Alternative Learning System: The Other Side of Basic Education (Last of Two Parts)

Alternative Learning System: The Other Side of Basic Education (First Part)

(Last of Two Parts)

In an attempt to address the concerns raised by our mobile teachers, SecurityMatters had an exclusive interview with BALS Director Carolina S. Guerrero last October 2012.

Equitable Funding. Director Guerrero admits the increase in allowances of MTs and an equitable funding for the system remains to be seen. “Wala pa. We hope that, that would have materialized last year [2011] or at least this year [2012] man lang,” she laments.

But what contributes to the frustration of these MTs is this: funds—meager as they already are—happen to be delayed most of the time.  To shed light on this issue, Guerrero explains the process on how funds are distributed from the national level down to the division offices.

She says, “Ang process niyan, ganito ‘yan. Kami sa central office, gumagawa kami ng budget every year, in anticipation of next year. Inilalagay namin doon sa budget namin na next year we have 2,000 mobile teachers. Each one of them should receive P2,000 per month and P5,000 per year, so P89,000 per teacher. Pero prinesent ‘yun ni Secretary [Armin Luistro of the Department of Education] at kasama ‘yun sa buong budget ng DepEd at naaprubahan, nakalagay na ‘yun sa General Appropriations Act (GAA). GAA is the law that says DepEd should get these billion funds. Doon sa billion na ‘yun nakapasok ang aming [budget] kasama ang kanilang [mobile teachers] allowances. Pagdating ng time na, eto na first quarter magre-release, DBM [Department of Budget and Management] will release that amount to DepEd. Ang gagawin ng central office, i-dodownload ‘yung perang ‘yun sa regional office. Ang gagawin naman ng region,  i-dodownload ‘yung buong pera doon sa mga probinsiyang under [them]. So hati-hati na, nasa division office. Ang division office na ngayon, nandoon na kasi ang mga mobile teachers ‘di ba, sila ngayon ang magbibigay ng pera sa mga mobile teachers na ‘yun. Ang problema minsan diyan sa division hindi inirerelease agad. Diyan ang problema nila.”

She elaborates, “Minsan tinatanong sila [mobile teachers] ng recibo, e may DepEd Memo na kami na nakalagay na no need for receipt kasi in many instances walang recibong gagamitin for transport, maski for supplies. Minsan nagpapakain pa sila o nagbibigay ng gamot sa learners. Kaya maliit na maliit ‘yun. Minsan naman ang sasabihin, wala dito ang pera. Kasi pag trinace namin ang national office ay on time ang pag-release. Ang region minsan delayed din but generally naibibigay.”

“It’s the division where the problem is,” she stresses.

When asked what could be holding these division offices to release funds on time, she replies, “Doon ka na lang magtanong.” But she adds, “Kasi alam mo malaki ang leeway ng decision-making sa lower level. Kasi ‘pag sinabing no funds available, pero paano mo ma-claim na wala, kasi nakabalot sa isang budget ang perang ibinibigay sa kanila even if it is itemized na you reserve this one million for mobile teacher, at [the] discretion ng superintendent ay pwede niyang sabihin na, ‘teka may priority dito e’.”

In fact, that has been the reason given to MT Obrero of CamSur for the delay of their funds—that the priority of their accounting office is the formal school system.

Guerrero, however, shares that they made an effort in the past to let division officials understand the nature of the job of MTs and their needs. “Ang ginawa namin noon, binigyan namin ng special encounter with ALS ‘yung mga superintendent, assistant superintendent, mga planning officers, at saka mga accounting officers, para nga mag-soften mga hearts nila. Para nga ‘pag may dumating anything for ALS, they will be facilitative,” she recalls.

Unfortunately, budget remains to be the primary obstacle for BALS, to be able to continue the special encounter with division officials. “Kaya lang hindi buong Pilipinas ma-cocover namin, konti lang budget namin,” she admits.

She further says, “Marami na nga ang nangyayari na na-eempower na sila. Pero siyempre, ganun pa rin ang kultura ng isang teacher sa kanilang superintendent. Hindi sila nakakalapit, mas nakakalapit pa sila sa akin. So kahit na mag-issue ka ng orders, except siguro kung batas.”

Some MTs also have doubts about the handling of their funds by their division offices, and Guerrero replies to this, saying, “Pag may mga ganyan, please put it down in writing para official.” She adds, “Sabi namin, marami kayong mga superiors na pwede kayong tulungan. Alam nila na isang text lang nila sa akin, may sagot agad sa kanila. But generally, ang sinasabi ko sa kanila, please put it down in writing so we can refer it to appropriate bodies here and kami naman mag-fofollowup.”

She likewise shares an experience in the past. “Nagkaroon kami ng isang chief ng ALS sa isang region, tatawagin niya mga mobile teacher. Meron kayong check, sasamahan sila sa bangko, tapos ikakaltas sa salary ang absences daw, and ang sasabihin, ‘dadalhin ko sa treasury’. Pero hindi naman. Natanggal siya e, forced, kasi kung hindi e kakasuhan siya.”

She says, “Kami sa BALS, wala kaming inisip kundi papano mapapagaan, mapapasaya ang trabaho nila [mobile teachers] so that they will stay. Kasi without these things na ipapakita namin, gagawin para sa kanila, they can easily just join the formal school kasi teacher naman sila. Sino ba may gusto sa mga ganito, ‘di ba?”

Interestingly, not all division offices are in such a dilemma, as MT Sarmiento commends their division office in Santa Rosa City, Laguna for releasing funds on time. Guerrero addresses this issue by telling that, “It all depends on how the local government and DepEd officials treat and look at these MTs. Kadalasan pag hindi sila tinatrato ng eskeweluhan, takbo sila sa local government and they get what they want, and more. Ang training namin sa kanila ay ganito, wala kayong aasahan kung DepEd lang kaya kelangan marunong kayo ng networking, ng community organizing, coordinating—these are the important skills that we make sure they acquire. Hindi ganyan ang training ng classroom teacher.”

On the suggestion of MTs that their funds be transferred directly to their ATM accounts, Guerrero says there’s still no action from the DBM—which poses yet another problem to BALS.

On Personal Safety and Security. Many MTs also have expressed fear for their lives, especially when they trek conflict areas or rebel-infested mountains to reach out to their learners, and it is for this reason that MT Obrero suggested that they be permitted to carry firearms for protection. But Guerrero explains, “Ang ginagawa lang namin, we give them the appropriate ID. Ang kanilang isinusuot e, may T-shirt naman sila, basta may ALS. Kaya doon sa Fear Factor training nila, they learn how to negotiate, how to deal with elements para they must be neutral.”

The Boy Scouts of the Philippines, Girl Scouts of the Philippines, and Philippine Red Cross, she says, facilitate said training.  She continues, “Noong una gusto naming ipasok sana ang AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines], pero hindi puwede kasi colored ‘yun. Lately pati DSWD [Department of Social Welfare and Development].  Next plan ko nga e self-defense.” But again, she stresses the scarcity of funds.

Hardship or Hazard Pay? As for the confusion of MTs if it is really hardship or hazard pay they should be receiving, Guerrero clarifies, “May hardship, may hazard.” She adds, “Ngayon ang sinasabi nila, if you are able to access the hardship, hindi ka na kukuha ng hazard. Pero ‘pag narinig mo ‘yung iba, grabe kung makakuha ng hazard pay.”

And why is this so? “It depends on the understanding and the support of DepEd officials, ‘yung mga boss nila as well as local government. Kasi ngayon nakikita namin, it’s more the local government who are finding the value of the ALS. Halimbawa si [Mayor Lani] Cayetano ng Taguig. Pagka ang kanyang mga teachers e mag-MA [Masteral], magkano ang ibinibigay, P40,000. Kanya-kanyang payabangan ang mga local governments kung paano nila suportahan ang mga ALS teachers, ang mga ALS learners,” she tells.

She likewise says, “Ang practice sa probinsiya, kung mahirap lang ‘yung province, ‘yung division office, sometimes konti din ‘yung funds nila. So lahat ng mga ganyang order e subject to availability of funds.”

Poor Budget Allocation as Root Cause. Guerrero says that the focus of DepEd is the formal school system, reason why the poor budget allocation to BALS. “Totoo naman na napakalaki ng problema ng formal [school]. Pero kung titingnan mo lang sana ang ALS na isang bagay na makakasolve ng maraming problema, pag ‘yan ang tinulungan mo, malaki ng magkakaroon ng solution. Hindi ‘yun ang kita niya [Sec. Luistro] e. Akala niya, ‘This is the problem, dito lang tayo’. Hindi niya nakikita na meron isa ditong nag-aantay lang, pag ‘yan ang pumasok, mawawalan ng dropout rate,” she laments.

But budget allocation is not the only problem, as she further discloses, “Meron pa kaming inilalabas ngayon, mag-iisang taon na ayaw niyang [Sec. Luistro] pirmahan. Sabi namin, it is a DepEd order that says, we need to institutionalize a two-learning system basic education in the Philippines. Meaning, one learning system for the school age, formal school students; and another for the non-school age who are not in school. These two learning systems, ang gusto naming ipakita na, they are equal and therefore anybody should be able to access any one. Pareho naman talaga e, pag grumaduate ka dito, ang diploma mo e signed by the Secretary. And we said we would like to introduce the transfer process so that we can truly make the UNESCO concept of flexible entry and reentry.”

So what is the UNESCO’s concept all about? “Ibig sabihin, ikaw nagaaral ka sa eskuwela, namatay ang tatay mo at kelangan mo mag-trabaho, imbes na dropout ka na, hindi, transfer to ALS lang. Pag nasa ALS ka kasi, hindi ka kelangan pumasok daily at ikaw gagawa ng schedule mo e. Walang pressure e, na 7 to 4, na kailangan mong pumasok na nakauniform, na may project ka. Dito hindi ganun e, ikaw ang magsasabi ng learning needs mo, ganun ka-flexible ito. At kung gusto mo bumalik sa school, pwede ulit. Pag ayaw mo na ulit, pwede ka ulit bumalik sa ALS,” she explains.

According to her, the school principals are okay with that set-up, except for Secretary Luistro. “But si Secretary hindi niya pinipirmahan. Kaya ang ginawa namin, inendorse na namin sa mga principals. Nangyayari na ngayon. Ang buong Region 3 ang nag-umpisa. Triny-out nila mga four years ago. So ‘pag napapansin niya na ‘yung bata e malapit ng maging dropout, imbes na irereport niya na drop from the rolls, ilalagay niya transfer to ALS. Kukunin niya ‘yung bata at ALS teacher para mag-usap. So hindi siya dropout. Many are already doing it,” she reveals.

Asked if she thinks Secretary Luistro doesn’t see the importance of ALS, reason for his inaction on the issues, Guerrero says, “Nakikita niyang mahalaga, pero hindi niya nakikita ang relasyon on how it can help [solve many problems].”

Career Pathing. In terms of career pathing for MTs, Guerrero explains, “Gradually, it will happen. Marami ng initiatives na ganoong nangyayari, pa-ilan-ilan. ‘Yung iba siyempre, matagal. Maraming kailangan na paradigm shifts sa mga levels na ‘yun. Kaya naman kami, hindi naman kami tumitigil. Ngayon, kinuha namin ang mga elementary at secondary school principals, in-expose namin sila sa ALS. Ang tawag namin ay Special Encounter with ALS. Because in that order, they are DepEd Teachers—the District ALS Coordinators and Mobile Teachers—they should be able to access the same privileges that are availed of the formal [school system].”

And in reference to the ALS Omnibus Guidelines drafted a few years ago, she discloses that career pathing was indeed part of the said guidelines. The Omnibus was a result of an intensive analysis of the situation of ALS, she explains. It was a result of the various reports of consultants who looked at the governance, monitoring and evaluation, policy, and advocacy issues at ALS, among other things.

She tells, “Lahat ng report nila pinagsama-sama namin into one document—which is the Omnibus guidelines for in-house reform. Isa dun sa governance ‘yung career path, also on their allowances.”

When asked if the Omnibus was implemented, she discloses: “We submitted to the Office of the Secretary for approval. But hanggang ngayon hindi tinake action.”

It seems that these problems raised by the mobile teachers and Director Guerrero herself are just tip of the iceberg, as there are far more issues that need to be discussed and addressed. Now the question is, if Secretary Luistro himself cannot connect the relationship and relevance of strengthening ALS in helping resolve several problems in our country, such as dropout rate, unemployment, and poverty as mentioned by some MTs, how then could we expect the alleged erring division officials as well as other local government units to respect, understand, and support the system as well? If such is the case, then the ALS—that which is seen by MTs and marginalized learners as a learning that knows no boundaries—apparently has its own boundaries after all.