Mobile teacher goes where he’s needed #28storiesofgiving

Michael Rebuyas - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - For the past decade, Rainmiel Robles has spent most of his days teaching. The work takes up much of his time – he is at school during weekdays and in the streets during weekends.

Unlike other regular schoolteachers, however, he has no set breaks, vacations and other such perks.

Rainmiel, or Ren as he is called, is a mobile teacher.

“We’re called mobile teachers because we go from one place to another. We go where we are needed, students don’t come to us,” he explains in Filipino.

Ren says he was among the first to enlist when the program was offered under the Estrada administration in 1999 as a means of reaching out to out-of-school individuals and indigent communities.

The goal of the program is to offer a viable alternative for people who are unable to obtain formal education.

Take the case of Michael Labanan, 21, one of Robles’ students who earns his keep as a part-time Henna tattoo artist.

Orphaned at 14 and depending
occasionally on relatives, Michael sees the ALS program as his ticket out of poverty.

“My situation is hard. When the time comes, I hope for my life to change for the better,” he says.

Robles says there are now around 24 mobile teachers in Manila, evenly distributed among six districts, with primary sites being the urban and depressed localities where the need and demand for educators are highest.

Their main draws have always been the livelihood training and bridge classes, which prepare learners for the challenges they will have to face when they get back into the mainstream of society.

Devoid of any education whatsoever, people who are disenfranchised are most likely to fall into a self-perpetuating cycle of helplessness - something the ALS (Alternative Learning System) program of the Department of Education hopes to curb.

Like many mobile teachers, Robles says a day’s work includes not just teaching but a whole lot of counseling on the side as well, especially since most of their learners are rife with stories as diverse as their backgrounds - single parents and bullying victims, runaways and abusive households.

Teaching in the ALS is not an easy task, he is quick to admit: the number of students constantly vary; there is a lack of equipment; modules and materials, although sourced from the DepEd, are often reproduced using the mobile teachers’ own money, as is the food they buy for students who sometimes have to skip meals just to get to class.

“Sometimes, we have students coming to class hungry. They ask if we could feed them, so we try to feed them or share meals with them,” he says.

He adds that due to a lack of resources, he often has to ask his students to go to neighborhood Internet cafes to do their research or to view interactive lessons on YouTube.

Outdoor sessions in barangays are a different story, though, as he just brings his personal laptop to share lessons. Sometimes, he asks the local government to fund the photocopying of modules.

Despite their current bleak circumstances, Robles is determined to soldier on. He believes that there’s just too much promise in learners for him to give up.

Come October, 6,000 learners from the Tondo area will vie for the Alternative Learning System Accreditation and Equivalency exams. The test results determine if a learner has the competencies equivalent to that of a sixth grader or a 4th year high school graduate, which in turn determines if they are eligible to proceed to higher education.

More often than not, Robles admits, learners that fail the exams outnumber those who pass. It’s not quite the outcome they are hoping for, but Robles says he remains positive.

After all, it is still infinitely better for these learners to try and fail than for them to not try at all.

The learners - defined by the ALS program as being among the least, the last and the lost - are nursing dying dreams, he says, dreams that the ALS hopes to nurture back to health.

“I learn a lot from ALS. I gain friends who are like family,” Labanan says. For a moment, it’s as if he is not alone.

Robles says being a mobile teacher is a challenge in itself: The pay is rock-bottom, the environment ever-changing, and some of the students quite problematic. But still, with the proper attention and sufficient funding, this endeavor may just find success.

(Editor’s Note: The Philippine STAR’s #28StoriesOfGiving is a campaign that turns the spotlight on 28 inspiring stories of people and organizations who devote their lives to helping themselves or others. Everyone is encouraged to post or “tweet” a message of support with the official hashtag, #28StoriesOfGiving. For every Facebook, Twitter or Instagram post, P5.00 will be added to The STAR’s existing ‘give back’ anniversary fund. For comments and suggestions to #28storiesofgiving, email [email protected] follow @philippinestar on Twitter or visit The Philippine Star’s page on Facebook.)

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