Educating in the Philippines

July 16, 2013 | Czarina, DVM, AFS Internculture Canada, Philippines, Gawad Kalinga (GK), Program Development Assistant

Practically everyone in the Philippines strives to achieve a post-secondary degree. Because of the surplus of labour in relation to the availability of jobs, competition is fierce, so many people, especially the poor, believe that achieving a bachelor’s degree is necessary for their job applications to even be considered. As such, the organization I’m interning with (Gawad Kalinga) attempts to give its students a leg up.

I am currently working as a teacher assistant at a nursery for three- to four-year olds at one of Gawad Kalinga’s Sibol schools. For me, the school I help at is in an informal settler community. From Monday to Friday, I commute from Paranaque to Las Pinas for one to two hours depending on the traffic in order to reach the school in time for the 7 AM session. I will be there until the third session ends around 2 PM. Then, on Saturdays, I commute again for weekly values formation workshops for elementary-aged students.

The Sibol schools typically run like a mini-version of Philippine kindergartens. While waiting for class to begin, the students will be doing writing exercises depending on how developed the students’ fine motor skills are. Then, they have a flag ceremony, a short prayer, and morning exercises. They will then have lessons in English, Science, Math, or Filipino depending on the day. Each day has two lessons with recess in between. In this way, the students, though poor, will be able to match their peers’ abilities when they enter the government-run, mandatory public schools.

As a TA, it is to my advantage that I can speak the local dialect as I’ve met interns from other countries who feel useless around the children due to language and cultural barriers (most of the children don’t understand English or are shy to use it). I am able to talk to the children about their days, coax them into doing their work, joke around with them, et cetera. During class times, I will be guiding their work as some would say “I can’t do it” and expect you to do the work for them–as much as doing the children’s work for them would be easier than trying to motivate them to do the work, I avoid this because of the values of dependency this teaches the children. I am very grateful that I can speak the language because TAs in my area are necessary, for each class has an average of 25 students!

What surprised me about this experience was how capable the children are! During my first day, I had thought that the lessons were too hard and formally teaching three- to four-year olds how to write letters, determine colours, etc. was a bit too much (I had believed in learning through play). Then, as time went on, I realized how important the lessons were as some children’s parents were not involved at the children’s education at all!–they treat the school as a daycare and download the responsibility of educating children to the volunteer teachers. Further, the children can actually do all that is asked of them–I’m even seeing three-year-olds write their names without assistance!

I am learning the value of believing in children’s abilities and not underestimating the potential of what they can do. I am also seeing the human right’s perspective on the right to education in practice. I am realizing that providing quality, accessible, relevant education for all is a shared responsibility between the government, education providers, the children’s guardians, and the children themselves.

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