I would like to share an article on the eSkwela Project and the eSkwela Center in Loyola Heights, Quezon City, as featured on Manila Bulletin (also available at http://www.mb.com.ph/articles/298234/taking-als-next-level; a scan of the print version is also available).
MANILA, Philippines — An innovative use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in non-formal education is slowly narrowing the gap between students in formal schools, and undergraduate or unschooled learners in the Alternative Learning System’s (ALS) Accreditation and Equivalency (A&E) program.
Mostly out-of-school-youths, drop-outs, housewives, utility workers, senior citizens, and even sex workers, ALS learners now not only acquire the knowledge that they missed by not attending formal school, but are also learning to use the computer and the Internet just like most people now in this modern world.
In 2006, the Human Capital Development Group of the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT), established four community-based e-Learning centers called “eSkwela Centers” to provide enhanced alternative education programs supported by ICT.
Since the eSkwela project, the ALS’ A&E program has become more exciting, attractive, engaging, and effective for its multi-age and multi-grade learners.
Under the eSkwela (electronic school) project, the print core modules used in the A&E are converted into interactive e-learning modules or digitized format. These modules are about practical life skills that learners may readily apply in their day-to-day and work endeavors.
Lessons are tackled not only in class lectures but also in discussion forums on the computer. Learners are also asked to make projects using Powerpoint, slide and video presentations, and radio plays.
The ALS mobile teacher also prepares exercises and quizzes that learners can answer on the computer.
“eSkwela strengthens the already existing ALS program of DepEd through technology. But the project doesn’t end at converting the modules or lessons from print into electronic format. The ALS mobile teachers also have to be prepared to use the computers,” says Avelino Mejia, Jr., eSkwela project officer, CICT.
The project was developed by CICT’s management information system officers from its partner state universities and colleges. They are Central Luzon State University, Western Mindanao State University, Benguet State University, Bukidnon State University, Cavite State University, Bataan Peninsula State University, and Western Visayas College of Science and Technology. The content, meanwhile, was created by the DepEd-BALS with the help of its selected mobile teachers.
“The good thing with these modules is that it’s customized. Teachers can edit it, they can input their own lessons, and it can even be converted in Cebuano or any dialect to be able to suit the needs of the learners,” he adds.
Of the 283 ALS modules, CICT has already converted 131 into electronic format. Some 43 e-module guides are now being used by the eSkwela centers.
From the four eSkwela sites initially set up in San Jose Del Monte Bulacan, Roces Avenue in Quezon City, in Cebu and in Cagayan de Oro, there are now 63 eSkwela centers in various parts of the country.
The centers are usually located on top of public markets, inside container vans, in existing community e-centers, in publicly-owned internet cafes and in barangay halls. Mejia says there is even a mobile eSkwela Center, where e-learning materials are transported from village to village on board a motorbike.
Impact on the learners
“The e-learning modules have made teaching easier for us. Hindi na kami magbabasa kasi may voice-over yung modules kaya pinakikinggan nalang ng mga learners and then we explain,” shares Angelyn Malabanan, ALS mobile teacher and facilitator at the Barangay Loyola Heights eSkwela Center.
However, she says the effectiveness of the e-Learning modules is still dependent on the learners’ ability to use the computer.
“We don’t impose on them to learn the computer right away. We teach them and let them learn on their own time. Yung mga matatanda one-on-one teaching ang ginagawa namin, some learn faster than the others. Pero yung mga younger learners, madalas ayaw na nila magpaturo kasi madali nilang natututunan yung paggamit ng mga modules and they study on their own,” relates Malabanan.
What she also noticed was that the learners who are using the computer are now more excited to learn. As incentive for the learners, Malabanan says she allows them to use the Internet and do Facebook after class. The center is also open to learners everyday, especially to those who are doing their projects.
Malabanan is particularly satisfied with the learners from her class last year because most of them have not only found a job, but have also led more improved lives.
“Napakahirap magturo dito sa ALS. My role even starts not with teaching the learners but by recruiting them. Nag ha house to house kami para hikayatin sila na tapusin ang pag-aaral nila. Tapos kailangan pa namin araw araw i-follow up, at puntahan sila sa kanilang mga bahay para maging consistent ang pagpasok nila dito sa center. But in the end, kahit isa lang sa kanila na magbago, masaya at fulfilled na ako,” stresses Malabanan.
She adds that her goal is not just to widen the knowledge and develop the skills of her learners, but more importantly to help them become better, productive persons.
In her three years of teaching in ALS, Malabanan says she has seen learners who were formerly drug addicts, alcoholics, robbers and unemployed people, reform their lives, get a job, and even pass on their knowledge of the Internet and life skills to friends and relatives.
Mejia says the expansion of eSkwela is largely dependent on the support of local partners, particularly the DepEd local offices, LGUs, local businesses and civic organizations who mostly provide the equipment, venue of the center and other learning materials. CICT can only provide the software and training for the teachers.
For instance, the eSkwela center in Barangay Loyola Heights is one of the successful model centers. Barangay captain Cesar Marquez was recently feted after his area was chosen as the 2010 Most Oustanding Community Learning Center in Quezon City. Apart from the eSkwela, it also has a day care center and an education program for streetchildren.
The eSkwela project was recently awarded an honorable mention in the 2010 UNESCO King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa Prize for its innovative and effective use of ICT in alternative education.