learners.

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