Alternative learning helps a child with disability continue her education

Power for Youth Program

UNICEF Philippines
Gemma and fellow learner Lady Ann review their Power for Youth ALS learning modules
©ADZU SUGPAT/2021/Shekinah Benitez
12 May 2021

On the morning of April 26, 2015, Gemma Dumapig woke up not feeling her whole body.

At only 12 years old, she was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy – a disease that weakens the muscles over time, making it difficult for a person to move or perform daily tasks.

“It was so difficult for a young girl like me. Moving was the most challenging part,” she said. “When I eat, take a bath or do anything, I could not do it on my own and someone always has to assist me.”

The life-changing morning turned Gemma’s life upside-down. Despite her drive to complete her education and pursue her dream of becoming a police officer, she had to drop out of school at Grade 7.

Adolescents in the Philippines face a multitude of challenges to staying in school. Gemma is just one of an estimated 2.15 million of these adolescents aged 10-19 years old who are out of school according to the 2019 Annual Poverty Indicators Survey.

She spent the next four years confined at home, keeping herself busy by listening to the news, reading books and keeping her mother company. But just as she was about to give up on the chance to study again, she learned about the Alternative Learning System (ALS).

“It was so difficult for a young girl like me. Moving was the most challenging part.”

Gemma, 17
Gemma Dumapig is one of the 3,908 adolescent learners reached in the Philippines through the Power for Youth Program
©ADZU SUGPAT/2021/Shekinah Benitez
Gemma Dumapig, a 17-year-old ALS learner from Polanco, Zamboanga del Norte, is one of the 3,908 adolescent learners reached in the Philippines through the Power for Youth Project.

ALS is a parallel learning system in the Philippines that provides a practical option to the existing formal education. When one does not have or cannot access formal education in schools, ALS is an alternate or substitute. ALS includes both the non-formal and informal sources of knowledge and skills.

“At first, I did not really think of going back to school because I was embarrassed about my condition. But my mother inspired me and told me that this might be the way for me to finish my education,” she recalled. “ALS helped me a lot. I learned a lot of new things after many years of not being in school.”

With support from ING and UNICEF, Gemma and some 48,186 young people learning through ALS, are being supported through the Power for Youth Program. Around 3,908 of them are adolescent learners from Zamboanga del Norte. The programme strengthens the Department of Education’s ALS by equipping its teachers with 21st-century teaching skills such as cognitive skills for the 21st century, flipped learning[1] approach, and gamification in education. The programme also provides learning materials such as contextualized and activity-based life-skills worksheets.

“Our Power for Youth worksheets are nice! It’s so fun because we get to have group activities,” Gemma said with enthusiasm. Gemma may use a wheelchair and have reduced mobility, yet this has not kept her from attending her classes and being proactive and participative.

When one does not have or cannot access formal education in schools, Alternative Learning System (ALS) is an alternate or substitute. ALS includes both the non-formal and informal sources of knowledge and skills.

Gemma is visited by Rudy Guitarte, her ALS teacher
©ADZU SUGPAT/2021/Shekinah Benitez
Gemma Dumapig, a 17-year-old ALS learner in Polanco, Zamboanga del Norte, is visited by Rudy Guitarte, her ALS teacher, for the home visitations done by ALS implementers regularly to check on their learners as they cannot meet in large groups due to the pandemic. They are joined by Lady Ann Werada, also 17 years old, Gemma’s neighbor and a fellow ALS learner. Rudy and his fellow ALS implementers in Zamboanga Peninsula, Philippines, are trained through the Power for Youth Project. They are equipped with 21st-century teaching skills such as cognitive skills for the 21st century, flipped learning approach, and gamification in education.

The Covid-19 pandemic changed how classes are conducted nationwide. “Because of the pandemic, we cannot meet face-to-face for our classes. Our teacher brings us our modules so we can study them and answer them,” she said.

The Power for Youth Program encourages Gemma and other learners to be creative, innovative, hopeful and most especially, a catalyst to transform their community.

“The program really helps young people like me, a person with disability,” she shared. “We have an opportunity to continue our studies, meet new friends and best of all, I’m not discriminated because of my condition and we help each other.”

Now 17 years old, Gemma is preparing for the acceleration and equivalency exam of the ALS. If she passes, she hopes to continue her studies and start her own small business.

And to those who are in a similar situation like hers, she has this message: “Let’s continue and persevere because we have our dreams. Our disabilities, age or status in life are not a hindrance because we all have a chance to fulfill our dreams.”

“We have an opportunity to continue our studies, meet new friends and best of all, I’m not discriminated because of my condition and we help each other.”

Gemma, 17
UNICEF Philippines
Gemma, an ALS learner from Polanco, Zamboanga del Norte, is one of the 3,908 adolescent learners reached in the Philippines through the Power for Youth Project.

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Note:

[1] Flipped Learning is a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the "group -space teacher driven” learning to the a individual driven learning space, and the teacher driven space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter. (source: FL Network, 2014. FL Handout. Retrieved: https://flippedlearning.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/FLIP_handout_FNL_Web.pdf