Written by Engelbert Bahia

Ako ang nagturong sumula’t bumasa. Ngayon, marunong na sila,” an Alternative Learning System (ALS) implementer cheerfully said. 

Beneath the scorching sun is mobile teacher Abundio “Bunz” Taman, Jr. who is making his way to deliver the worksheets of his students in Sitio Lingatongan, Zamboanga del Norte. This area, according to him, is the farthest assignment. 

In his arms are the worksheets and in his heart is the dedication to serve the ALS learners amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before being an ALS implementer, Bunz dabbled in a lot of jobs: he was a contractual worker for a famous fast food chain, a community organizer, motorcycle supplier, a field reporter in broadcast media, and a teacher in a formal school. 

Now, Bunz is an announcer and entertainment program host in their local FM station, and a full-time ALS implementer by day, to which he has proudly been for 5 years now and counting. 

ALS is a practical program by the Department of Education (DepEd) that substitutes formal schooling for individuals who do not have the means to enroll themselves to. Moreover, it consists of an informal set of knowledge and skills to be taught to its learners.

Taman’s ALS office is in Barangay Linay. He said that the Area of Responsibility (AOR) in Manukan II District has 10 barangays which was divided into three. He is with a fellow mobile teacher and the District ALS Coordinator (DALSC). He’s now assigned in barangays of Villaramos, Dipane, Saluyong, and Lingatongan. 

The difficulty of getting learners on board

Before the pandemic struck, as advised by DepEd Superintendent Dr. Peter Melchor Natividad, they were discouraged from continuing sessions in the premises of formal schools because ALS learners would be prone to bullying. 

Bunz pushed for having learning sessions in the market, puroks, covered courts, or barangay halls with the officials’ permission, or even at the house of his learners near the ALS center. He believed that some of his students couldn’t join the sessions because their houses were far from the area of the session.

Tinatanong ko po sa sarili ko kung tama ba na tatanggapin ko yung ALS kasi ang challenge natin nyan, wala tayong estudyante na mag-enroll satin,” Bunz said before when he was recommended by his previous school’s principal to pursue being an implementer in ALS. 

He then added, “tayo po yung naghahanap ng estudyante.”

Bunz also mentioned that some of his students couldn’t come to class because they had jobs to do to have something to eat at home. He said he allowed them and even assisted some in finding jobs. He conditioned them to be absent at work when they would have sessions unless necessary. So, he provided them the modules and followed up.

He decided it was time to innovate. To convince his students to join the sessions, he thought of bringing snacks and drawing raffle tickets but later on realized in the end that doing such a method was expensive. No amount of convincing would encourage his students to join classes.

During the pandemic, Bunz said that they were struggling especially the learners because they couldn’t ask for clarifications. They did not have the means of communication because of the signal inconveniences in Barangay Lingatongan. 

Bunzsaid they did not have Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) for learning materials like bond papers and the likes which leaves him using his personal budget for providing the modules. 

Fueled by dedication through an accelerated training program

Moreover, Bunz commended the effectiveness of the Power for Youth modules developed by the ALS implementers of Zamboanga del Norte with SUGPAT’s assistance saying, “Malaki po yung naitulong kasi po hindi na kami nahihirapan, guided na po kami.” 

He and his co-implementers suggested that the entire ALS should adapt the Power for Youth worksheet.

SUGPAT Program, in partnership with ING and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), implemented the project called “Power for Youth” to strengthen the delivery of DepEd’s ALS program. This is also to solidify the participation of the youth in Zamboanga del Norte and bridge them to opportunities and life-long skills through the establishment of the Zamboanga del Norte Youth Development Alliancce. SUGPAT also provided training sessions for the implementers in teaching strategies and approaches and assists in learning materials including worksheets and modules. 

Moreover, being assigned to remote areas before the pandemic, Bunz felt accomplished when his students were able to read and write their names or even affix their signatures. 

Last May 2019, SUGPAT trained ALS teachers on how to write worksheets as a learning modality and developed these for their usage. SUGPAT handed the worksheets to them which are still being used until now without meeting their learners face-to-face.

SUGPAT Officer-in-Charge Rogin Eribal said that they still need to follow DepEd’s advisory in meeting the learners in a community learning center. In September 2020, they conducted one of the major adjustments including virtual training for ALS implementers, entitled “UPSKILL: Shaping the New Normal for the Alternative Learning System.”It aimed to bridge the out-of-school youth to ALS, considering the limitations and restrictions of the new normal. 

Eribal said the training had a module on Flipped Learning Approach using the worksheets in different setups, namely: high-technology which uses internet connection for video calls and the likes, low technology which uses cell phones for conference calls, and lastly, no technology at all which requires setup of dropboxes in locations accessible to learners. 

They also included modules on developing an assessment tool to track learners’ performance and on research skills for addressing issues in the new learning deliveries.

Eribal said that they haven’t had a full-blown research with UNICEF in assessing the effectiveness of life skills in the ALS learners in Zamboanga del Norte due to the pandemic. However, SUGPAT observed that the ALS implementers had difficulty in using the classroom observation tool through monitoring by cluster. This tool is essential for tracking their performance and to know which training they needed.

“I’d like to tell them that in SUGPAT, they are valued,” Eribal said when asked what his wishes were for the ALS implementers. He said that the efforts of these implementers are the foundation of implementing ALS. This pushes them to develop and design pertinent training sessions for the teachers

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