Back then, Andrea Zabala always wanted to go to school like any other child in their neighbourhood at the upland village of San Agustin, Jaro, Leyte. Yet the decision of her father prevailed when she was told after finishing elementary that she could no longer proceed to high school, saying they are poor and that she is a woman—who will soon get married, bear children, and eventually stay at home to take care of her husband and family. “I got my elementary diploma long time ago, in 1955, if I remember it right,” said Zabala, now 75, donned in her freshly pressed gown as she waited for her name to be called so she could climb the stage to receive her high school diploma 60 years after. On the morning of June 16, Zabala, already a grandmother, joined other 703 out-of-school youths and over-aged students in Leyte during a simple graduation ceremony after passing the accreditation and equivalency program of the Alternative Learning System (ALS) ran by Department of Education. “I am very happy for her. Not only that she finally achieved her dream of finishing high school but also she is the only ‘senior citizen’ in their batch,” said Medarda Macellones, 35, one of Zabala’s six children. “I am proud of her,” added Ryza Mae, nine-year old granddaughter of Zabala who had to be absent for a day so she could see how her grandmother climbed the stage to receive her high school diploma.
“This means everybody can do it. Whatever the age and status in life, as long as you are willing, you can achieve it,” Zabala said. “All my children are already grown up, having a family of their own. Now I have plenty of time for my own so I decided to go back to school and experience how does it feels to be a student again,” Zabala said, smiling. Asked about her plan after high school, Zabala said she wants to enrol in a short- term course like sewing or cosmetology. Mark Loyd Lago, 25, of St. Michael in Palo, Leyte, was also thankful to ALS. After quitting school in 2004, Mark finally received his high school diploma during the ceremony. “For 10 years, I went to various jobs, all of them required hard labor. Soon I realized that my elementary diploma is not enough,” he said. “It’s difficult if you don’t finish your studies. I don’t want my future family to suffer also, the reason why I went back to school,” Mark said. His mother, Lozanta, could not keep her tears after seeing her son received his diploma. “I cried the time Mark decided to stop schooling. I felt pity for him. But we continue inspiring him. Thanks God, he listened to us,” Lozanta said. “I am thankful that there is this kind of government program.
This gives Mark a second chance,” she added. “To the young students, study seriously. Do not waste your time,” Mark said. According to Mark, he will take up agriculture in college. ALS AS EQUALIZER Roberto Mangaliman, ALS’s education supervisor in Leyte division, said the certificate received by the graduates is equivalent to completing basic education. “Right after this graduation, they can proceed either high school or college,” he said. Mangaliman however said that some of the challenges they faced in the ALS program include the learners’ attendance. The program was also temporarily stopped in 2014 due to super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) devastation in Leyte in November 2013. “Most of them are already working and having a family to attend to. We have student drop outs also. So what we do is we let our assigned mobile teachers hold classes at their houses. It works out for them,” he said. During their sessions, learners have to complete about 200 modules covering various lessons. “Some of them finished the modules in a year, others reached two years to complete the requirement. It all depends to the availability of the learners.
The learner and teacher have to agree first on their schedule of classes,” Mangaliman said, adding they have deployed around 112 mobile teachers for the program. “What is important here is that our learners will learn basic literacy skills. For those who want to acquire employment skills, they can proceed to Technical Education and Skills Development Authority,” he added. “They won’t be paying anything for this program. The facilities they availed are for free,” he said. Mangaliman also urged local government units and private sector to partner with them, saying “the community’s support is critical in ensuring that learners, whether old or out-of-school-youths, will have the same opportunity in life.” “Public support is important so that they won’t feel like they are ‘outcast.’” Republic Act 9155 or the Governance Act for Basic Education also made it possible for the creation of several features for ALS in the country. As a “personalized education,” ALS can take place even outside the formal classroom setting and in civic halls. Handled by trained mobile teachers, ALS classes can take place in any place which is convenient to the learners. BOOSTING FILIPINO LITERACY Interestingly, the establishment of ALS contributed in the increased number of Filipinos who can now read and write. In 2010 Census of Population and Housing (CPH) alone, the number of functional literate Filipinos dramatically increased compared to its data 10 years ago. The nationwide survey from National Statistics Office (NSO) revealed that “of the 71.5 million individuals who are 10 years old and above, 97.5 percent or 69.8 million were literate or could read and write.”
According to NSO, the figure is “higher compared to the literacy rate of 92.3 percent recorded in the 2000 CPH.” In the said survey it was also found out that literacy rate of females aged 10 years and above climbed to 97.6 percent, while the rate for males of the same age reached 97.4 percent. Manila, the country’s capital, remained the place with highest literacy of 99.7 percent compared to the areas in the countryside. Yet with the continued implementation of the ALS program, educators said it won’t be longed that people in the far-flung villages–particularly the elderly and drop outs like Zabala and Lago–can come up with similar better result in the coming years. -30- CAPTION: GRADUATES, FINALLY: Andrea Zabala, 75, and Mark Loyd Lago, 25, in Leyte are just two of the over 700 new graduates of the country’s Alternative Learning System this year. Photo by Ronald Reyes ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A journalist and faculty at Palo National High School in Palo, Leyte, Ronald Reyes writes mainly for the country’s daily broadsheet Manila Standard Today, Leyte Samar Daily Express, Philippine News Agency, UCA News.com in Bangkok, Thailand, and travel/lifestyle 8 Magazine. He has been in the media for 17 years already.