MANILA, Philippines — You don’t have to be a world boxing champ in order to pass the Department of Education’s Accreditation and Equivalency (A&E) test and get a high school diploma.
You can avail yourself of the DepEd’s Alternative Learning System (ALS), a practical option to the existing formal instruction for out-of-school youths and adults aged 16 years and over.
Since 2004, out-of-school youths have enrolled at the nearest DepEd school division between June and November, and attended the ALS sessions where they are given (or allowed to photocopy) modules for self-learning. In some centers, teachers or facilitators conduct reviews for the A&E test which is given in February every year.
A&E exam results are usually out in May, just in time for ALS graduates to enroll in college or apply for overseas jobs because now they have a high school diploma.
Out of 35,404 takers of the high school A&E test this year, 10,887 passed, according to the DepEd website.
ALS Quezon City division coordinator Alejandra Mondoñedo has seen the program grow from a literacy-cum-livelihood project in the 1970s to what it is today: An alternative and practical option which allows school dropouts to complete elementary and high school education outside the school system.
Mondoñedo, who turned 65 this year, remembers supervising vocational courses, like cooking, cosmetology and sewing, at the Don Alejandro Roces Sr. Science and Technology High School on Roces Avenue in Quezon City.
A million stories
“Our students in the past were mostly working mothers and maids. When they enroll, they not only learn a skill, like cooking, how to give a manicure and pedicure, we make sure they also learn how to read and write,” Mondoñedo says.
A devoted teacher, she has a million stories about her “alaga”, which is what she calls the students she has met and helped through the years. They include men and women in their 20s and 30s who are too embarrassed to go back to regular school, young stars — some of whom would come straight from taping at nearby ABS-CBN or GMA 7 — maids, seamen, sidewalk vendors and yes, even children of congressmen.
She shares some of their stories with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of INQUIRER.net.
“Vicente,” 38, has left the country many times to work as a seaman. But in 2005, he was asked to get off the ship. Reason: The company found out he had a fake high school diploma.
Mondoñedo says it was Vicente’s wife who first came to see her to ask about enrolling a family member in ALS.
“I asked if she had brought her son. She was not answering. Finally, she said, ‘Ma’am, hindi anak. Asawa ko po ang mag-aaral. Nasa labas siya. Ayaw pumasok at nahihiya. Baka daw siya ang pinakamatanda sa klase (It’s not my son, it’s my husband who will go to school. He’s outside. He doesn’t want to come in because he’s ashamed to be the oldest one in class),’” she recalls.
Mondoñedo suggested then that the couple first observe the class. When Vicente saw there were four other people in their 30s, he decided to enroll.
“He made five good friends. Only three passed the A&E test. Vicente was one of them. But he was not able to attend the graduation because he already got a job as a seaman,” she says.
Then there’s the story of Amelia, who became pregnant when she was in third year high school. She was 24 years old and a working mother of two when she realized that in order to get a good job, she needed a college degree. But in order to go to college, she had to finish high school. She, however, didn’t want to go back to regular school. She would feel out of place with classmates 10 years her junior.
She enrolled in ALS at the Don Alejandro Roces Sr. Science and Technology High School and would sometimes bring one of her children to class because she couldn’t find a baby-sitter. She passed the A&E test in 2005 and is currently enrolled at the Jose Rizal University taking up marketing.
In appreciation, she wrote a testimonial to the ALS, which Mondoñedo showed the Inquirer: “I’m very thankful for programs helping people who cannot afford to go to regular school. People who [have lost] their hopes and dreams because of wrong actions. I also thank our beloved teacher whose patience and support [enabled] students to reach their goals,” Amelia wrote.
Then there’s Roberto, 25, a TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority)-trained beautician who has won a lot of hair competitions. He was so good with hair, he caught the attention of Ricky Reyes who hired him as a trainer in his beauty school.
Roberto, a third year high school dropout, had a sibling working in Ireland, who wanted him to work there as well. But because Roberto didn’t have a high school diploma, he couldn’t apply for a job.
His case was referred to Mondoñedo by another hairdresser she had helped. Roberto attended the ALS sessions, passed the A&E exam last year and is now preparing to leave for Ireland because he landed a job as a beautician in a hotel.
There’s Laurence, who was 36 when she first enrolled at ALS. She had already worked seven years as a domestic helper in Taiwan. She came home, used part of her savings to take a six-month care-giving course so she could go back to Taiwan and work there, this time as a caregiver. She passed the required TESDA exam, but she couldn’t get a job abroad without a high school diploma.
She heard about the A&E test, took it without attending the ALS and failed. The following year, she attended the ALS sessions, took the A&E test and this time, she passed.
“We also had a sidewalk vendor, who would leave his basket of Chippy and Storck outside the room and attend the sessions. He wants to become a barangay tanod and one of the requirements was a high school diploma,” Mondoñedo says.
Show biz folks
Then, of course, there are the show biz folks. Actor Mat Ranillo III enrolled at least two of his children in the ALS on Roces Avenue. Alma Moreno enrolled one of her kids in the ALS in Parañaque City.
Angelika de la Cruz was an ALS student in Malabon and passed her A&E test in 2003. Janus del Prado was an ALS student at Roces and passed the A&E test in 2005.
“Janus was a good student. He made friends, attended birthday parties and even brought food,” Mondoñedo says, adding that sometimes, their school can be as star-studded as the two networks nearby.
But not all show biz personalities finish the course or pass the exam, she notes. Those who stay long enough to graduate realize that show biz is fleeting and that sooner or later, they would need another profession.
Need for diploma
“We’ve had hotel singers, band members, even ‘Japayukis’ who have attended ALS. They dream of becoming professionals. To reach that goal, they would need a high school diploma,” she says.
It doesn’t matter why they stopped school, if they work or stay at home, not even if they’re rich or poor. Mondoñedo believes they can get a high school diploma if they study hard and attend the ALS sessions.
A few years ago, the school principal, who was then new, called her attention to an ALS student who came to school in dreadlocks and wore earrings.
“The principal told me: ‘Can you please ask him to cut his hair and not to wear earrings to school? It’s not the correct dress code,’” Mondoñedo narrates.
“Sabi ko pag pinutulan mo ’yan ng buhok, wala na siyang livelihood (If we ask him to cut his hair, we would be depriving him of his livelihood). After class, he goes straight to Timog and plays with a band.”