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School dropouts get a second chance at education

School program offers poor a chance at a better life

School dropouts get a second chance at education
An Alternative Learning System class (Photo courtesy of eSkwela)
Claire Delfin, Manila

July 4, 2012

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Babyruth Asistol works as a home help in Paranaque City. On Saturday, her day off, she travels around 30 kms to Quezon City on the far side of Manila, where she goes to elementary school classes. Now 23 years old, she needs to start her education virtually from scratch as she only reached second grade. “Poverty and a breakup in the family gave me no chance to study,” she says.  “My employers are the ones who are encouraging me now, so I can have a better life." Babyruth is one of 267 students aged 15 and above who are enrolled at Commonwealth Elementary School, in a government program entitled Back to School for Out-of-School Adults. The program is part of the Education Department's Alternative Learning System, which aims to offer a second chance to poor people who missed out on regular schooling for one reason or another. “The classes are attended by students as old as 60,” says Alice Labilles, assistant principal at the school. "Most, if not all of them, have experienced a hard life.” One of Babyruth’s classmates is 36-year-old Amor Vergara. After more than 20 years out of school, she is excited to be back. She was in her second year in high school when her parents asked her to drop out to help with the family finances. Today, the mother of five says, “I want to finish even just high school so I can apply for a job.” An estimated 41 million Filipinos did not finish high school education, 27 million of them aged 17 and above. This represents just less than half of the country’s total population. And according to data from the Education Department, there are around 1.27 million who have never even stepped inside a classroom. The Alternative Learning System is designed to support, rather than confront, the student's own learning pace. “We gauge their learning capacity and put people who are broadly on the same level in one class,” says Labilles.  "There is no stigma in students having to repeat a year if they fail to meet standards.” As students develop they can proceed to the next level, leading to the Accreditation and Equivalency test. Upon passing that, they receive a certificate that equates to a high school graduate diploma. The program has now attracted around 480,000 learners and more than 35,000 have passed so far. Its most famous alumnus is the boxing icon Manny Pacquiao, who dropped out of school at sixth grade but was proud to win his certificate in 2007.
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