MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Education’s “mobile teachers,” or MTs, are not your typical public school teachers.
They travel long distances, at times trekking for hours just to reach their target students –out-of-school youth and adults, a majority of whom can neither read nor write.
In the absence of classrooms, many MTs hold special literacy classes under the shade of trees, among other outdoor sites.
Some of them have been mistaken for military agents, if not rebel supporters, putting their lives and those of their loved ones in danger.
Education Secretary Jesli A. Lapus prefers to call DepEd’s 804 mobile teachers the “force behind our Alternative Learning System” or ALS.
In separate interviews, several MTs who attended a recent workshop (on improving the ALS curriculum) at the DepEd headquarters in Pasig City said they were not just public school teachers.
“We double as social, health and rural development workers, community organizers and public information officers, among other tasks, to our target learners and other disadvantaged groups not reached by the formal school system,” said 32-year-old Jasmen Borda-Molo of San Fernando, Romblon.
Arnold Montemayor, 41, of Floridablanca, Pampanga, said the MTs “have gotten used to multitasking.
“Being multi-skilled is a must for MTs,” said Amorsolo Adre, a native of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro.
“At times, we also function as family counselors,” said Adre, a former Sangguniang Kabataan (Youth Council) chair.
The other workshop participants included Henry Tura of Basilan; Santiago Sabao of Cardona, Rizal; Jenelyn Baylon of Naujan, Oriental Mindoro; Sherwin Roxas of San Jose del Monte City; Marlyn Lozada of Liliw, Laguna; Marissa Comidoy of New Corella, Davao del Norte; Oliver Palad of Guagua, Pampanga; Christian Roxas of Sta. Maria, Laguna, and Roderic Guinucay of Tuguegarao City.
Lapus cited mobile teachers for providing “better education for our people beyond the call of duty.”
“For nothing epitomizes our dedication and sense of duty than the hardworking men and women who make up our ALS,” he said.
MTs “function like the US Peace Corps Volunteers,” said Dr. Carolina Guerrero, head of the newly established Bureau of Alternative Learning System (BALS), formerly the Bureau of Non-Formal Education.
At the recent National Summit on the ALS at Teachers Camp in Baguio City, Lapus stressed the need for “upgrading the personal and professional welfare of our mobile teachers.”
“This starts with ALS being integrated in the pre-service teacher education curriculum … We also need to provide more relevant training and welfare packages for our current and future mobile teachers,” he said.
Starting with only 300 facilitators in 1998, the mobile teaching force grew to a little over 600 in five years.
The Bicol region currently tops the list with 71 mobile teachers, followed by Central Luzon with 66, Southern Tagalog with 65, Western Visayas with 64, and Central Visayas and Eastern Visayas, both with 54.
This year, the DepEd plans to hire an additional 507 mobile teachers.
ALS is a parallel learning system that provides a viable alternative to the existing formal education instruction, encompassing both the non-formal and informal sources of knowledge and skills.
The ALS curriculum covers the following learning areas: communication skills, critical thinking and problem solving, sustainable use of resources, development of self and sense of community, and expanding one’s world vision.
In contrast, the basic education curriculum focuses on five major subjects — English, Filipino, Science, Mathematics and Makabayan.
ALS is the “other side of basic education,” Lapus said.
“Without it, we can never achieve our Education-for-All targets. The limitations of our public school system and the limited resources we have for our public schools prevent us from really addressing the needs of many of our people,” he said.
This is “where you in ALS are expected to provide the solutions — in areas of conflict, in indigenous people communities and in areas where literacy is most wanting and where literacy is needed most,” the education secretary said.
ALS gets P230 million
This year, the Arroyo administration has allocated some P230 million for the ALS program.
The amount is only 0.17 percent of the 2007 allocation for basic education (P134.7 billion), but three times bigger than the BALS budget of P76 million in 2006.
“While we know that our OSY [out-of-school youth] population is in the area of 14 million, BALS can only serve in the tens of thousands each year, precisely because we have little to spend for alternative learning,” Lapus said.
“And while we continue to find ways of bringing these young boys and girls back to the formal school system, we also know that many of them will choose not to, simply because their living situations prevent them from doing so — and this is a reality we must sooner or later face,” he said.
The education secretary said “there are those living in conflict areas, especially in Muslim Mindanao. There are those who have peculiar educational needs like nomadic peoples from cultural minority groups who cannot attend the formal school most of us have attended.”
Lapus said many other marginalized learners required the DepEd to provide alternative modes of education that can provide them with the literacy to become productive in society.
Today, he lamented that the “ALS is not yet generally accepted as legitimate learning by both our policy workers and the general public.”
“We therefore need to increase public awareness of ALS so that there will be more public acceptance of our various alternative learning modes. This campaign, therefore, will require a lot of our time and effort,” he said.
Lapus has been actively campaigning for ALS in recent weeks “to get the word out that it is a legitimate form of learning.”
“This is precisely why I had personally asked (boxing hero) Manny Pacquiao to become DepEd’s ambassador for the ALS,” he said.
Lapus said “DepEd’s message is very simple — ‘Do we wait until 80 percent of Filipinos require non-formal education before we take ALS seriously?”’
Like some DepEd old-timers, however, the militant Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) is not impressed.
Antonio Tinio, chair of the 15,000-strong ACT, said that “while the recent establishment of the Bureau of Alternative Learning System signifies that the DepEd is now taking responsibility for out-of-school youth and adults, its resources and capabilities are utterly inadequate.”
“The Arroyo administration has so far failed to come up with a response commensurate to the magnitude of the problem, considering that there are over 16 million functionally illiterate Filipinos,” Tinio said.
This is “compounded by the fact that there has been a steep rise in dropout rates in public schools in the last five years,” he said.