BY IGAL JADA SAN ANDRES
SINDALAN, San Fernando, Pampanga – “I did not know at first that my daughter is special, that she had a problem,” Analisa Pamintuan, a 44-year old mother of three, said. “I was still working back then. I would come home at 6 o’clock in the evening. I failed to notice the signs.”
Her 12-year old daughter, Kay*, is diagnosed with mental retardation. She is delayed in speech and fine motor skills. Unlike other children who would actively participate in games of tag and running, Kay prefers to keep to herself. Even when other people are talking to her, it is as if they are not there. She also has trouble concentrating on the work at hand.
“At first I did not know that she was MR (mentally retarded),” Pamintuan said. “Because when we brought her to Manila when she was three, they said she had a hearing impairment and that is the reason why she could still not speak. They said there was no problem in her brain,” she said, placing a hand on her forehead. “The doctors asked us to produce 50,000 pesos ($1,181.98) in one week for the hearing aid. I told him we couldn’t afford it, even if my husband and I worked together. We did not come back to Manila after that.”
Pamintuan, along with her husband, used to work for Cosmos Bottling Corporation in San Fernando, Pampanga. But when it closed down in 2007, they were left without a job. Now, her husband works as a tricycle driver, bringing in at least 250 pesos ($5.91) a day to sustain their family of five.
In addition to Kay, Pamintuan has two other daughters. Her eldest is an incoming 4th year student of BS Accountancy in Holy Angel University. Her youngest child will be enrolling as a Grade 4 student come June.
“Thinking that nothing was wrong, I enrolled her in regular schools,” Pamintuan continued. “She even studied in the day care here, and then in the government school in Sindalan. She studied for two years… After a while, I noticed that there was no development even when she went to school.”
That was when she knew that something was off with her daughter. Seeking a second opinion, she went to Angeles University Foundation when someone told her of a doctor who specialized in diagnosing such conditions.
“We had her assessed by Dra. Bautista. That was when we knew she was MR,” Pamintuan said. “We even had them repeat the hearing test, because I was asked about it there too. When the results came out, they were good. My daughter was really MR.”
Because of her daughter’s special needs, Pamintuan sought a school that would cater to them. Finding one in Pulungbulu, Angeles City, she enrolled Kay there.
“We needed two jeepney rides to get there,” she said. “We spent almost 100 pesos ($2.35) everyday… We also had to pay 700 pesos ($16.53) a month. In one year, we have to pay at least 9000 pesos ($212.51)to the school.”
It was a blessing, then, when she heard about the Department of Education’s Alternative Learning System (ALS) program, which might be opened in their barangay. She had heard about it from her cousin, a barangay councilor. She was happy to hear about it, she said, because they did not have to commute daily to go to Kay’s school.
“I was really glad when he said that they might open it here,” she said, smiling. “So, the next year, they opened the school. We were the first to enroll. There were only about ten students then. That was two years ago.”
To date, the ALS program in Sindalan, San Fernando has 83 students, including those enrolled in the Accreditation and Equivalency (ANE) and the Basic Literacy Program (BLP).
The ANE program caters to elementary drop-outs who are aged eleven years old and above and secondary drop-outs who are aged fifteen years old and above. These ages are considered over-aged in the formal educational system.
The BLP, on the other hand, aims to teach reading, writing, and numeracy skills to out of school children, youth, and adults who are non-literates.
An interesting aspect of the ALS program in Sindalan is its special project called ALS-DAP, or Alternative Learning System for Differently-Abled Persons. This is the program where Kay is currently enrolled.
Aside from the advantage gained by the lesser distance traveled, Pamintuan said, they also saved money. In ALS, they did not have to pay for anything.
Kay’s condition has also improved.
“My daughter used to be really shy,” she said. “She did not talk. Even when you talked to her, it’s like talking to the air. Now, I can see she has improved because she has started to mingle with the others… She has also started to open her mouth even if you can’t really understand what she’s saying. She’s trying really hard.”
Pamintuan said the ALS program in her barangay is a blessing to her and her family. Financially, they no longer have to pay school dues for Kay, even with her special needs. Physically, they have also seen improvement in their daughter.
“It is really a great help to my family.”
The ALS program, however, also has its problems. The career passing of the implementers, or the teachers under ALS, is one of its major problems.
“[Mobile teachers and district ALS coordinators] are deprived of some benefits like credits, hardship allowances, and promotions,” said Melissa Sanchez, one of the mobile teachers of the ALS program in Sindalan. “Others are obliged to also teach in the formal structure aside from teaching in ALS.”
Budget for the program is also an ongoing concern.
“At the Department of Education, we are given the least appropriation,” Sanchez said. “Just imagine, last time, we were only given two percent. The Bureau [of ALS] is working on a two percent budget. It’s a very meager resource, considering that we are the third bureau of the Department of Education.”
Lord David, one of the instructional managers in Sindalan, said senior citizens and persons with disabilities in Sindalan are allotted only one percent of the budget from the barangay’s Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA). Each group received about 35,000 pesos ($822.57) as its budget for the whole year.
Because of their meager budget, the ALS program also has to rely on partnerships with non-government organizations, civic societies, and persons from the private sector. Additional funding is also received from the special education fund, or the Local School Board Fund, from the barangay’s IRA.
“In San Fernando City, we are partnered with Inocencio Magtoto Memorial Foundation Incorporated (IMMFI), a non-profit non-government organization that caters to persons with disabilities,” Sanchez said. “Since we are providing basic education services to people with disabilities, it’s important that we have a partner that has experience and expertise in handling persons with disabilities (PWDs).”
She continued, “The role played by the local officials is also important. For example, in this barangay, we are closely coordinating with the barangay officials because they are the ones providing our needs in the community. One problem, when we’re working in the community, is where to conduct the classes. Although we say that in ALS, learning can happen anywhere, at any place, at a time convenient to the learner, it is also important that the place is conducive to learning, especially when it rains or when it’s hot. So, at least if we have a roof over our heads, the learners will be able to benefit more.”
The officials of Sindalan have provided their local ALS program with a one-room building that serves as their classroom and office.
The ALS program in Sindalan is actually fortunate if compared with other similar programs elsewhere. Very few barangay officials in other areas are cooperative. Some would even withhold the program’s budget, even when slapped with official memorandums and ordinances.
“The reason for this is that the officials think that helping PWDs will not benefit them come election time because they will not be able to vote,” a barangay official from Sindalan said.
Proposals to increase the budget for the program might be possible in the future, according to Sanchez.
“I think Education Secretary Bro. Armin Luistro acknowledges that the Bureau of ALS is a under the Department of Education,” she said. “In a recent training in Baguio, he said the ALS is a bureau and therefore it should have its own funding. It should have its own MOOE, capital outlay, and teachers. It is a positive remark which means that the secretary of the Department of Education believes that the Bureau of ALS deserves sufficient attention, especially now that 2015 is fast approaching.”
The year 2015 is the due date of the government’s Education for All (EFA) project. It aims to eradicate illiteracy by providing basic education for all.
“I think the Bureau of ALS has to play a pivotal role so we can achieve education for all,” Sanchez added. “Because if we depend only on the formal education system, we will have a hard time, especially since the population of out of school children, youth, and adults is large. So we have a large role to play. Therefore, we should be equipped in order for us to effectively fulfill the duty given us by the Department of Education that would help address illiteracy.”