Changing lives through education
Breaking limits, opening opportunities, and transforming communities
Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, 02 October 2023 – When Umaya and Juher, a young couple from Maguindanao, dropped out of school in their early teens, they saw their future fade into the grey horizon of the farms they gave it all up for. They thought they would not have much to aspire for.
That was until they enrolled last year in the Alternative Learning System (ALS) programme, along with 5,459 learners from remote areas where schools are non-existent, too far, or under the threat of armed conflict. Access to formal education is limited, expensive, or a dangerous journey for many, especially those living in marginalized communities and conflict-affected areas.
But through the ALS, Umaya and Juher are now assessed as ‘fit’ to return and progress to Junior High School. "ALS helped us improve our standing in school, which, hopefully, will enable us to pursue better opportunities for us and our future children," they say with a smile. For many, the free ALS has become a lifeline for out-of-school children and youth, children living with disabilities, and those disengaged from armed groups.
Meilyn Ampang, Shariff Aguak ALS coordinator, says ALS provides more than education. “It empowers our marginalized children and youth to feel a sense of worth in society, giving them the tools to overcome their challenges and the opportunity to (re)start building their future.” She helps ALS learners become entrepreneurs, productive employees, responsible parents, or take further studies.
She also works closely with the Ministry of Basic, Higher, and Technical Education (MBHTE) and local governments to mobilize resources for ALS programmes, emphasizing the importance of integrating out-of-school children and youth into the school system. “By addressing the needs of learners and their families, displaced and marginalized youth can achieve holistic development and reintegrate into society. The goal is to sustain and scale up, especially in conflict-affected and poor communities,” Meilyn says.
Encouraged by 1,320 learners graduating this year, UNICEF and MBHTE will increase ALS coverage, particularly for children from vulnerable communities. ALS will also continue its skills training programme to enable graduates like Juher and Umaya to augment their family income and be self-sustaining – integrating fundamental, life, and technical skills to pursue a job or start a business.
Almahdin Antoling, division coordinator of ALS, witnessed this transformative power in his mother's journey in the Basic Literacy Program: She recently learned how to read and write through ALS. This inspired him to advocate for more learners in conflict-affected areas to be reached. “Education knows no age, transcends generations, and can break the chains of poverty and social deprivations,” he says.
Almahdin also appreciates the dedication of mobile ALS instructors, despite the long distances they travel to reach remote (and often, conflict-affected) areas, to hold classes twice a week in community learning centers. He and his colleagues intend to keep promoting ALS to increase enrollment and, with improved quality learning, sustain the positive impact on learners' education, family income, and overall well-being.
“For years, communities felt isolated and neglected. But now, through ALS, we are bridging the gaps in society and providing communities the opportunity for education. Our learners have re-ignited their hope to break free from poverty, and they are doing it together as a community,” Almahdin says.
Along with that same hope, Umaya and Juher’s journey as a young couple is inspired by the chance to graduate together. As they build a life together as future parents and piece together the hope that once seemed unattainable, they have become part of building a transformed community that now has a clearer path to a future.
After university, Umaya hopes to become a midwife. “I would like to help other women and multiply the positive effect of my education in the community,” she says.
Clutching her binder of learning modules, she smiles, “In shaa Allah.”