IT is graduation season again, but the one held in Navotas City on April 2 was different. All the city VIPs were there to honor the graduates, including Mayor John Rey Tiangco, Vice Mayor Clint Nicolas Geronimo, and Councilors Marielle Tumangan and Dan Israel.
Also in attendance were officials from the Department of Education (DepEd) led by Superintendent Meliton Zurbano.
A food pack and a book were handed to each graduate and a buffet meal was prepared by their teachers.
The setting was not a grand ballroom but a crude meeting area at the Navotas City Jail. The graduates were inmates, or People Deprived of Liberty who attended Alternative Learning System (ALS) classes and passed the elementary and high-school equivalency test held in November 2017.
ALS is a second-chance nonformal education program of the DepEd for out-of-school youth and adults. ALS mobile teachers are deployed to hold classes anywhere in the community, including markets and jails where school leavers are found. In some correctional institutions, the jail wardens handle ALS classes. The passing rate in these places is usually higher than the national average. While the passing rate nationwide is 55 percent, attendees the Navotas City Jail was 83 percent.
ALS is the centerpiece project of Education Secretary Leonor M. Briones. During her watch, ALS has been given an extra push.
The alignment of ALS with the K to 12 Curriculum finally began in 2017 (the regular public schools shifted to K to 12 in 2012). In two years, ALS will be seeing its first K to 12 graduates. For now, ALS passers belonging to batches 2016 and 2017 are still considered graduates of the old curriculum. The K to 12 Interagency Office based at the Commission on Higher Education said the ALS passers can still apply for admission in college. Others will take senior high school or a technical-vocational (tech-voc) course with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.
In his opening speech, the jail warden encouraged the graduates to keep on learning. This writer, the guest speaker, related that prisons can be a place for knowledge production. Some of the world’s greatest works were written in prison like Saint Paul’s Letters to Churches, Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo and Jose Rizal’s Mi Ultimo Adios.
In the end, Tiangco announced that an additional building is being constructed to ease the congestion in the city jail. Inmates will also be provided with other forms of continuing education like tech-voc training. The young ALS teacher, Shalimar Tamayao, was seen tearing up with joy. She was grateful that a kind benefactor, Rev. Jacob Lee, provided for all their needs. Aside from inviting the VIPs and preparing all the goodies, she surprised the graduates by inviting their family members.
Teacher Shalimar’s dream is to set up a bakery inside the jail that will provide skills training and additional income for the inmates. Indeed, this fulfills Briones’s slogan for the program—“Sa ALS May Pag-asa!”
Assistant Prof. Mercedes Estigoy-Arzadon teaches non-formal education courses at the University of the Philippines. Her research and extension projects include managing an online support group for ALS learners and providing technical help in curriculum, teachers’ training and policy development for ALS.