Not long ago, Tomicor Elementary School (TES) was closed because it didn’t have enough enrollees. The school had served the children of Tedurays, an indigenous group on the mountains of Ampatuan, Maguindanao for 48 years. Parents no longer wanted to send their children to study there as the school didn’t have decent classrooms.
The school was further left behind when Ampatuan town was divided into two municipalities. The unfortunate result was that many children missed out on education.
“When I arrived in the school in 2003, there were only 38 enrollees for Grades 1 and 2. The Department of Education (DepEd) could not deploy additional teachers because the enrollment was below 40. I was the lone teacher and did multi-grade system in makeshift classrooms. By default, the school should be closed because it was short of enrollees. Due to this, I did house-to-house visits to encourage children to go back to school. I even reached Sitio Langit-Langit, seven kilometers away from the school. I walked and rode a horse just to reach the communities,” said Evelyn Legaspi-Alibadbarin, school head of TES.
By the following school year, the enrollment had increased to a hundred. The children who did not attend classes in the past finally returned.That was why there were Grade I pupils who were already 10 years old and some in Grade II were 13 to 15 years old.
EDUCATING STUDENTS AND PARENTS
Evelyn noticed that the pupils had no shoes or slippers. They also came to school unwashed. That was the time she decided to teach them good hygiene. Evelyn discovered that the parents did not even know how to read, write, much less understand the need for good hygiene.
“Apart from teaching the students on weekdays, I also went back to school to teach their parents every Saturday. I taught them basic literacy and numeracy skills, and even good hygiene so they could show their children how to take a bath and clean the house. I really exerted effort to teach both children and parents. I did Alternative Learning System (ALS) until 2005. Some parents who attended my ALS classes are now working abroad because they already know how to read and write,” said Evelyn.
For Evelyn, the key to achieving quality education also lies in the parents’ support. Learning in school needs to be applied at home because this is where they spend most of their time. Parents need to support their children’s educational needs.
“I was one of those who attended ALS classes. It helped us a lot in learning to read and write and practice good hygiene. In Teduray culture, married women are forbidden to focus on their appearance as this is seen as attracting the attention of other men. But because of education, we are now giving importance to cleanliness as a way of being healthy. Through ALS, we also learned livelihood skills like sewing,” said Edmond Biad, TES Parents-Teachers Association (PTA) president.
A BRIGHTER FUTURE
Complementing the changes in the school was the gift of a two-classroom schoolbuilding from the Australian Government, in partnership with Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP).
Education remains a top priority of Australia’s development assistance to the Philippines, accounting for at least 45 percent of its AUD82.9 million total development assistance this year.
PBSP is the country’s largest business-led NGO at the forefront of strategic corporate citizenship. Its core program areas are Health, Education, Environment, and Livelihood and Enterprise Development.
With construction of the new schoolbuilding nearing completion, the children and their parents are now excited to use the classrooms which will be far different from what they’ve been used to.
“The schoolbuilding is made out of the best construction materials. It is one of the most beautiful buildings in town. It is disaster-resilient because it can withstand strong winds. There are ramps and handrails for wheelchair users and other Persons with Disabilities. There is also a huge water tank that can collect and store rainwater. The water tank, once full, can sustain four toilet rooms for a month without rain. Water is really important for hygiene,” said Bernardo Destor, Education councilor of Barangay Tomicor in Ampatuan, Maguindanao.
The landscape of the school also changed a lot. The road from the highway going to the school was repaired because of the classroom construction. The schoolbuilding became an attraction in the community. This has also led to increased enrolment from 38 in 2003 to 572 pupils from Kinder to Grade VI today. The school now has seven classrooms.