After a whirlwind trip to Manila and settling back to the comforts of the United States, Ken Danford was finally able to write about his experience in the Liberated Learners blog. I was so happy to read a comprehensive take on the journey and hastily typed my corrections and opinion. Ken suggested I can just put them on the comments section of the Abot Tala page, so here they are. (Ken’s quotes are in the blocks with the green line.)
Approximately 15% of the student population attends private schools, mostly traditional Catholic schools or otherwise fairly rigid college-prep oriented schools. There are essentially no options for people seeking progressive, student-centered schools. Abot Tala is currently considering a tuition that is comparable to low-to-moderately priced private schools.
Correction: There are essentially A FEW options for people seeking progressive, student-centered schools. Abot Tala is currently considering a tuition that is comparable to MODERATELY priced private schools. It’s moderate if you compare it to the astronomical fees of International Schools but it’s more expensive if you compare it to the low-priced private schools. So moderate may really be the word we’re after.
Abot Tala faces many familiar challenges that we have encountered in the United States and Canada. First, homeschooling is perceived to be a parent-led, school-at-home model. Most people, including most teens, do not find this idea appealing.
The people who homeschool in the Philippines are mostly doing fine — parents and kids are enjoying the process but there is a usually rocky start where people make adjustments. Ken agreed in his email message, “Yes, I know the homeschoolers are happy! I meant that parent-directed homeschooling does not appeal to many people now in conventional schools. Most school kids and parents do not find the idea of leaving school to start a parent-taught homeschooling process to be appealing.” That’s why Abot Tala could address that issue. As a mother who tried homeschooling for a year and did not like it and felt like I tortured and traumatized my kids, I was always looking for progressive or self-directed alternatives like those in the States. Since there are fewer options here in the Philippines, why not create the option yourself?
From a larger perspective, Manila seems to lack much of a middle-class. It appeared to me that there is a relatively small socioeconomic elite group, which corresponds to those that can afford private school for their children. The people who use public school seem to have little disposable income, and appear to have many pressing basic needs such as housing, health, nutrition, sanitation, and transportation. We might argue that education for children might be a critical first step to addressing these other problems, but I’m not sure that’s true, and I know it’s not particularly convincing. It’s hard to know where to start when so many basic systems we take for granted aren’t in place. For people living in shanties, it seems a bit off the mark to debate the merits of self-directed learning vs. traditional school attendance.
SPOT ON! I have no illusions that Abot Tala can serve the poorest of the poor although someday, I would like to tackle the issue of how the personalized approach promoted by North Star, Liberated Learners and other alternatives can be scaled up and applied to a public school system like the Philippines. I’ve seen the same principles applied in some chartered public schools in America and in Israel, the government funds democratic schools. Check out also these efforts in India and listen to TED Talk about how to fix a broken education system without any more money. So it IS possible. Whether it’s possible in a country ran much like hell by so-called leaders, I do not know.
For people who live in shanties and low-income areas, education through the traditional system is their ray of hope to escape poverty. Hardworking parents take enormous pride that their children finish school and some of those who do so are able to lead better lives and help their family rise above their economic status. Millions of OFW workers are willing to sacrifice being together with their family just so their children can go to school and eventually have their own career and profession. It’s not appropriate to present an alternative like Abot Tala in the face of unbelievable poverty where the traditional school route is still one of the few viable ways out.
There was always something tugging in my heart knowing that Abot Tala may not be able to address the issue of poverty and education in my country. However, it does offer an option for those who are questioning the system itself and how appropriate it is for their own family and offspring.
I also reminded Ken, you forgot to mention the people from the RadEd Unconference who are natural libertarians. Ken emailed me:
They are awesome. My Facebook is flooded with their posts! I haven’t forgotten them, but I wasn’t sure how to include them, either. Hello to Jestoni and Kimmi and others.
Just as an update, Jestoni who is one of main organizers of RadEd opened a coffee shop-restaurant called the Radtown Resistance — eat, play, resist! On August 25, they are holding a RadEd picnic in UP Sunken Garden. Unfortunately, it coincides with an Abot Tala meeting that has been arranged since two weeks ago. Hmmmm. How can I be in two places at one time? Beam me up Scotty or maybe I could offer to give Joel Hammon’s Teacher Liberation Handbook to anyone who attends the meeting and is contemplating setting up his or her own alternative school slash learning center.
Photos of unschoolers and homeschoolers in Manila