Learning goes on, even behind barsBy Madonna Virola
Philippine Daily Inquirer
CALAPAN CITY—Pito, 21, who dropped out from his Grade 4 class, saw doors opened for him to complete his schooling at the Oriental Mindoro Provincial Jail.
Over the last two years, Pito has obtained certificates of graduation in both elementary and high school levels under the Project Akap (Aksyon para sa Karunungan at Abilidad ng Preso), which is under the Alternative Learning System or ALS of the Department of Education (DepEd).
In jail for murder, Pito (not his real name) never imagined that he could have another chance to get an education and start to dream big. Although he will most likely be transferred to the national penitentiary in Muntinlupa City, he is determined to pursue his studies.
“I will continue schooling there, through Tesda’s (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) vocational course,” he said.
Pito passed the elementary and secondary accreditation and equivalency tests for the ALS, a nonformal schooling component of the DepEd’s basic education program. Those who pass are granted equal rights as those who make it through the formal system.
In Calapan, the ALS started in 2002, offering livelihood training in such fields as food processing and making of rugs and accessories. “We strengthened the aspect of functional literacy because we saw the need,” said Florina Madla, who supervises the program and its kindergarten.
Pito and 14 other inmates are among this year’s batch of examinees in Calapan that garnered the highest passing rate of 43 percent in the accreditation and equivalency test, Madla said. The figure was more than double the 18 percent rate in the previous year, she added.
The inmates are among 141 passer-graduates (out of 325 takers) who received diplomas during a ceremony early this month at the state-run Hilltop School in Barangay Calero.
In their ALS performance last year, Madla said, the inmates pulled down the passing rate of Calapan. “Since they did badly in essay writing, teachers helped enhance this aspect.”
This year, however, the prisoners pushed up the rate. “It’s in the multiple choice that they now lag behind,” Madla said.
Forty-five of the over 300 inmates in the provincial jail joined the ALS. Fifteen recently passed, including two who were released from jail and now hope to find jobs.
“That’s the test for inmates outside. If they don’t get a job because of discrimination, they would more likely commit another sin, and be back in jail, like many others,” said Edward Sanchez, a hair stylist who is also a prisoner.
The ALS sessions are held every Monday and Tuesday, from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
“We want more out-of-school youths, children and adults to participate in the ALS because it is free and caters to the availability of the learners, like those busy with housekeeping and agriculture,” Madla said.
A Grade 5 dropout who passed the high school equivalency test last year is 65-year-old Angel Albo, a village councilor and officer of a senior citizens group. Albo is now a sought-after inspirational speaker in Calapan.
Marivic Velosa, a regional finalist for outstanding teacher (2008-09), said she had taught for 16 years in Grade 6 before joining the ALS faculty as one of the “new ways of uplifting the poor.”
“The ALS is addressing the concerns of society like those in deep poverty, early pregnancy, those bullied in the classroom,” she said.
Madla said her office was trying its best to look for funds so that the ALS could reach out to more learners. At present, she said, it could cover only 40 of Calapan’s 62 barangays.
The program has 14 instructional managers, nine of whom are permanent teachers, six are mobile or contractual, and three are coordinators. It has one permanent learning center at Hilltop School where 30 learners take turns using four secondhand computers.
With the shortage in funds, ALS learning centers have been put up at the barangay hall, health center, rescue center, a house, chapel and a CARD (microfinancing) center, Madla said.
To recruit more teachers, Project Ambag (Alam Mo Bubuti Pa Pag May ALS at Gabay) was started in January at Mindoro State College of Agriculture and Technology. Freshman students of the National Service Training Program were asked to join the ALS as volunteers.
For the ALS test scheduled this October, registration is ongoing up to July 31. Applicants must submit any of the following documents: birth certificate, driver’s license or a barangay certificate indicating the person’s complete name and birth date.
“I’m still floating; I couldn’t believe that it’s in jail that I am able to make meaning of my life. I’ve gained hope in life,” Pito said.