Sometimes school life gets interrupted – your family breaks up, you need to care for a sick loved one, you are forced to work to support your family. Perhaps Typhoon Yolanda destroyed your home and forced you to move far away from your school. Doing what was necessary to survive and helping your family recover was naturally prioritized over going to school.
You feel you are too far behind to go back but your career hopes are shattered. You are looking at a life of unemployment or at best being stuck in a low paid, unstable and menial job.
The situations described above mean that school drop-out rates in the Philippines are high – almost 8% of secondary students drop out of school.
Luckily ALS is giving people a second chance. A chance to get back into education. A chance to get a decent job.
What is ALS?
- Alternative Learning System. A modular non-formal education program in the Philippines.
- It provides a chance for school dropouts to get back into learning and improve their career prospects.
- Weekly lessons take place at a school or other facility and last between 1-2 hours.
- Anyone is welcome – from school aged Filipinos, to people of working age and even retirees.
- Lesson modules cover science, maths, English, Filipino and social studies. There are exams at the end of the course.
- Once they have successfully completed the 5 month program (depending on their level) students can re-join school, go to college or look for work.
How is VFV supporting the ALS?
VFV has saved many children from scavenging at a local dump site by sponsoring them. Mano John (VFV project coordinator) was aware that, although no longer spending their days at the dump, some were still not going to school.
Along with another VFV staff member he interviewed the children and their parents to check who was in education and who had dropped out. Seven children were identified as being candidates for the ALS. Mano John encouraged them to participate so that they wouldn’t be left behind and will have a chance for a better future. All seven opted in.
Mano John attends the weekly lessons to support the specialized ALS teacher and give encouragement to the boys.
Joining the VFV sponsored students are some older people recruited from the transition center next door (it was set up to house people made homeless by Yolanda).
I joined Mano John for the second ALS session held at Northern Tacloban City National High School.
The students trickled in. First, three of the VFV sponsored kids. Two had dropped out of school due to working on the dump site and going out to work to support their family, one had dropped out due to being bullied.
Next to arrive were some older students recruited from the transition center. One student was 26. He had dropped out of school when he was 15 to work to support his sick parents. Typhoon Yolanda left him homeless further damaging his chances of getting back into education. He worked as a kitchen assistant in the past but dreams of finding a better job.
Ma’am Gina Lopez arrives to start the lesson. A cheerful, smiley lady – she instantly puts the class at ease and explains today’s aims. The task is to document and assess their life experiences and existing skills. This is so Ma’am Gina can tailor subsequent lessons to the level her students are at and set appropriate goals for them.
She is very passionate about her work: ‘I’m inspired by the kids. I treat them like my children’ she says.
Ma’am Gina and Mano John support the students with their assessments (the forms are in English) helping them with their English and giving them ideas.
I ask what her is the biggest challenge to teaching. ‘Attendance’ she replies without hesitating. ‘How to encourage them to keep coming? There are lots of distractions for the students’.
There is tension between short term and long term needs of the students. They will be better off long term if they complete the ALS course but short term many need to work to get money for food. If they get work they might miss lessons or worse – drop out altogether.
The smile temporarily disappears from Ma’am Gina’s face as she recalls a student saying ‘Ma’am I can’t concentrate I’m so hungry’.
Hopes for the future
I asked the students what their hopes for the future were.
The two VFV sponsored children tell me they want to find work to support their families. One is keen to work with computers.
One of the older students dreams of becoming a teacher. ‘I want to help others have the same chance I’m being given’. He has already spread the word about ALS and has recruited two young single mothers to the class.
How can I help?
Most of us are very lucky to have had an uninterrupted education, gone on to college and got good jobs. If you’d like to help those who have not been as fortunate you can donate to help them get back on track.
Help them go from dropping out to jumping back in!
Photos and story – Liz Avery VFV Media Intern