ALS, Look and Learn

Slow learners, school dropouts, poor students—we commonly associate these terms with students of the Alternative Learning System (ALS). For the full Nonformal (NFE) experience, our class was tasked to conduct an ALS session at our assigned school. We were Team Bago Bantay. It was exciting, I wanted to see firsthand the difference between ALS and a formal school. Prior to that, we have learned that ALS is structured similar to a formal school, with the usual classroom-teacher-student-setup, but the nature of the learners are different and the time they spend inside the classroom.

We were able to meet the ALS teacher during our first visit in Bago Bantay Elementary School. Segue: If you wanna go there, you have to tell the tricycle driver to drop you off at “Puti” Elementary School. It is more popular by that name because of stories that the school is haunted. Awooo!

The teacher has been informative in telling us about their program. He even told us that students who will pass the A&E can now be eligible to take the Civil Service subprofessional exam. So we were given a little introduction on how the program works in that school. We were told there are around 70 learners, but usually, only 10 to 15 students attend classes. They are required to attend just four hours in four days. But why is the number of attendees not even a fourth?

We realized the answer during the whole process of our session plan.

We had a hard time getting an assured schedule from the teacher. I’m not sure if he is not interested, or that’s just how he is as a teacher. In the other groups from our class, the teachers were cooperative with regards to the schedule and suggestion of lessons.

Students come in an hour or two late. When they come in, according to them and the teacher, they are given a topic and are asked to write a three-paragraph essay (in Filipino) about it. I appreciate that the essay required to be completed in the exam is in our mother tongue, but sad to say, a lot of people, including these students are not that good in composing grammatically-correct essays in Filipino.

We have no idea how the teacher assesses the essays. On the second session, we some learned that the teacher tells them how to start or finish an essay. As I’ve read through their own compositions, the composition must be taken into consideration. I am very particular about Filipino grammar, since I’ve been working as a copy editor for a publishing company and my projects mostly include Filipino textbooks.

From the expected 10 learners, five attended for the first session plan, and two remained for the last session. Matira matibay! Haha! I guess it was because of the rescheduling (from the teacher, sorry, it’s true), and the students are also busy with either work or taking care of their younger siblings or pamangkins. Just imagine, they’re 16 to 18 years old and they’re busy with work. When I was that age, I had to be busy in school. Sometimes, privilege makes the difference. Education in the Philippines is expensive. To get a good one, pay well.

We had learners who wishes to pursue college after passing the exam—they are only financially-challenged. The others, mostly males, intend to get a good work if they pass. Different learners, different plans for the future.

If teachers will not help these kids, they will be left behind by those who “have.” If students will not get a fair treatment in education, they will always fall under our bad notion of those taking NFE. Every one is entitled to a beautiful future—even the ALS learners.

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A transactional classroom, from Freire’s pedagogy

I’ve heard about Paulo Freire and the Pedagogy of the Oppressed back in my undergraduate program, during the orientation for our Literacy Training Service (NSTP-LTS). I knew it was about teaching but I have not understood it better until it was discussed again in my graduate course, Nonformal Education (NFE).

NFE has always been competing with formal education. It becomes more special because of the challenges NFE learners have to face in terms of identifying with the professional world, and the benefits it gives the learners. NFE has always been associated with out-of-school-youths and those who cannot afford to go beyond the basic reading and writing skills. It was surprising to learn that although many NFE learners came from poor economic backgrounds, the top reason for students’ high dropout rate was not poverty, but lack of interest.

What would make a student uninterested to learn? From my experiences as a student, school becomes boring when I do not understand what my teacher’s lecture. This is when my teacher would just keep on talking, occasionally ask for questions or opinions, then ends the discussion with a homework. Class hours become monotonous. For Freire, a dialogical setup of a classroom works. In communication arts, we call this transactional communication — “I speak, you listen; you speak, I listen.” Learning becomes two-way, thus, unlocking knowledge that each party may have not yet encountered. Also, in a dialogical or transactional method of teaching, the teacher would only act as a facilitator. The discussions on a particular topic becomes a common field of experience, especially when the learning is authentic. The teacher speaks not a dominant language, which draws a line of hierarchy between the teacher and the learners, but the common language of the learners. For example, requiring the students to speak English even if the subject is too hard to understand in English. It doesn’t mean that we should not learn oral fluency in a second (or third) language, but as a student, if I cannot express myself well in English, does it mean the teacher has to fail me?

The most common example where our teachers today implement the use of common language is through the use of mother tongue in class lectures. In a few public lectures and seminars I’ve attended, it was reported that classes who speak in mother tongue or native language are more active and cooperative. In fact, according to studies presented, teacher-facilitators in these kind of classes were able to generate ideas that they did not expect to hear from their students.

Now, why are there students who fail in class? It’s not because they are not smart enough, but maybe because they are not able to express themselves in the way their teacher always expects them to do. The students become like machines — they just do what they are told to do because traditionally, that’s what we expect from students but learning may not occur. And then I ask myself, “What kind of teacher will I be in the future?”

After reading Freire, I want to teach myself, or rather, learn not to become an oppressor in the eyes of my future students by only giving them what I want. There should be interaction and free expression of ideas, as long as it is about the lesson. Of course, as a teacher we should still implement discipline, but when we talk about teaching knowledge, it must be shared — from both the teacher and the learners.