Opportunity 2.0: Program for 180,000 out-of-school PH youths gets P1.9B USAID grant
MANILA, Philippines — Saying she, too, had worked in book stores to support her studies which led to graduation with honors, Education Secretary Leonor Briones said there was dignity in being a working student.
The plight of working students, Briones said, should be looked into especially during the pandemic.
Briones said this on Tuesday (Aug. 18) at the launch of Opportunity 2.0, a five-year program funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to support at least 180,000 out of school youths in the Philippines.
US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim said the USAID gave a P1.9 billion grant to the project to complement the Department of Education’s (DepEd) alternative learning system (ALS) programs.
The program, run by the Education Development Center in collaboration with Deped and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, would give training to 1,600 teachers nationwide on ALS and technical-vocational learning and link the youth to at least 2,200 employers.
Briones said Opportunity 2.0 “has gained so much urgency” in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and its “horrendous impact on our economy.”
“Many think of COVID as affecting the economy and we try our best to remind our fellow Filipinos that COVID is not only affecting the economy but the social system as well of which education is part,” she said.
Latest DepEd data showed there were at least 357,196 learners enrolled in ALS courses, or 48 percent of last year’s 739,872.
According to Briones, Opportunity 2.0 is “very important especially for parents who have lost their jobs and workers who used to attend ALS sessions are not able to do so anymore.”
“Parents cannot send their children to school. Preparing our learners as alternatives (sic) to formal education, giving them skills,” Briones said. “Preparing them to prepare for the world outside will surely contribute to the resuscitation of our economy,” she said.
Briones said she also hoped the program would be available to learners from areas with high poverty incidence, low opportunities and other critical areas.
David Hall, the program’s chief of party, said Opportunity 2.0 will focus on 12 sites in the Philippines targeting out of school youths as beneficiaries of better education, employment and livelihood.
Hall said the program covers 12 pilot areas:
- Angeles City in Pampanga province
- Valenzuela and Quezon City in Metro Manila
- Legaspi City in Albay province
- Cebu City
- Tagbilaran City in Bohol province
- Cagayan de Oro City
- Zamboanga City
- Isabela City
- Davao City
- Cotabato City
- General Santos City
Hall said the program would give the ALS Task Force the capacity to improve curriculum and perform tasks like providing support for interactive audio instruction through radio, audio streaming and podcasts.
“We are looking for geographical areas so we can create examples on how to do it,” Hall told the Inquirer. The program was conceptualized before the COVID-19 pandemic so there might be a need to modify it to fit current needs, he said.
Briones said being a working student is usually equated with poverty but her education from Silliman University, which was founded by an American missionary, taught her the value of work and the dignity of working for your education.
“If you are a working student, you must be bright, intelligent, at the same time, you are working very hard,” Briones said.
“I worked as a bookkeeper in two book stores for 35 cents an hour. I graduated magna cum laude as a working student, which is of course much honored,” Briones said.
Mercedes Arzadon, a long-time ALS implementer and a professor of non-formal education at the University of the Philippines-Diliman College of Education, said most ALS teachers are not yet ready for the coming school year.
While modules are being prepared for ALS learners, teachers are not yet trained for distant learning. Most students, she added, do not know yet how to use the video chat app Zoom and other online tools.
Hall agreed with these observations, including the lack of gadgets and connectivity.
“When the Covid-19 crisis kicked in, we rethought what we do…to support education. Same objectives but more responsive to the crisis,” he said, adding that they are also looking into providing gadgets to make learning more accessible to many.
The program, he said, would also revitalize the existing Eskwela centers in the country and train “master” teachers who would train other teachers as well.
Aside from improving curriculum, Opportunity 2.0 also offers innovative programs including training for communication and work-based learning skills.
Teachers will also be trained through a “Skills to Work” Instructor sourcebook, summer institutes and material development.
“We know teachers can teach, but we don’t know yet how competent they are, where they are good at,” Hall said, explaining the need for an inventory and assessment of teachers and their skills.
The project is being implemented by Education Development Center (EDC), a nonprofit organization which aims to improve learning and teaching, health and human development and economic opportunity for people worldwide.
It is supported by five partners — Seameo Innotech, Voluntary Service Overseas, Philippine Business for Education, Catholic Relief Service and Accenture.
The EDC has been operating in the country since 2006 to implement projects like EQuALLS, Basa Pilipinas, MYDev and Aware.
Before his involvement in Opportunity 2.0, Hall also served as chief of party of the $32 million USAID-funded STRIDE program, also in the Philippines.
STRIDE sought to improve science and technology research’s contribution to the Philippine economy.