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Improving education isn't confined to the classroom

The success of public school students depends on what happens in and outside of the classroom, San Miguel Foundation and AHA! Learning Center join forces to help improve educational outcomes for young students.

After long hours of teaching and working in General Vicente Lim Elementary School, Rizalina V. Castro, returns home at night to prepare for the next day’s classes. She does her research, prepares the lessons, writes and illustrates them all on tarp and Manila paper. Sometimes, she can’t help think it’s all for naught. “Sa gabi, magre-research ka, gagawa ka ng tarp, mag-drawing ka [tapos] pag dating mo [sa classroom], parang balewala iyon sa kanila,” shares Rizalina. “Yung mga bata ngayon, [gusto nila] sa technology. Ayaw na nila ng naka Manila paper, naka tarp.”

Despite this, Rizalina is committed to doing whatever she can to help her class. With the challenge of keeping her students engaged, the responsibilities—and sometimes, even the financial costs—fall on her shoulders. Once, she had to spend for a digital projector herself because she wanted to use presentations and charts to make her classes more engaging just so her lessons wouldn’t fall on deaf ears. Even then, engaged, active minds depend on so much more than just better equipment. To be able to spark the interest and imagination of students, there are many problems facing teachers like Rizalina.

“Mga August, nagsisimula na ang dropouts,” says Rizalina. “Alam natin kung gaano ka-depreciated yung nasa depressed area… hindi nasusustain ng mga magulang ang pagpasok [ng mga bata] daily. Bakit sila absent? Wala silang baon, wala silang pamasahe.” Rizalina shares that she has a lot of promising and hardworking students, but she can only do so much to ensure their education. More needs to be done.

“Ang mga nakatapos, nahihirapan na ngang maghanap ng trabaho, paano pa yung hindi nakatapos?”

In recent months, General Vincente Lim Elementary School received a facelift, and while construction is still ongoing, it’s not enough according to the school’s principal, Emmanuel B. Soriano. “Kulang tayo sa facilities, kulang tayo sa pondo,” says Principal Emmanuel. “Actually yung mga ginawang bagong buildings natin, wala namang ancillary services. Walang opisina, walang guidance room, walang canteen…kaya laging bawas ang classroom natin dahil kino-convert ng schools [ang mga ito] into special services rooms.”

Beyond infrastructure, the focus is and should be on giving the students the right environment and the adequate materials. “There’s a lot to improve in terms of the quality of public school education,” says San Miguel Foundation’s Lhahlyn Lopez. “The textbooks aren’t the best, students are taught by rote, and aren’t encouraged to think independently. Part of the problem is, of course, class population. The students are crammed into a room and really disadvantaged by the size of the class. There isn’t the kind of nurturing environment you need to be able to thrive.”

Real improvements need to take place in and outside of school. To ensure children continue on with their schooling and discover a love for learning, a more personalized, hands-on kind of teaching needs to take place. “For some kids who are lucky enough to have a teacher like Rizalina who is invested in her students, school provides them some sort of refuge from the day-to-day struggle many of them face,” says Lhalyn. “For the not so lucky, we’re hoping to provide them a support system that can greatly improve their chances at success". This is the hope of San Miguel Foundation as it partners with Angels Here Abound (AHA!) Learning Center in providing an after-school center for the children of Tondo.

We need more businessmen [and women], we need scientists, we need teachers, to try and figure out how the education system can be better and after-school education allows everybody to be in the same table. - Antonio “Jaton” Zulueta, Jr., Executive Director, AHA! Learning Center

AHA! is a free after-school program for public school children that began in 2009 and grew into an after-school center in Makati where in the last 10 years, they’ve served an estimated 2,000 children. By partnering with San Miguel Foundation, AHA! hopes to do the same for Tondo.

“The current state of education in the country, [according to] statistics, shows that we need to help the public schools,” says AHA! Executive Director, Antonio “Jaton” Zulueta, Jr. “We don’t give kids from low-income families the same advantages that kids from higher-income families have. AHA! adopts the same curricula that kids in International School Manila also use.”

Jaton is passionate about supporting students with their learning. His many years in the field have taught him that young people don’t learn at the same pace or in the same way.

“So many of our kids who live in lower-income communities are struggling with their school work. Many lag behind in terms of attention span, memory, processing skills.

And I think our educational system doesn’t recognize how kids who’ve grown up in relative poverty are disadvantaged just by the circumstances of their birth. Chances are their parents lack formal education, they’re not exposed to the same kind of cognitive stimuli kids from middle class families or upper class kids are exposed to.

“So there’s a huge gap and we try to address that. After-school education is a very feasible and easy way wherein we can go and help the public schools.”

“So many of our kids who live in lower-income communities are struggling with their school work," says AHA! Executive Director, Antonio “Jaton” Zulueta, Jr. "Many lag behind in terms of attention span, memory, processing skills." Together with San Miguel Foundation, AHA! hopes to provide a structure that ensures education continues beyond the classroom.

According to AHA!, anyone and everyone can—and should—work together to contribute a solution. “We need more people to be at the table,” says Jaton. “We need more businessmen [and women], we need scientists, we need teachers, to try and figure out how the education system can be better and after-school education allows everybody to be in the same table.”

Furthermore, Jaton shares the larger goals of this partnership and how it goes beyond education. “I believe a place like the Better World Community Center, starts as a safe space where people can be their best selves. It’s a place where people can learn, recharge, and be given opportunities to better themselves,” says Jaton. “It’s a place where you can be hopeful for your country, because in a place like the Better World, there will never be a shortage of people who are cheering for the life you want.”

“We’re excited to partner with Jaton because he knows a lot [about education],” says Lhalyn, “but he also knows that poverty takes many forms and you can’t apply a cookie cutter approach in different communities. At the moment, we are studying Tondo and seeing what the kids need, who the different actors are on the ground, how we can complement the other groups currently working in the area.” With so much at stake, generosity and the desire to help is not enough. When it comes to the education of those who need it most, a clear and strong foundation is what’s needed.

This partnership not only provides continued learning for the students but also helps them solve specific issues they’re facing through education. “We’ve talked to educators like Jaton and their approach to learning is a lot more organic,” says Lhalyn. “It’s more relevant to the student. For instance, they might ask what a problem in the community is and the student might say, no electricity. So science class would focus on how to create batteries or build solar panels. It makes learning come alive when kids see how they might apply what their learning in the classroom situation to their lives in the community. Maybe public schools need to take the same approach.”

What programs and projects such as AHA! can do is to provide a structure and an environment that nurtures the learning capabilities of its students and at the same time offer a support system that keeps them away from danger and being at risk out in the streets. Once San Miguel Foundation’s first Better World Community is built in Tondo, AHA! will host students as they continue their education and ultimately empower the children to rise out of their current situations. “We need to develop children who are critical thinkers,” says Lhalyn, “Children who have the imagination to dream of things that you can’t get in the public school classroom.”

San Miguel Foundation’s partnership with AHA! is not meant to replace or takeover the livelihood and jobs of teachers like Rizalina. It hopes to make sure that the hard work and dedication of good people like Rizalina doesn’t go to waste.

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