Education for All: Synergeia partner LGUs show path to advancing gender equality

By Manolo Serapio Jr.

Many communities across the Philippines have embraced lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders and intersex beyond their gender identity. In these communities, they are leaders, educators, workers, professionals and partners in progress.

These communities are showing the way to nurturing inclusivity and equality regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.

As a nonprofit organization that works with local communities for the improvement of the quality of basic education in the country, Synergeia Foundation strives for every child to be given equal opportunity to become the best of what he, she or they can be.

Synergeia promotes gender equality and inclusivity as it works in partnership with 421 local governments across the country to improve and strengthen education governance.

One of the foundation’s strongest partners is Geefre Alonsabe, the mayor of Alimodian, Iloilo and a proud member of the LGBTI community.

“I am living proof that my sexual preference is not a hindrance to reach my dreams and to serve (my) constituents as their local chief executive,” he says. “We work towards promoting quality and equality in education. Education for all.”

Many of Synergeia’s local government partners from Luzon to Visayas and Mindanao work together with LGBTI groups.

In Vigan, Ilocos Sur there’s Maris-Ti-Ayat (Rainbows of Love) which is in charge of LGBTI activities in the city. In Candon, also in Ilocos Sur, there is LGBT Pride Council; in Alimodian, it is the LGBTI Alimodian Chapter; and in Jolo, Sulu there is Promoting Resilience, Identity, Dedication and Engagement (PRIDE) for LGBTQIA.

There is LGBTI representation in Vigan’s Local School Board and LGBTI activities are part of the budgeting process at the local government in Candon. The local government of Alimodian has hired LGBT employees and has conducted information campaigns to promote gender equality, acceptance, gender sensitivity and LGBT rights.

While some communities are not comfortable discussing gender diversity, local leaders and parents continue to uphold respect for every individual as a unique person.

In Jolo, Sulu LGBTI members participate in many school and community activities. Many of them  are professionals working in offices and other institutions. The Jolo-based LGBTI group PRIDE for LGBTQIA says there is a need to organize the different members of the LGBTQIA community because they contribute to governance.

“The LGBTQI community in Jolo is one of the important sectors in the society given that most of the members are professionals in public and private offices, schools and academe and other public spheres,” says Jolo Mayor Kerkhar Tan.

Strides and lapses

In the absence of a national law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, some communities have enacted their own rules. About  30 local governments have passed anti-discrimination ordinances out of the 1,637 cities and municipalities across the Philippines. Vigan and Candon have similar ordinances in place as well as the province of Iloilo, where Alimodian is located.

Four LGUs have implementing rules and regulations that would allow for the ordinance to be enforced. These are Quezon City, Cebu City, San Julian municipality in Samar province and General Santos City.

The Department of Education enacted a Child Protection Policy in 2012 to address bullying and discrimination in schools, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The following year, Congress passed the Anti-Bullying Act of 2013 with implementing rules and regulations that enumerate sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited grounds for bullying and harassment.

Yet a report by Human Rights Watch in 2017 based on interviews and group discussions with students, parents and educators in 10 Philippine cities showed that patterns of bullying and mistreatment of LGBT students persisted. 

The closure of all local schools since the pandemic began in March 2020 has helped eliminate incidents of bullying with some teachers also not seeing instances of cyber bullying as students learn remotely.

“It feels like our world has quieted down because we haven’t heard any cases of violence and bullying in our school and we also haven’t seen reports of cyber bullying,” said Grade 7 teacher Brijeth Carolino from Bolinao, Pangasinan.

‘LGBTQI rights are human rights’

There is still a lot of work that needs to be done to remove the hurdles that LGBTI people face and to prevent discrimination and promote equality amidst reports of continued violations of the human rights of members of the LGBTI community.

Many local government partners of Synergeia do not condone any kind of public shaming of women, men and children regardless of gender and socio-economic status. 

“All persons are free and equal in dignity and rights. LGBTQI rights are human rights,” Commission on Human Rights spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said.

“We stress that not even a religious belief can justify a human rights violation. Religious freedom, while it includes the absolute right to believe in a dogma, cannot transgress on the rights of others nor be used to justify harm and violence,” she said.

La Union town mounts crucial intervention to help students in need, curb dropouts

An SGC workshop in Agoo, La Union that paved the way for the tutorial program in the municipality to help students complete their learning modules.

By Manolo Serapio Jr.

Jhayson Dalao was among millions hit hard at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic last year after the private school where he was teaching in the town of Agoo in La Union closed down. Fortunately, the Local School Board hired him to be part of an education help center meant to assist students in the era of remote learning.

Now, he is helping the local government tutor hundreds of students who, also due to pandemic-shaped circumstances, have struggled with distance education. They include a Grade 8 student who just gave birth a few months ago and needs to complete a ton of school work before the school year ends next month.

Dalao would not have known about the student had the local government of Agoo not launched the tutorials last week to help more than 500 elementary and high school students complete their learning modules.

The Covid-19 health crisis has kept Philippine schools shut since March 2020, forcing children to learn remotely. With most places in the country saddled with poor Internet connectivity, the modules are the main mode of learning for many students.

That puts the full responsibility of mentoring the children squarely on their parents and in many homes, not all parents are up to the job either because they are unschooled themselves or they are busy working.

Dalao, 27, said he learned about the young mother from the barangay captain who asked if he could help her. “She just gave birth a few months ago but she’s very willing to finish her modules when I spoke with her,” he said.

While she has a baby to tend to, she will need to also focus on completing all her school requirements “and I will make sure she gets all the help she needs to do it,” he said.

The tutorial program, which only began on Friday, is the local government’s way to ensure that there won’t be any dropouts or repeaters in its public elementary and high schools even as education shifted outside classrooms.

SGC workshops

The problem of unfinished modules surfaced during the in-person workshops organized by Synergeia Foundation in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development last month.

Synergeia capacitated local governments so that they can do the workshops on reviving and strengthening School Governing Councils themselves. A total of 22 schools joined the seminars in Agoo.

During the discussions, it turned out that the learning modules picked up by parents from schools were not returned to the teachers due to issues at home ranging from working or separated parents or parents not having the capacity to mentor their children, said Elizabeth Sheila Milo, the municipal administrator who made the proposal to hold tutorials.

“We were worried that the dropout rate might spike again so we knew we had to stage an intervention,” she said. “But without the workshops we would not have known about the problem so we’re very thankful to Synergeia.”

The SGC workshops, initiated by the Northern Luzon Education Council, were rolled out by 10 local government partners of Synergeia, shortly after Synergeia program officers Ningning Doble and Eduardo Tiongson conducted a webinar in early May to train SGC leaders and members in Northern Luzon to facilitate their own workshops to strengthen SGCs in their municipalities.

Agoo is one of the 421 local governments that work with Synergeia in improving the quality of basic education across the country. For its exemplary work, Agoo is a two-time recipient of Synergeia’s Seal of Good Education Governance.

Agoo Education Help Center

The tutorials will cover more than 130 elementary students and over 400 high school learners in all 49 barangays of Agoo. The goal is for all learners to complete and submit their modules by the end of June.

Apart from teachers hired by the Local School Board, the local government also tapped students from the Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University College of Education as well as members of the Sangguniang Kabataan and local barangay officials for the program.

They will be held in barangay halls, daycare centers and covered courts in the communities with strict adherence to health and safety measures, said Milo.

Dalao began tutoring five grade school students on Friday and will also mentor junior high school students this week. He is also part of the Agoo Education Help Center, created by Mayor Stefanie Ann Eriguel to help students cope with the demands of distance learning.

Mainly staffed by teachers hired by the Local School Board, students and parents can reach out to the center, by calling, texting or messaging the center’s Facebook page, for help with learning modules.

The center, located at the Dr. Eufranio Chan Eriguel Congressional E-Library, was launched shortly after public schools opened in October.

Set up in October, the Agoo Education Help Center is staffed by teachers to help and guide students in the era of remote learning.

“We were concerned that children and parents would have difficulty with the new system of learning during the pandemic, so we thought that there should be an institution that they can ask help from and guide them,” said Milo.

While the center’s services have been well advertised, apparently not everyone has availed of it, hence the need to do the tutorials, she added.

Marlene Buyan, a Grade 9 teacher with nearly seven years of teaching experience, is among those who volunteered to mentor students. In Barangay San Marcos, where she’s assigned, the tutorials will cover 40 high school and two elementary students.

One of them told her on Friday that she was having a tough time answering her modules since her mother only reached sixth grade. “I told her not to worry because I will help her,” Buyan said.

Summer of discontent pushes Iloilo teachers to band together to bring lessons on air

 Leksyon sa Trumpa: Teachers from Lambunao, Iloilo at a live recording session.

         

By Malio Aguilar

Their collective dissatisfaction with the learning modules from the Department of Education brought a group of teachers in Lambunao, Iloilo together over the summer to create supplementary lessons for students which they began airing on the local radio station last month.

“We know the students can do better and learn more,” says project coordinator Trexie Perez.

The Covid-19 pandemic has kept Philippine schools closed for more than a year now, forcing children to learn from their homes. That meant online classes for places with Internet connectivity, but many students across the country had to use learning modules from DepEd usually picked up weekly from schools.

As the current school year has shown, most learners have struggled with distance education. The problem in Lambunao is the same as in most homes: they don’t have learning facilitators because their parents are either busy working or they are unschooled themselves.

So teachers from the three districts of the municipality gathered together with the aim of supplementing the modules with their own curated lessons and ensuring that they reach every child.

And as in most rural places in the Philippines, they have turned to the radio, the most reliable communication tool whose reach is far and wide and won’t cost the families a fortune.

That gave birth to “Leksyon sa Trumpa”, a radio show of lessons aired on Lambunao’s 95.5 DYJT FM radio station. Trumpa is an Ilonggo term which refers to a funnel-shaped device used for amplifying or directing sound, said Perez.

The teachers spoke to the radio station themselves which gave them their time slot free of charge. One hour is allotted to each lesson from kindergarten to Grade 6 every week, with the entire schedule taped and streamed live on DJYT FM’s Facebook page on Saturdays.

Up to 16 teachers are part of the program with lessons in Mathematics, Science, Araling Panlipunan, Math and the local dialect. Divided into groups, these teachers write their own script, film and edit what goes for broadcast every Saturday.

‘Team effort’

“It is really a team effort and everyone plays their part very well,” says Irene Galva, a 51-year-old Grade 3 teacher who teaches the local dialect under the program. “The hardest part for me was getting over my camera shyness but, after a few recordings I got used to it.”

Rubelyn Licera, a stay-at-home mother of three, is happy that her young children are learning from the program.

“My children love it and because of it they have an easier time answering their modules. It also helps me to teach them better,” she said.

A child listens in to a Leksyon sa Trumpa session as she answers her worksheet.

      

Lambunao is one of the 421 local government units that work with Synergeia Foundation in improving the quality of basic education in the Philippines. The municipality has won the Seal of Good Education Governance awarded by Synergeia and the United States Agency for International Development for three years in a row from 2017.

It was one of nine local governments that earned an honorable mention when the Seal was last given at the 14th Washington SyCip National Education Summit in March.

Other Synergeia partner municipalities have also turned to the radio to broadcast lessons. The Local School Board in Upi, Maguindanao mounted School on the Air in January, a one-hour radio program aimed at augmenting the guidance that students get from the teachers under the distance learning system.

Tedious work

But with Leksyon sa Trumpa having just started, Perez said they are experiencing birth pains such as the lack of equipment and with no certainty that they could keep the time slot given by the radio station.

The group is working on the possibility of seeking a radio broadcast license so they can continue doing what they’re doing. And they’re hoping to get help from Lambunao Mayor Reynor Gonzales, said Perez, who is also a secretary to the mayor.

“One thing that also worries me is the possible burnout of the teachers,” says Emelda Sabio, a 46-year-old teacher of Science and Araling Panlipunan. Sabio is in charge of writing the script for those two subjects.

“We film every Saturday and working six times a week is tedious. I just hope we can keep our morale up,” she says.

The teachers are also consulting with professors from the University of the Philippines Visayas “on how to improve our assessment tools and learning methods because we want to help the younger demographic,” said Perez.

Sabio says the teachers hope they can continue with the program.

“We’ve seen the good work it has done in improving education and it also prevents idleness. At the end of the day, we want what is best for our students,” she said.