Learning beyond bars
Just because they’re behind bars doesn’t mean they can’t have any more hope. On this proposition, the Department of Education, a few years back, introduced into our country’s prison houses one of its innovative programs. This proposition the DepEd has since shown to be no mere rhetoric.
From the DepEd’s Alternative Learning System (ALS), the thousands of Filipinos currently in jail, yearning to improve themselves and make a change for the better, and looking forward to a new life after their release, can now look to flesh-and-blood models that they can closely identify with, for assurance and inspiration.
The ALS is aimed at addressing the needs of those who have fallen through the cracks of the formal school system. By using flexible modules and accreditation tests, and through the use of multiple languages, the ALS aims to provide everything—from basic literacy to the equivalent of elementary and secondary educational certification. Mobile teachers are deployed to the prisons, which donate the use of their facilities for the learning sessions.
The most crucial element in the ALS is the use of Accreditation and Equivalency (A&E), which determines the learning level of the test-takers who have already passed the basic literacy courses. While the ALS covers everyone from out-of-school youth to indigenous peoples, it achieves a particular resonance with its extension to those locked away behind bars. It assures them that they haven’t been forgotten—and the bars become new openings.
Though incarcerated and fallen from the ranks of society, with the ALS, they can choose not to rot idly in jail. Instead of picking up bad habits, they can take the A&E test and then pursue studies through the years of their sentences. The ALS is open to both the already convicted and detainees still awaiting their day in a court system burdened by overwhelmed dockets.
The most surprising result is just how high the A&E scores have gotten. In 2010, the passing rate for elementary equivalency was 48 percent. This year, every single one of the inmates who took the test passed—yes, 100 percent! The high school equivalency scores jumped as well, from a passing rate of 29 percent in 2010 to 49 percent in 2012.
How did they achieve this? The DepEd actually discovered that there are former teachers behind bars. It asked these mentors to apply their skills for the benefit of their fellow inmates.
“They are actually licensed teachers and college professors but, due to some circumstances, they are serving time in prison,” says Education Secretary Armin Luistro. “As part of their rehabilitation program, they were given the task of teaching their fellow inmates.” The jailed teachers are given special training before they start to teach again.
ALS bureau staff Carolina Guerrero says, “It helps them retain their professional competence and gives them a chance to earn the recognition of their peers,” adding that “…just because you killed someone, you can no longer teach. We’re not judging them for that.”
In Mandaluyong City’s Correctional Institution for Women, 21 jailed teachers tutored 252 inmates who earned good scores in their examinations. Mandaluyong City ALS Supervisor Josefina Espeso explains that “the ALS program for both learners and instructional managers is beneficial to them because they are given merits and commendable credits.
“The ALS program started in 2008 and the progressive results of the A&E tests for three consecutive years attest to the effectiveness of the program.”
The idea of recruiting jailed former teachers to teach their fellow inmates is now being widely practiced in many places of incarceration. In the Oriental Mindoro Provincial Jail in Calapan, a 21-year-old murder convict, a fourth-grade dropout, was able to obtain elementary and high school certificates. Now he dreams about taking vocational courses, courtesy of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority. In San Fernando City, an inmate, Charisse Consulta, also passed her elementary and high school equivalency in 2010. “I was so happy,” she said. “Now I have education. Education is wealth, right?” What a difference a successful test makes.
“ALS in prison houses,” in a way, lends credence to the government’s avowals to provide education for all. It also gives emphasis to the Philippine prison system’s shift from punishment to rehabilitation. By teaching the inmates life skills, the prisons play an important part in the redemption of those whose lives are generally viewed to have been wasted.
For Filipino detainees, not only does the ALS inspire hope, it offers a second best chance.
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