Starting a Learning Center
“Kung kinaya ng mobile teacher, kaya ko rin ito.” (If the DepED Mobile Teacher can do it, so can I.)
That’s what I kept on telling myself as I started the project of putting up a community e-learning center in our barangay. My god, it was hard. And I am already trained on project development and project management when I started this. I can only imagine how much harder it was for the Mobile Teachers who did this.
Around 6 months ago, I wrote the proposal for the establishment of a Community e-Learning Center in our barangay. There is an informal settlers community in our barangay and I noticed that there are a lot of kids and teenagers outside even during school hours. So I decided to finally put in motion my plan to manage a learning center.
For those who are also interested in replicating this effort in their own communities, here are the steps I took:
1. I wrote a simple concept proposal to build a community learning center.
Instead of just focusing on out-of-school youth and adults, I proposed that the learning center will also serve as a hub and training center for other sectors as well. Depending on the identified needs, the learning center could also provide instruction to mothers or conduct skills training for barangay employees. I thought that it will be easier to gain support from the barangay if more people can use it.
(Note: I attached my concept proposal below. You can use this as template or customize it according to your needs.)
2. I made a list of the resources I needed to mobilize.
A good starting point for the checklist is the eSkwela Readiness Assessment Form. That provides a detailed list of resources needed to run a community e-learning center. However, I added and removed items from the list based on my own judgment. Yes, I wanted Internet connection, but for now, we have to work with LAN-based connection.
3. I started asking around for help.
Always start with a list of needed resources before asking around for help. The list of needed items should guide you on WHO best to ask for WHAT things.
Computer tables, shelves, and chairs. I know that my old office underwent renovations so I knew they had office equipment lying around. I wrote an email to my former boss asking for computer tables, chairs, and shelves and it was granted.
Learning Space. The barangay already had a space for a library and we just expanded the space to include computers in them.
Computers. A friend I talked to referred me to Constructing Learning Through Technologies, an NGO whose mission is to deploy computer labs across the country. For now, Jon gave the center 7 computer units and we plan to expand it over time. The University of Asia and the Pacific also donated 3 units as part of their NSTP activities.
Teachers/ Mentors. I finally got in touch with the Pasig Division of DepED and they are sending a team to inspect the learning space tomorrow. If things go well, a teacher will be assigned to the center to hold ALS classes for the community. I also pestered a lot of friends to volunteer a couple of hours a week (or even a month) to mentor the learners. CLTT is also sending volunteers and mentors to the Center.
LCD Projector. The barangay has a projector and the center can borrow it when it is available.
(Note: I admit that the center is luckier with mentors because it is strategically located. The place is in a business district and it is easy to access.)
4. I put out word of the things the center still needs.
Internet connection and ventilation are two priority items in my list. But the learning center can already operate even without them. My friends know about it and they have been kind enough to refer leads to me.
Fiction books for learners of different ages would also be welcome. There are textbooks in the room, but I am thinking of putting in second hand Harry Potters, Lord of the Rings, and Percy Jackson in the place. Hell, even Twilight series is welcomed. Other reading and learning materials (in good condition) would be useful too.
We are also welcoming other volunteer mentors. Just comment here or send me an email at (kat at katpauso.com). We would need some IT or computer people as well. Teaching and mentoring is one thing. Fixing the computers and maintaining them is another thing.
5. We are now deciding on the service or course offerings in the Center.
By now, it is obvious that I may have started the Center but it definitely relied on several partnerships to make it work. What is clear is that the Center is a barangay project and the barangay should always be included and prioritized in any planned activities. The lead for this project is the Head of the Committee on Education and Sports in the barangay. I treat him as my supervisor and I always act with his blessing and approval. The efforts will be useless without their support.
There are already three emerging programs for now.
- UA&P’s Computer Literacy Program held once a week
- CLTT’s Mentorship and Individualized Learning
- DepED ALS Non-Formal Education Program
Other volunteers are interested in developing other supplementary programs depending on the needs of the community. We might even create customized computer training programs for barangay employees to further ingratiate the Center to the community.
Insights from the Experience:
I stood up several times and suggested to a group of teachers to continue their social mobilization/ resource mobilization efforts. I knew I had to implement it myself so I really could prove the viability of my suggestions.
I know that it has been so much easier for me compared to similar efforts in the provinces. They did not have the same convenient access to resources that our barangay has. Even those who signed up with CLTT tended to choose our barangay because of accessibility. My main insight for this is to replicate this effort in the future by building community learning centers in the periphery of a business district. It makes resource mobilization so much easier.
Another lesson I have learned is to partner with the right people. Some of my friends who agreed to volunteer are competent trainers/ teachers and project managers as well. We only have to agree on design, parameters, and expectations, and they can do it on their own. This is a voluntary job for me and it will be better to keep my tasks as simple as possible.
But I think the biggest insight I have gained is that a lot of people want to help, they just do not know whom they can trust. I am touched by friends who are voluntarily giving me leads on possible donors. There are friends who are excited to start the activities. At least three people asked questions on how they can start learning centers in their own communities. I write this post for other people who want to know about the process as well.
As a consultant, it was easy to make recommendations about steps people need to undertake to establish a learning center in their community. I always hated people who talk a big game but do not know how to make things happen. I find integrity in being able to implement the things that I have suggested.
To the ALS Mobile Teachers reading this, I want you to know that you have been my inspiration for this work. I have seen ALS teachers literally cross mountains and rivers in order to deliver instruction to those that the formal education system cannot reach anymore. They are the ones brave enough to teach jailed convicts, juvenile delinquents, teen mothers, prostitutes, and a lot of other ostracized sectors. They encouraged and provided guidance to children and learners who were long neglected by their families and our education system. They will not be internationally recognized like other celebrities, but they are heroes nonetheless.
I hope this helps other people interested in doing a similar initiative in their communities. It has not been easy, but it can be done.
Here is the sample proposal and resource checklist for the learning center: