MANILA -- The learning process has no boundaries.
Windel Alvarez lives by this saying to a tee as he serves as an Alternative Learning System (ALS) mobile teacher to residents of Sitio Lipata in Caramoan, Camarines Sur.
ALS is a parallel learning system encompassing informal, non-formal, and indigenous as an alternative to the existing formal education.
"Yung mga students ko po ay karamihan mga nanay at tatay kasi po yung area na pinuntahan kong community wala pang school, so ako pa lang ang unang guro na nakapunta doon (My students are mostly mothers and fathers because there is no school in the area of the community where I go, so I'm the only teacher who has gone there),” Alvarez told the Philippine News Agency (PNA).
Located at the tail-end of Lahuy Island facing the Pacific Ocean, Sitio Lipata is one of the remotest coastal communities in Caramoan. It can only be reached via a motor boat ride from Caramoan proper. The community's main livelihood is fishing -- making its residents the poorest inhabitants of the island.
Alvarez said most fathers and mothers who attend his class bring with them their children who are usually four to five years old because no one will take care of them at home.
“May mga learners kami na basic literacy lang, 'yung mga hindi pa marunong magsulat pero mostly mga elementary level sila ngayon and I am happy na meron na kaming anim na mga nanay at lola na nakapasa ng elementary so ngayon secondary level na sila (We have learners who only have basic literacy, those who cannot write yet but mostly they are in the elementary level ngayon and I am happy that we now have six mothers and grandmothers who passed elementary [level] and they're now in the secondary level," he added.
Alvarez said he begins with the assessment of the skills of the adult learners so he can decide on their grade levels. Then, he groups them into three classes -- basic literacy, elementary level and high school level.
"Basic literacy is in the morning, the elementary in the afternoon and if there are high school students, which are few, I create different schedules for them," he said.
While his adult students want to learn, Alvarez said it is not easy for them to learn all the lessons.
"Maraming challenges sa pagtuturo sa kanila, ang isa po doon hindi sila maka-cope sa pag-aaral dahil sa age gap, pero ako man maraming natututunan sa kanilang mga life experiences. Mahalaga kasi sa ALS ang life experiences, kung ano ang mga learning skills nila na dapat ma-develop para ma-sustain ang kabuhayan nila para sa kanilang mga anak (There are many challenges in teaching them, one of them is they're unable to cope with studying because of age gap, but I'm learning a lot from their life experiences. Life experiences are important in ALS, whatever learning skills they need to develop to sustain their livelihood for their children)," he said.
The Bankarunungan Project
Alvarez told PNA that he also has young students who skip classes because they are discouraged by the long-distance travel to school from their homes and the high cost of boat rental.
"It is hard for me to see them being left behind so I exerted much effort to ask the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation for help," he said.
The foundation, together with the generous stakeholders, helped Alvarez to raise funds for learners who live in coastal barangays by bringing education to their doorsteps.
"This is the Bangkarunungan Project, through the project, nagkaroon kami ng tatlong bangka na ginagamit ng aming mga learners sa pagpunta sa iba't ibang isla para makapag-aral sila doon (we had three boats used by our learners to go from one island to another so they can study there)," he said.
Alvarez added the project also aids literacy volunteers to reach islands and coastal areas where they teach learners who are unable to go to school.
"Mula sa project na iyan, nagkaroon din ng isa pang project (From that project, there is another project) Yellow School of Hope in Sitio Lipata which is a building with two classrooms that are typhoon-resilient," he said.
The building will also serve as an evacuation, training center and community learning center while waiting for the construction of a school building from the Department of Education (DepEd).
DepEd Assistant Secretary for ALS G.H. Ambat said the department offers full support to ALS teachers who exert the effort and put the time to educate learners from far-flung areas.
"Tinaasan namin ang (We increased the) transportation allowance we are giving them. We also hired 2,000 mobile teachers for this year and we really have to explain to them and we really have to bring them to the community for them to see the need for teachers like them," she said.
Ambat said most ALS teachers do not leave their teaching positions in the community even if they have been promoted to master teacher position in formal schools "because they have grown love for the out of school youth and adults who depend on ALS".
Ambat added such kind of commitment inspires DepEd's executive committee to work harder in providing them the support and protection through creation of appropriate policies.
“We keep on emphasizing that our goal is to instill life-long learning so even if they're old, there are still many things for them to learn. We in the Department of Education, we should push them to learn more or to at least achieve or acquire basic education,” she said.
With its ongoing enrollment, DepEd's ALS program has logged around 800,000 students in 2018.
"The stats are coming in -- in 2017 it’s about 650,000 only. The increase for this year is brought about by our intensified advocacy also we have a lot of partners now. We’re happy that people are coming in and realizing that they can still do more with their lives if they have the basic education diploma or at least be capacitated with competencies they need for work," Ambat said. (With reports from Mary Rose Dacumos, OJT/PNA)