IN AN ALTERNATIVE learning setup that seeks to maximize new information and communication technologies (ICTs), students no longer need to bring lots of pens and papers when taking quizzes.
In fact, they do not even have to go to class five times a week to finish high school.
Participants of eSkwela just sit in front of a computer for about three hours a week. They learn according to their need and speed.
The program integrates ICTs into the Alternative Learning System (ALS) of the Department of Education.
It aims ?to provide ICT-enhanced educational opportunities for Filipino out-of-school youth and adults,? according to the website of the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT), which spearheads the project.
The usual ALS programs use printed modules to teach students who have dropped out of regular schools because of poverty or other reasons. It prepares them for DepEd?s Accreditation and Equivalency (A&E) Examination for the chance to get the equivalent of a high school diploma. Boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao took the test and earned his diploma two years ago.
By using new technologies, the eSkwela, which is free, not only provides opportunities for poor dropouts, but even those from more affluent families.
?We have students who have gone to different private schools and got kicked out because of disciplinary problems,? project manager Maria Melizza Tan said.
The eSkwela centers also accept housewives and housemaids who are embarrassed to attend regular classes because of their age.
The CICT gathered recently some 200 facilitators, local government officials and members of private organizations for a four-day ?eSkwela Summit? in Barangay Matabungkay to assess the program.
The summit aimed to look at ways to improve the program and allow an exchange of ideas.
The CICT submitted its proposal for eSkwela to the DepEd?s Bureau of Alternative Learning System some three years ago.
Supported by a grant from the APEC Education Foundation (Korea), it opened four pilot sites in the cities of Quezon, San Jose del Monte, Cebu, and Cagayan de Oro.
Enrollees take a ?functional literacy test? to determine what competencies and modules they need.
The eSkwela has five main learning strands: Communication skills, critical thinking and problem solving, sustainable use of resources and productivity, development of self and a sense of community, and expanding one?s world vision. Each student in every session uses a computer loaded with digital modules with videos and animation. A teacher ?called facilitator ? helps students navigate the digital modules and monitors his/her progress to determine if the learner is ready for the A&E.
Bianca, 21, was doing well in high school but finished only third year when she got pregnant at 16. Now enrolled at the Cebu City center, she has completed 33 modules since November. Noting that companies required at least a high school diploma she decided to go back to school and even worked for an Internet shop to save for her tuition. When an aunt mentioned eSkwela, she applied.
In Cagayan de Oro City, the center has 160 students. Sessions were held morning and afternoon Monday-Thursday with 20 students per session, coordinator Tito Yongao said. The center is wired and students can access the CICT website listing links to recommended educational sites.
Knowledge in seconds
?Through eSkwela, our students can access all the knowledge they need in just a few seconds,? Yongao said. Most students are housemaids sent by their employers. ?There is no age discrimination in our sessions so they do not feel embarrassed,? he added.
A 65-year-old community leader enrolled in San Jose del Monte City since she wanted to be a role model for out-of-school teenagers in her village, Tan said.
Some 356 students from the four pilot eSkwela sites took the A&E test in February 2008. About 57 percent or 204 passed, higher than the 29 percent national passing rate.
Six new eSkwela sites had opened in Ormoc City, Zamboanga City, Quezon City, Marikina City, Tanawan in Leyte and Davao City, project officer Avelino Mejia Jr. said.
The centers are constructed by local governments or private donors while CICT provides digital modules and trains facilitators. The DepEd pays the salaries of facilitators.