‘Abot-Alam’ for out-of-school youth
The mission of the Department of Education is “to protect and promote the right of every Filipino to quality, equitable, culture-based and complete basic education.” One of the DepEd’s major vehicles in carrying out this mission is the K-to-12 program.
Even as the DepEd goes full gear in the implementation of this major reform initiative, it is also mindful of the fact that not all young learners have ready or easy access to school. In far-flung communities, young learners have to walk long distances or wade or even swim through rivers just to be able to get to school. This is very taxing on their young bodies and many of them ultimately lose interest in getting an education.
There are the children at risk on the streets, unable to go to school because of extreme poverty and other constraints. A large number of children also live with their families in off-grid communities, where they use candles and kerosene lamps to read and study, exposing them to eyestrain and dangerous fumes. Then there are those who dropped out of school in the last two decades, and who are now 15-30 years old; many of them have not completed high school and now want to acquire skills to get employed or to set up their own small business.
To address the needs of these hard-to-reach learners and to provide them easier access to education and other opportunities, the DepEd, in partnership with government and nongovernment groups, has embarked on “Programs for Last Mile Learners.” One of these is “Abot-Alam” (loosely translated as “Knowledge Within Reach”), a program for out-of-school youth (OSY). Various sources of data put the number of Filipino out-of school youth aged 15-30 at anywhere between 3 million and 4 million.
Abot-Alam is a convergence program involving national government agencies under the Human Development and Poverty Reduction Cluster of the Cabinet. Through the collective effort of these agencies, in partnership with local government units, civil society organizations, the private sector and community-based groups, Abot-Alam is aimed at mapping out-of-school youth and matching them with appropriate government, private-sector, or civil-society programs that will give them opportunities for education, employment and entrepreneurship.
Opportunities for education include the DepEd’s Alternative Learning System for those who prefer to finish their basic education and scholarships for those who want to pursue higher education. Employment opportunities are provided under skills training and employment programs of agencies such as Tesda (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) and the Department of Labor and Employment, in partnership with private companies and enterprises. Entrepreneurship opportunities are provided by the Department of Trade and Industry and private groups such as GO Negosyo and microfinance institutions.
Some LGUs and civil-society organizations have programs that cut across the three areas of education, employment and entrepreneurship and make these available to the out of school youth in their respective communities.
Abot-Alam is being implemented by multisectoral alliances on the municipality, city and provincial levels. For this nationwide implementation, the local alliances are led by the LGUs with support from the local DepEd offices, the National Youth Commission, other government agencies in the area, and civil-society organizations.
Additionally, there are sectors or organizations that are implementing Abot-Alam in specific communities or groups. For example, the Armed Forces of the Philippines has started implementing the program for camp personnel as well as household help who wish to finish high school. Some companies or offices are also implementing Abot-Alam for their employees who have yet to complete their basic education.
As of the end of December 2014, more than 1.9 million out of school youth have been mapped and listed in the Abot-Alam database. More than 400,000 of them have been enrolled under various programs in education, employment and entrepreneurship. The enthusiasm with which the program is received in the provinces, cities and municipalities has been very encouraging and heartwarming. But there is still a long way to go to attain its vision of “Zero OSY Philippines.”
The success of Abot-Alam depends on:
The ability of stakeholders to put together a comprehensive, community-level database containing the out-of-school youth’s personal information, including their aspirations and reasons for dropping out
The availability of a wide range of programs sufficiently flexible, responsible, accessible and appropriate to meet out-of-school youth’s diverse learning goals
The formation of a local-level multisectoral alliance to identify all out-of-school youth in communities and pool resources and programs to address their needs
The direct and sustained participation of each citizen, who will adopt as his/her personal mission the task of ensuring that at least one out-of-school youth in his/her workplace or neighborhood gets access to the opportunities being provided by Abot-Alam
Success can be achieved if we, together as a nation, give it one big push.
Mario A. Deriquito (email@example.com) is education undersecretary for partnerships and external linkages.
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