Towards Inclusivity: the Open High School Program
The Open High School Program (OHSP) was implemented in secondary schools in the division, in support of “education for all”. The OHSP was established based on the recognition that students encountered different barriers to their going to school, such as pregnancy, physical disability, financial hardship, and social and family issues – and the refusal to allow such disadvantages to prevent students from getting a proper education. The inclusive program targeted students, especially from IP families, for whom school was too far. It also helped out-of-school youth (OSY), some of them working students, catch up with their batch mates, and complete their junior high school education.
In brief, the OHSP made it possible for students to hone their functional literacy, problem-solving, and other basic skills, in line with the DepEd’s mandate, just like their peers, but without the need to physically go to school every day. Instead, most classes were held at the campuses and scheduled on Saturdays and Sundays, but some after 5 p.m. on weekdays. All the secondary schools in the division – 11 regional high schools and four integrated schools – offered the OHSP.
The OHSP was an alternative mode of delivering education to students. Although the curriculum was the same, the pace was different, as individual students worked through the self-learning modules in their own time. In fact, students were given six years to finish the high school program. The grading system was different, and so were the reports to be
submitted. See Box 2 for information about the modules and the e-education program.
Although there were already initiatives like the Drop-Out Reduction Program to cater to “students at risk of dropping out” – SARDO – the Camiguin Schools Division felt that it could do more and expand its outreach, and thus rolled out the OHSP, and later on, its mobile counterpart.
The Mobile Open High School Program
The MOHSP is an extension of the OHSP, but as a community-based program, went beyond the education “anywhere, anytime” philosophy that it espoused. So to speak, the program brought the school to students, at a time and place convenient to them, which often was in their very homes. “Anytime” meant Sundays included. Class schedules depended on the proximity and availability of the students – this was negotiated every week.
Compared to the OHSP the MOHSP was more self-paced, and independent. The learners appreciated the flexibility of the program. A session would have MOHSP learners in Soro-Soro, for example, would do the exercises in their modules while listening to music. Teaching was highly personal, with only one to two students per teacher during a given session. (Box 2 features one teacher’s experience in the program.)
Launching the MOHSP
If it were not for Superintendent Gazo attending a workshop on innovations in the Development Academy of the Philippines campus in Tagaytay, perhaps the MOHSP would not have been conceived. It did not take long for the program to germinate, and MOHSP was piloted in 2013.
As with any innovation, there certainly were challenges. First and foremost was the reluctance of learners to try this new program. As Dr. Bazil Sabajan explained, the insular view of a classroom was limited to a four-walled structure. It took them time to convince people that education need not take place in a traditional classroom. This required the participation of the community. To bring the DepEd project to communities, the division fostered the community’s sense of ownership and participation in the process through meetings with barangay officials and LGU counterparts.
The initial contact between learners and the MOHSP began with a barangay-level community mapping of school-age children who were not attending school. This was followed by personal visits from DepEd. They were assigned to the secondary school nearest to their barangay; this school would then be responsible for monitoring the students’ progress and for awarding diplomas. Finally, they would be enrolled and taken under the wing of a “mobile teacher”.
However, despite their efforts to enlist the full support of the community, the division found that the community mapping results were flawed. Some of the community leaders did not declare the OSYs and dropouts in their area, perhaps due to fear.
The MOHSP teachers also struggled to accept the program. Like the learners, majority had subscribed to the traditional view of education within the confines of the classroom. Some were shocked when they were assigned to the interior of the island, where they had to pass kilometers of unpaved rough roads, in sometimes inclement weather. Nonetheless, as the program continued and people started to see the value of the initiative, acceptance set in.
Incentives also helped in sustaining teachers’ support. The 15 teachers exclusively serving on the MOHSP program were formally recognized within the division plantilla as MOHSP teachers.
They received the same salary as regular teachers. In addition, they were given hazard pay and earned service credits. In fact, some teachers in this small cohort were awarded for their outstanding service.
Initial results of the OHSP/MOHSP
The OHSP MOHSP, were steps in the direction of more inclusive education. Enrollment rates varied over the years, considering each student worked at a different pace. From 78 students in 2013, MOHSP enrollment increased to 107 in 2014; and by 2015 the program taken in 307 (Figure 1). In 2016, this had decreased by almost a third, to 206. The regular OHSP had taken in more students, with 500 in 2013. Enrollment figures for the OHSP was at its highest in 2014, with 918 enrollees. In 2015, this was 692, and dropped to 117 in 2016.
From SY 2013-14 to 2016-17, new annual enrollment numbers rose steadily for the MOHSP. The regular OHSP new intake was variable, and in 2015 was almost the same as the intake for MOHSP (Figure 2).
Enrollment and intake figures must also be seen alongside graduation rates. After its first year of implementation, 47 had graduated from the MOHSP in 2014. In subsequent years, the number of graduates were: 30 (2015), 65 (2016), and 75 (2017). The regular OHSP 60 (2014), 134 (2015), 76 (2016); and 76 (2017) (See Figure 3). About half of the students had even moved on to higher education, which was a satisfying accomplishment for the division.
It was also important to note that the MOHSP enjoyed wide support from the community – financial, political, and moral – especially from the LGUs and their mayors.
There remained challenges, albeit far from insurmountable. For example, the Learner Information System/ Enhanced Basic Education Information System (LIS/EBEIS) infrastructure still needed to be improved to be more responsive to learners’ needs. Because the Open High School students did not follow the same calendar – some continued during the summer; others completed a grade level in less than a year; still others took longer. In the system, those who did not finish the grade level at the end of the year were categorized as drop outs, skewing the dropout rates for both the OHSP and MOHSP. After a six-year period, teachers would conduct a portfolio assessment to make up for the remaining deficiencies.
The program made waves in the region, which fanned out into some parts of the country. Other regions that were inspired by the MOHSP began to pilot similar programs. The MOHSP was replicable, particularly in rural areas where the students faced significant distances from the schools without adequate road or transport infrastructure, or money for travel expenses. If anything, the experience in Camiguin demonstrated that when there were a group of committed and incentivized teachers – the MOHSP teachers – students gained access to education they would otherwise not have had. Camiguin students were fortunate to overcome such barriers to education.