The REAP Program: How the Philippines is Facing the
Father Rogelio Alarcon
A number of Asian nations face growing challenges as they seek to alleviate poverty through rural re-entry education programs. Father Rogelio Alarcon, President of Angelicum College in the Philippines, shares with us his concepts which were successfully utilized in the establishment of the Re-Entry Education Agenda for the Poor Program (REAP). This program has successfully brought education to hundreds of individuals who were forced to drop out of grade school or high school due to conditions of poverty.
There is an ever-growing need to re-engineer the system of education in the Philippines, where there is a premium on education to get at least an ample-paying job. Sad to say, however, access to quality education is unavailable to the far-flung rural communities where most of the under-privileged either work or live, or where making both ends meet is the utmost priority rather than education. An alternative method of education must be affected in order to encourage individuals who dropped out of school due to poverty to return to the folds of education. The reality in this country is that most people enrolled in school drop out because they have to find a way to be able to feed their family.
Eventually, out-of-school youths and adults who wish to return to school while keeping their means of livelihood are often prevented from doing so because the regular public school system in the country can-not accommodate them, for several reasons: conflicts in schedule of the individual, or the individual may already be too old for the level in which he is qualified to enroll in, or simply because the public schools are already overflowing with students and cannot accommodate students anymore.
In this kind of scenario, the regular classroom setting is almost inapplicable. But the government has its hands tied with just keeping up with the growing cost of improving the public schools all over the country.
In response to the growing challenges faced by the government in alleviating poverty through education, Angelicum College established in early 1998 the Re-Entry education Agenda for the Poor Program or REAP. The aim: to bring back to the folds of education individuals who were forced to drop out of grade school or high school due to poverty.
The first challenge faced by the program was funding. Although the program is free to all enrollees, the cost of production and distribution of the learning modules for the different program sites all over the country is quite expensive. Since the Philippines is an archipelago, we had to have some of the modules air-ferried or shipped, where access through land is impossible. In 1998, then President Joseph Estrada pledged funding for our initiative. However, after he was replaced by the new administration, funding was stopped, and we had to find contributors elsewhere. We have yet to hear from the government regarding the continuation of funding for REAP.
Another challenge we encountered was getting people to believe in the REAP program. Handling skepticism, for the most part, has been a primary concern for us. We had to prove to the world that our pro-gram was worth looking into as an alternative to the regular educational set-up. That is why, when the first batch of REAP students graduated, this was a big step for us in proving to people and would-be contributors that REAP is more than a vision, but a proven alternative that could help improve the state of education in the country. We have expanded coverage of our program to include those detained in the different city or provincial jails in some parts of the country. This is a stepping-stone for the detainees’ eventual re-integration and re-entry to society.
Househelps in some of the major subdivisions in the Metropolitan Manila area are also benefiting from our program. It is good to note that the employers of these househelps were the ones who took the initiative in enrolling them to the program — something which we hope would set the precedent for other homeowners to follow.
The growing consciousness of Filipinos on the need for another mode of delivery is also helping the pro-gram gain its momentum in pushing for the establishment of more program sites and more enrollees. Moreover, volunteers or knowledgeable people get the chance to participate in revising the learning mate-rials in AC modules according to the specific needs of the people in their areas. To clarify basic concepts, for example, the people in a locality can use the language they are comfortable with. However, they need to inform Angelicum about this so that necessary changes can be made in evaluating the learners’ acquisition of skills.
Indeed, in a country that puts so much emphasis on a good education, but one where a good education is costly, the REAP Program provides for a ray of hope to shine on those who think they have lost it.
To date, the REAP program has over 6,000 students enrolled in over a hundred program sites nationwide.
The war against poverty through education has begun, and though small battles have been won, the result of the war is yet to be seen. But with the support of people and communities not just in the Philippines but worldwide, we might just win the war.
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