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Non-readers in high school: Homeschooling as an alternative

November 14, 2019 - Thursday 4:11 AM by Grace Gaston Dousel

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Clicking through my newsfeed while waiting for my next flight, I came across an article about non-reader students making it to high school in Philippine public schools. I made the most of the oh-so-refreshingly-fast-free wifi connection at Changi Airport and decided to quickly type up this week’s supply of thoughts for this column.
While it was posted on June 30, 2019, somehow the article published by Buhay Teacher (Ref: https://bit.ly/32DCzkx) seems to be making the rounds again. My initial reaction to the article was sadness. I felt sad about the state of our educational system. I felt sad about the lowering standard of educational measurement. I felt sad about what seemed to me to be a misconception of the slogan, “no child left behind.” And I echo the caption my friend put when she posted this article on her FB wall: “What is happening to our educational system?”
No child left behind
I have heard of this to be the DepEd’s battle cry for a few years now. Friends who are teaching in public schools have explained to me what “no child left behind” has come to mean. The essence was actually ideal and heroic. No child should be left without having learned anything during the school year. But what has happened was the exact opposite. Students were left to be in a worse state educationally because teachers were forced to give students passing marks and promote them to the next grade level despite poor scholastic performance and gross absenteeism because there was more paper work to be done if teachers were to fail students. Furthermore, their performance rating as teachers would be affected if a student fails under their watch, never mind if the student’s work or lack of it merits a failing mark. The result is you have high school students who do not possess literacy and numeracy skills that should have been attained in first grade!
No child left behind should be our battle cry as a nation when it comes to our children’s education. But we need to see it in light of learning. No child should be left behind when it comes to accessing quality education. After all, it’s every Filipino child’s basic right according to Presidential Decree 603 Article 3 Number 6. However, the sad reality is that the state itself cannot provide substantial basic education that will ensure that every child’s appetite for learning is met.
No child left behind should not mean mass promotion of students at the end of a school year because mere promotion to the next level is not a measurement of learning. But how can we promote true learning in a system that favors mediocrity over excellence? The article I mentioned earlier presented the bitter truth so clearly:
“A lot of people were surprised to learn about this issue, but the problem actually lies with the assessment system that the DepEd imposes for teachers. Under the system, teachers are assessed based on the dropout rate. The dropout rate became inversely proportional to their performance rating. This means that the higher the dropout rate, the lower their performance rating. Since the assessment is used as basis for the performance-based bonus (PBB) that teachers receive, nobody wants to fail a student because the PBB will be lower. Plus, the DepEd imposes a “zero dropout” target in its “No child left behind” policy. This is the main reason why teachers let all students pass – it doesn’t matter if they failed all their tests or didn’t go to school for most of the year. With the current assessment system, teachers and schools have high ratings despite a lower quality of education. Thus, even in top performing schools (on paper), there are a lot of non-readers who get to graduate from elementary. Since public high schools are also under DepEd, the cycle continues as the teachers are forced to make these students pass, too. Sadly, that means they could graduate from senior high school even without knowing how to read!”
Homeschool as an alternative
I have read numerous articles written by disgruntled parents and teachers from other countries as well. It is quite startling that our dismay in our educational system is also shared by others who also lament their country’s state of education. My trips across Asia have made me privy to the reality that across our region, concerned parents are also looking for alternative modes of delivering education to their children.
I have been requested by friends in Myanmar, Vietnam, India and other countries to help them set up a homeschool support system in their areas. They have seen our family’s efforts at educating our children and they could resonate with our reasons for taking charge of our children’s learning curriculum and educational process. I wouldn’t say that the Dousel Homeschool is the best out there. I wouldn’t even call myself an expert at home education. I am also learning as I homeschool my children. But one thing is for sure, as a homeschooling family we have chosen to intentionally pursue an education that is anchored on a discipline of curiosity, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication and character. As we help our kids discover their environment and learn about it each day, we actively engage in a process that equips them with life skills that would enable them to face the challenges of living in the 21st century. And this is a reading skill that doesn’t just begin and end with decoding letters on paper but a kind of reading that will enable them to understand the world they live in and thrive in it.
The larger homeschooling community in the Philippines has much to be grateful for. Homeschooling is recognized by the government as a viable form of education. The Constitution provides room for parents to rear and train their children (see Article XIV). The Senate, through Resolution 308 filed by Senator Francis Pangilinan, has designated March 3 as National Homeschool Day. Very recently, by virtue of DepEd Order 021 2019, homeschooling has been officially identified as one of five modalities under the Alternative Delivery Mode of the Formal Education System of the government. The Department of Education now defines homeschooling in this manner: “Homeschooling provides learners with access to formal education while staying in an out of school environment. Authorized parents, guardians and tutors take the place of teachers as learning facilitators. While learners are expected to meet the learning standards of the Basic K-12 Curriculum, the learning facilitators are given flexibility in delivery, the scheduling, the assessment and curation of resources. The program aims to cater to learners who may require homeschooling because of their unique circumstances, such as illness, frequent travelling, special needs education needs, and other similar contexts.  Moreover, the program allows parents and guardians to maximise their involvement in their children's education as a matter of parenting philosophy." ( Annex 3, Policy Guidelines on the K-12 Basic Education Program, Deped D.O. 021, August 22, 2019) 

What this means is that the DepEd recognizes homeschooling as a legal viable alternative to regular schooling for children only if they are home educated through DepEd recognized entities, namely, public schools, private schools with permits to offer homeschool programs, and homeschool providers.
Unfortunately, the flipside of the coin means those who wish to become independent homeschoolers will not enjoy DepEd recognition. What is even more challenging is that people who wish to actively contribute to a thriving homeschooling environment in the country would need to abide by the DepEd’s traditional standards and establish a private school in order to secure a homeschool program permit or become an accredited homeschool provider. Thus, the DepEd approved form of homeschooling inevitably becomes accessible to a limited few.
It is noteworthy that the Homeschool Association of the Philippine Islands (HAPI) has been at the forefront of revolutionizing the Philippine educational system by advocating for homeschooling and dialoguing with DepEd about it. Their efforts have led to the official inclusion of homeschooling into the Philippines’ educational framework. However, this framework may inevitably and naturally revert to the traditional paradigm, which govern the thinking of DepEd. And this is the same mindset that has directed the pervading educational system that gave rise to non-reader high school students.
My friend and fellow homeschooling mom Laksmi Maluya has been vocal about the place of independent homeschooling in the spectrum. Not just once did I hear her express that independent homeschoolers desire to have the freedom of educating their children sans the traditional mold that has constrained so many. Thus the question: Do independent homeschoolers fall into the category of out of school youth? In the current set up, the answer would be yes.
Not long ago, I had the privilege of having a breakfast meeting with another friend, admirable Philippine homeschool pioneer and now HAPI President Donna Pangilinan-Simpao, M.D. She assures that HAPI is all for fostering a supportive environment for all homeschoolers in the country. Her questions about the status of homeschoolers in Mindanao and how HAPI could be of assistance were proof of this earnest desire to help. Donna’s statement in response to DepEd D.O. 021 2019 is reflective of the Philippine homeschool community leaders’ desire to push for inclusivity while recognizing that there is still much to be done: “Homeschooling is now recognized and included in [the] ‘formal education system’ framework. Many may appreciate the ‘inclusion’ nature in other areas of education as seen in this 153++ page document but ‘homeschooling’ as described and defined in this order is what our government recognizes for now. The working team (HAPI) tried their best to represent all homeschoolers, including those who would like to be ‘independent’ and not enroll with any DepEd recognized or accredited center in our collaboration with our government.” (Ref: https://bit.ly/2O7QU3q).
Though homeschooling seems to have found its niche in the Philippine education system, it still has a long way to go to make an impact strong enough for the DepEd to recognize it as a category on its own. For starters, there are a lot of independent homeschoolers who may not find their learning philosophy in alignment with any DepEd recognized homeschool provider and would therefore be falling in the cracks. DepEd would have to keep an open mind if it is sincerely concerned about delivering quality basic education to Filipino children because at the rate things are going now, DepEd sure needs extra help.