Never too late: How ALS can help senior citizen graduates persevere through second chance education

Many consider old age as a limit to reaching their goals. But these senior citizen graduates show that it’s never too late to take the chance to achieve your dreams.

Nako, nahihirapan akohindi ko na yata itutuloy kasi sumasakit ang ulo ko, na iistress ako,” comments Leticia Domondon, a student under the Doña Susana Madrigal Elementary School’s Alternative Learning System (ALS). While her qualms may sound like a teacher constantly trying to appease her rambunctious class together, she actually tells a different story, one of a 60-year-old elementary graduate. 

(Goodness, it’s so hard…I don’t think I can pursue this because I have headaches and I always get stressed.)

For senior citizens like Domondon—who stopped going to school at the young age of 12 to help her family get through tough times—getting her degree was as hard as entering the eye of a needle. Still, she found the determination to push herself to continue her studies, “Kahit may edad na ako, para bang [naghahamon] ako na mag-aral.” 

(Even in my old age, I still want to challenge myself to study.)

Years in the making

For a young Domondon, she recalled schooling as  a fulfilling and joyous period of her life. She was one of her class’ top students, excelling in subjects like Mathematics; Domondon also knew what it was like to be the class’ go-to answer key during examinations. “Pag oras na ng test, ang iba kong kaibigan umaasa sila sa aking mga sagot,” she narrates. “Pero hindi ko naman lahat ibibigay ang tamang sagot para mas mataas pa rin ako sa kanila,” she jests.

(Whenever we had tests, my other friends would rely on me for the answers. However, I wouldn’t give them all the correct answers so that I could still score the highest.)

This period was sadly short-lived, since by the age of 12, she had to resort to working as house help in order to support her family. Now, graduating elementary school at 60 years old, she finally returned to fulfill what she once lost. “Ang aking [naramdaman] sa unang araw nang ibigay ng aking guro ang modules, excited ako na may halong kaba,” she shares. Luckily, this anxiety proved to be no obstacle to her as the difficulty of growing up without an educational degree motivated her further to learn as much as she could despite her old age.

(I felt excitement with a mix of anxiety when my teacher gave me my modules on my first day.)

However, returning to school was not the typical experience she was expecting. For one, being a mother required her to fulfill additional responsibilities such as completing daily chores. Domondon also enrolled amid the pandemic, leading to isolated online learning and no interactions with her instructors. “Dito lang naman [ako] sa bahay; hindi ako [nakakahingi ng tulong] sa teacher ko,” she laments. Ultimately, she turned to  her daughter and her grandchild—a teacher and a college student, respectively. 

(I’m just at home; I couldn’t ask my teacher for help.)

Apart from the aforementioned challenges, Domondon also had to embrace a new age of learning—one enhanced by modern-day technology. To her, “Malaki na ang [umunlad] ng edukasyon dahil mayroon nang computer at gadget na nakakatulong, mas malawak na ang [natutunan] ng mga mag-aaral.” 

(There has been so much progress in education because of computers and gadgets that the scope of information is now broader for students.)

In the current academic curricula, senior citizens are also greeted with several modifications to what they might have been accustomed to. “[They also have] academic challenges…[because] there’s a lull between the last day they attended school and the day they resumed schooling,” observes Aurora Caringal, the instructional manager for ALS senior citizen Accreditation & Equivalency (A&E) class in Nagcarlan, Laguna. Domondon also acknowledges this, having had difficulties answering her modules due to curricular differences.

Behind the cap and gown

To witness more success stories of senior citizen graduates, it is crucial that the government—particularly the Department of Education—devises sustainable reforms to address the limitations of ALS under the Continuing Education Program. For one, the customary application devices for the basic literacy program must be tailored for the old age of the applicants—larger font sizes, longer time limits for assignments, and a more accessible class setup would go a long way toward the program’s effectiveness. 

Ricardo Callos, the district ALS coordinator of Nagcarlan, Laguna recalls their district’s request for the School Division Office to address the concerns of the students regarding the aforementioned devices. Unfortunately, it was left unresolved because they needed to abide by the national standard of distributed test booklets and protocols with regard to the time limit of taking exams. “Dapat po ay magkaroon ng [nationally-devised program] for senior citizens [retaking elementary or high school],” Callos suggests. Subtle considerations like these must be granted for aspiring senior citizen students to boost their evident interest in the program even during the first few phases of the application. 

(There should be a nationally-devised program for senior citizens.)

Furthermore, the approach of teaching senior citizens is paramount to this whole ordeal. This poses a challenge because, as Caringal explains, “iba ang approach sa formal education na elementary sa [mga] senior citizens.” She clarifies that senior citizens feel shameful of continuing their studies at such a late point in their lives. Thus, Caringal ensures to eliminate that shame to inspire and motivate her students to learn.

(It’s a different approach teaching formal education to elementary students compared to senior citizens.)

Fortunately, Caringal explains that the modules their institution provides are created to sustain their interests. This tactic has proven to be effective as Callos furthers, “[Kahit] sa simpleng mathematical concept na matutunan nila, tuwang-tuwa na sila.”

(They’re fulfilled and happy even with the simple mathematical concepts they’ve learned.)

Additionally, senior citizens—at least those in Nagcarlan—are generously presented with livelihood programs. The elderly usually seize the opportunity to expand their horizons after graduating from the ALS program, “[because], they can [now] understand [the] procedures [on] how to go about a certain project,” Caringal remarks. With that, Domondon implores that the government must standardize and synthesize programs and even job opportunities for the elderly, “Sana ‘yung mga ganyang edad na gusto pa mag-aral katulad ko, masuportahan din nila.” 

(Hopefully our government could give more support for us senior citizens who still want to study.)

Breaking the stigma

With programs that holistically address the needs and intercept with the interests of these students—while also encouraging communion with one another—they could better guarantee effective learning. “Mas ineenjoy nila ‘yung stay sa training center dahil parang family na [silang mga students],” Callos shares with glee. Indeed, these senior citizens maximize their second chance at education, boasting of perfect attendance that manifests their indomitable spirit. 

(The students enjoy their stay at the training center because they’re almost like family.)

Additionally, some of ALS Nagcarlan’s graduates sought out positions within their barangay’s senior citizen association. According to Caringal, “Nagkaroon sila ng qualification at nag-graduate sila ng elementary at high school; natatak na sila sa senior citizen association ng barangay namin.

With quality education and the affirmation of being able to serve their communities, these senior citizen students finally march toward fulfilling what was once a dream of their younger selves. “Ganun pala ang feeling ng makapagsuot ng toga…parang gusto ko umiyak [o] tumawa,” Domondon shares. However, her story is far from over; as of August 22, Domondon returned to schooling to obtain her high school degree. 

(That’s what it apparently feels like to wear a toga…it’s like I wanted to laugh [or] cry.)

Students like Domondon are a testament that quality education transcends the boundaries of age and crowns them with a sense of fulfillment in their golden years. In the senior citizen’s words, “Sa pag-aaral wala pala sa edad kahit matanda na kapag ginusto mo ay mangyayari pala.”

(Education knows no age, even at an old age, if you want it, it will happen.)

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