Old ambulance becomes a lifeline to learning in Tarlac
TARLAC CITY, Tarlac, Philippines —Jhonrey delos Santos, a 21-year-old farmworker, will no longer miss school while devoting his time to harvesting sugarcane or drying palay in his village of Don Basilio in Gerona, Tarlac.
Delos Santos, a Grade 9 pupil of the government’s Alternative Learning System (ALS), has been attending classes aided by an ambulance of the local government that has been repurposed into a mobile classroom.
Equipped with a solar-powered 50-inch television set, the transportable classroom is the first mobile classroom to operate in the Central Luzon region. Dubbed the G-iRIDE (Gerona Innovative Roving Interactive Instructional Materials for Diverse Educational Needs), the roaming classroom is designed to serve ALS learners who attend classes twice a week, every Tuesday and Thursday.
It also has a Science and Technology Academic and Research-Based Openly-Operated Kiosk Stations software, an offline digital library that teachers could access.
Since the classes are held for just two days a week, the students still have time to show up at their respective jobs.
For the pilot class, the mobile classroom was deployed in front of Don Basilio village hall. It will be sent to other areas depending on the learning progress of the students.
About 500 ALS students who signed up for the program initially received lessons from teachers who used an Interactive Multimedia Teaching Aid that screens visual presentations when necessary.
The television itself is an innovation developed by Tarlac State University’s Center for Solar and Emerging Technologies and is shockproof, waterproof, and durable enough to withstand disasters. It also has speakers and a small library for both learners and teachers.
Delos Santos said he stopped attending formal schooling for two years in order to concentrate on earning. He comes from a broken family, and his responsibilities to his siblings grew when his parents had separated.
“My mother is at home while my father works as a house painter,” he said.
The eldest in a brood of seven, Delos Santos aspires to earn a college degree, but the hard life left him pushing for a technical-vocational course on welding instead so he could land jobs abroad.
“Life has been difficult so I stopped school. I take on off jobs like drying palay. I get paid per kilo and I am capable of drying 500 kilos of palay to get food on our table. That is why ALS has been helpful. When I complete senior high school I could look for better work. If I didn’t have this tattoo, I would have signed up in the Army,” Delos Santos said.
He added: “We get by, but getting better opportunities is of course better when you have an education. I can work while attending classes.”
Delos Santos’ friend, 19-year-old Jun Labasan Jr., stopped attending school in 2019 due to an ailment. Once his health condition improved, Labasan chose to help his father, who is a farmer. Like Delos Santos, he also dreams of working abroad, preferably as an overseas farmer who earns better than agricultural workers in the Philippines.
Labasan said he wanted to improve his English so he could work in other countries.
“I now have a notebook and other school items. But I feel a little embarrassed joining classroom sessions at my age,” he said in a telephone interview.
“But I am excited about learning with a TV set. I learn faster when I watch lessons broadcast on TV. I will have fun learning, especially about English. Plus, I save on transport expenses because the classroom comes to me,” Labasan added.
Lessons could also be transmitted or shared with learners who have smart telephones.
The G-iRIDE was rolled out following a memorandum of agreement signed on Aug. 9 by the Gerona town government, the Department of Education (DepEd)’s ALS Tarlac provincial office, the Department of Science and Technology in Tarlac, and the Tarlac State University.
DepEd has partnered with Gerona to help reach out to learners in the town’s remotest areas.
Gerona Mayor Eloy Eclar hopes that other towns in Tarlac province will adopt their project and make access to education easier.
Eclar said he wanted to heighten literacy in his town, especially among the local youth.
According to Bryan Christopher Sico, director of the Center for Solar and Emerging Technologies, it took two months for his team to repair and remodel the old Gerona ambulance to make it conducive to learning.
Sico said he would be installing speakers and a shelf that is spacious enough for the modules and books.
Dr. Helen Bose, Education Program Supervisor of DepEd Tarlac, said she developed the mobile school concept for Tarlac. “This will be the very first — an invention with a good intention.
She said the G-iRIDE was pilot-tested in Don Basilio, a remote barangay selected by Eclar because of its growing number of out-of-school youths.
Using Barangay Vila Paz as a “control village,” DepEd will record and assess the interactive mobile classroom before the G-iRIDE rolls out to other barangays.
Experts need to establish how much fuel would be required, the availability of the learners, and which spots in the area are more conducive to mobile classroom sessions.
The G-iRIDE was the product of collaboration. The TSU provided the technical design and specifications of the mobile school (and the cost estimate of P86,000). The university also provided the aesthetic design and logo design of the G-iRIDE, as well as the workforce and fabrication of the mobile school.
The mobile school will make things easier for teachers. With all the records and files already available, they would no longer be required to put together their own visual aids and could focus on lessons.
The roving classroom is not affected by blackouts because the TV is powered by the sun. Poor internet signals would also not affect lessons because the TV data system can operate offline, said Karen Danez, Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Tarlac provincial director.
ALS teacher Anacleto Agbulig said the out-of-school youths of Don Basilio and Villa Paz stopped attending classes during the sugarcane harvest, so they “were ecstatic about G-iRIDE.”
He said: “They don’t have to go far and pay fare. They will learn within our village, and they don’t have to pay anything. They get to learn new technologies and life skills through the mobile classroom.”
Jeff Waren Corpuz, another ALS teacher, added: “Through this mobile classroom, we provide opportunity to the youth who were forced to stop their studies to continue their schooling wherever they are.”
In a speech during the turnover ceremony on Oct. 2, Danez said the DOST regional director Julius Caesar Sicat lauded the project as the first in the Philippines.
The G-iRIDE was also displayed during the Regional Science and Technology Innovation Week in Botolan, Zambales, from Oct. 18 to Oct. 20.
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