Edicio dela Torre

The following paper is concerned with the situation of adult und popular education in the Philippines. What is the impact of globalization, migration, etc., on the achievement of the goals of EFA, and how can adult education be organised and funded? Edicio dela Torre is President of the Education for Life Foundation (ELF) in the Philippines, which focuses on "grassroots leadership formation for grassroots community empowerment".

Organization and Financing of Adult Education in the Philippines

"We often see the world, not as it is, but as we are." This aphorism applies to my presentation, so let me briefly introduce the relevant life experiences that have framed the way I look at adult education in the Philippines.

My work in adult and popular education dates back to 1966, when I was sent as a young seminary student to a mountain village of Mangyans, the indigenous people in my home province of Mindoro. I was supposed to teach them basic literacy in our national language of Filipino. I ended up learning as much, if not more, from them; they taught me how to read and write their pre-colonial indigenous script. I look back to that summer experience as my first lesson in realizing that there different literacies.

After my ordination to the priesthood, my adult education work was with a national organization of farmers who were fighting for land re-form, and with community organizations of urban poor settlers who addressed issues of land, housing, and basic services. The imposition of martial law in 1972 cut short my open legal work, and drove me to join the clandestine anti-dictatorship resistance. I was arrested twice, and was a political prisoner for almost ten years, about as many years as I spent in the seminary. Sometimes, when asked what prison was like, I would say that it reminded me of a seminary before Vatican II.

After my release from prison in 1986, friends introduced me at popular education workshops with a triple XXX: Ex-political prisoner, ex-priest (I was laicized due to my political involvement), and ex-rebel. Later, a fourth X was added, ex-government official, since I served in government for three years as director-general of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority or TESDA.

But these "former" identities were not acceptable for filling up immigration forms when I crossed borders into Europe. So I settled for "theologian". Anyway, I told friends, a theologian does not need to show proof of income, only training. Later, I chose the positive identity of "educator", and I intend to use it up to my border crossing into the next life.

My current work in adult and popular education is based in ELF, the Education for Life Foundation. ELF's core program is grassroots leadership formation for grassroots community empowerment. Our educational philosophy and methods seek to combine the insights and tools of Philippine indigenous psychology with the ideas and methods of Paolo Freire, NFS Grundtvig and the "folk high school" tradition.

After the Education for All conference in Dakar, a national network of 150 civil society organizations was organized to campaign for the goals of EFA 2015. It is called E-net Philippines, and I am its current president. Since adult literacy is one of the six goals of EFA, adult and popular education has its place in the campaign. But since EFA emphasizes universal primary education, adult educators in E-net face the challenge of finding ways to argue the case for adult education in relation to the goals of EFA.

Contemporary Context of Adult and Popular Education

Adult and popular education has a long and rich history in the Philippines, which has not been adequately documented. My presentation is limited to the recent twenty years, since the restoration of formal democracy in 1986.

While there was a lot of education work during the period of repression and resistance, it is difficult to assess it, since there was interaction between open and clandestine work, and between legal and armed movements and activities. That still awaits a collaborative assessment. And the lessons on organization and financing of adult and popular education in the context of resistance against repression may not be so relevant to most contexts in Asia, except in situations like parts of Myanmar, in Aceh before the tsunami and peace agreement, or in the Jaffna peninsula in Sri Lanka.

After 1986, during a series of consultations among NGOs and POs (people's organizations), we agreed to use "popular education" only in the context of the open and legal work of social movements and community, preferring to let the actors in the clandestine and armed struggle decide what to call their education work.

Of course, the new context of popular education was the restoration of formal democracy and the expansion of "democratic space".

The Possibilities and Limits of Democratic Space

Upon my release from prison, I was asked for my reaction to the political changes that followed the restoration of democracy. I replied that I was naturally positive about them, since they got me out of prison much sooner than expected. But I could not base my judgment mainly on whatever personal benefit I got, since I continued to share the goals of the progressive social movements and their advocacy for social justice and structural changes.

Trying to explain and make sense of what happened, I quoted the Song of Mary, the Magnificat:

"(God) has put down the mighty from his throne and has lifted up the lowly; (God) has filled the hungry with good things and has sent the rich away empty."

I said that of the four actions, at least the first had happened - the mighty was put down from his throne. The dictator was removed from power. But will the lowly be lifted up, or will the one mighty simply be replaced by a committee of the mighty? In secular political terms, will elite dictatorship be simply replaced by elite democracy, or will there be participatory and popular democracy?

As for the rich being sent away empty, some did go away, but not empty; they brought their money with them. And many of the rich and powerful elite were not sent away at all, since they quickly changed sides, and continued to control most resources, public and private. Hence the hungry still waited to be filled with good things.

But despite the limitations of the immediate political changes, I preferred to focus on the new ground for hope. We should not ignore the structural limits, but we could pursue conjunctural possibilities. The democratic space had its limits, but we decided that we should fill the available space as fast as we could, so that we could push back its limits.

Interplay of Three Political Tendencies

In the next years, we identified three main tendencies that defined the context of adult education in the Philippines. With appropriate adjustments to specific situations, I think that these three tendencies are at work in all newly democratizing countries.

The first and most worrisome tendency was toward the restoration of repression. The second and dominant tendency was the consolidation of conservative democracy. The third, with which I identified myself, was the promotion of popular democracy.

There were of course nuanced variations and combinations of these three main trends. Some conservative democrats could have alliances with those who wanted more repressive (or at least authoritarian) rule, toward what some Latin Americans called "democradura", or what others called "low-intensity democracy", which reduces people's participation to demonstration elections. On the other hand some conservatives could combine with liberal democrats to implement what some called liberalization without democratization. The critical response to this was the call for "democratizing democracy" or deepening democracy.

For the social movements who were the main bearers of adult and popular education initiatives, the specific challenge was how to shift from the previous emphasis on "resistance" to that of "participation and engagement" without being coopted. There were friends from the left who never even considered the second option, but insisted on continuing resistance. I was one of those who advocated critical engagement, and saw this as a key context of popular education.

Globalization, localization, "Glocalization"

The three trends that I describe mainly refer to the internal situation in the Philippines. But they are further influenced by another, bigger context which exerts an increasing impact on our work of popular education.

I refer of course to globalization, and its impact on the nation state. Adult and popular education in social movements have traditionally focused on the nation as a framework, but this is undermined by the forces of globalization, or more accurately, by the ideology of "globalism" which says that global is always better (more "efficient") than national and local.

But it is not only globalization that exerts pressure on the nation. There is also the other trend of localization. This has always been there, especially in nations with diverse and heterogeneous communities, but it acquires greater appeal as a response to globalization's homogenizing tendency. In the Philippines this takes the form of political decentralization and devolution, and the assertion of primal ethnic identities. Localization poses many problems, but also possibilities and opportunities.

The interaction of the two processes is called "glocalization", a neologism that is attributed to the founder of the Sony corporation. This can reinforce centrifugal tendencies and fuel more militant struggles of indigenous peoples' communities. One form of the glocal in the Philippines is the intersection of minority identities with Islam and other global identities.


Another contemporary context for adult and popular education is migration, internally from rural to urban areas, and from one country to another. The Philippines has 10 per cent of its 88 million population outside its national borders.

The impact of migration is multi-faceted. Most of the attention is on the benefits from migrant remittances vis-à-vis social costs on the family. But we should also look into other costs - the brain drain and leadership drain from the rural communities to the urban communities and from there to overseas.

On the other hand, there may be added benefit from the impact of experiences and learnings from other countries that contribute to the development of consciousness and skills in the local communities. As a migrant leader told me:

"Government should not only think of our money remittances. We can also send back home those ideas we have learned from observations and experiences, but there are no mechanisms for this."

Deepening Democracy: Challenges to Adult and Popular Education

Adult and popular education are essential for deepening democracy. But adult educators should have no illusion that education is a stand-alone strategy. I am reminded of the cartoon from South Africa in the early 90s which showed a white policemen chasing a black activist who was carrying a placard that said: "Education doesn't solve everything!" Adult and popular education need to be embedded in social movements and community organizations, and must give special attention to grassroots leaders as the counterparts of the political and development cadres.

More often, however, the problem of adult and popular education advocates in the Philippines is the opposite. Social activists put a lot of emphasis on organizing and mobilizing work without appreciating the need for adult and popular education as a distinct and important element in deepening democracy. They see education as merely incidental to organization and mobilization, or simply as capability-building for project implementation.

There is no problem with having these functional goals for adult and popular education, since they are also the stated goals of the national education system - sustainable livelihoods (the term we prefer to use instead of productivity) and active citizen-ship (or social participation). But the distinct goal of self-actualization and human development, especially the nurturing of critical and creative consciousness, should not be subsumed completely under these two other functional goals.

Another challenge to adult and popular education is how to expand it beyond the NGO-based popular educators, the intellectuals and professionals who have made a preferential option for the poor and who immerse themselves in the communities and social movements. We need to develop grassroots leaders who emerge to become skilled educators, able to articulate learnings from their experiences. My favorite metaphor for the relationship between these two kinds of adult and popular educators is that they form a partnership of "birds who have learned to swim and fish who have learned to fly."

The more recent challenge to adult and popular education is how to relate to the dominant discourses, both official and popular, around Education for All. EFA tends to be interpreted too narrowly as enrollment in and completion of formal basic education. Less attention (and funding) is paid to the other goals of EFA, adult literacy and the education of out of school youth and adults.

EFA and Adult Education

The unsatisfactory performance of the formal system of basic education provides support to our argument that adult education is needed to achieve the EFA goals, both because it is itself an EFA goal, and because it will improve the performance of the formal basic education system.

While enrollment of school-age children in the Philippines is quite good, almost 98 per cent, only 65 of every 100 children who enroll in Grade One finish the 6 years of primary education, and only 45 finish the four years of high school (the Philippines has only 10 years of basic education).

Understandably, achieving EFA calls for improvements in the formal school-based system. But there is also an equal need to set up alternative learning systems. To use another metaphor, we need to "walk on two legs" toward EFA, by improving formal school-based education, and building alternative learning systems.

Adult education is needed for both. Take the case of formal basic education. There are many interventions that can improve the learning outcomes of children, but researches have shown that the involvement of parents in tutoring their children results in distinctly measurable improvement in their performance. In addition, the active involvement of parents in local school governance and in the local school board's policies and allocation of resources, helps achieve quality basic education. In one province, the parents who graduated from adult education courses have formed themselves into LERA or local education reform advocates.

The role of parents and other educated adults in the communities is even more important for setting up and maintaining alternative learning systems. Parents need to encourage their children to join the local learning groups, and they are part of the local facilitators of group learning sessions. This is especially true in indigenous peoples' communities, where the education of parents is integral to alternative learning programs for their out of school children.

The "Three Rs" Campaign

In a recent meeting of campaign coalitions on EFA, we proposed to use the traditional three Rs to represent the main focus of our campaigns as we reach the mid-point of the EFA 2015 target - Rights, Responsibilities, and Resources.

Despite being written into most government policies, even in the Constitution, we cannot presume that most citizens have internalized the fact that education is a right, a human right and citizens' right. An adult and popular education campaign is needed on this.

If education is a human and citizens' right, who has the responsibility to insure its provision? Education is primarily a state responsibility, but also a responsibility of the whole community. And of course, adequate public resources have to be allocated to education, while mobilizing community and private resources.

Like EFA, these three Rs tend to be applied to formal basic education. Should we not apply them also to adult and popular education? When we campaign for education as a right, do we include only all children, or also all adults?

And if it is a right of all adults, who has the responsibility? There is a consensus that the state has the principal responsibility for providing basic education for all. What about basic and functional literacy for all? In the Philippines, the Literacy Coordinating Council (LCC), which was formed after the 1990 EFA conference in Jomtien, has adopted a definition of functional literacy as the outcome of Education for All:

"Functional literacy is a range of skills and competencies - cognitive, affective and behavioural- which enables individuals to live and work as human persons, develop their potential, make critical and informed decisions, and function effectively in society within the context of their environment and that of the wider community (lo-cal, regional, national, and global) in order to improve their quality of life and that of society."

When I first read this definition, I thought it rather ambitious. Can basic education really be expected to accomplish all of these? The major indicators the LCC adopted are also quite challenging:

  • Communication Skills
  • Problem Solving and Critical Thinking
  • Sustainable Use of Resources/Productivity
  • Development of Self and a Sense of Community
  • Expanding One's World Vision

And what about the third R: Where will resources come from? Resources are already inadequate for achieving universal primary education and secondary education.

If we add universal adult literacy and interpret this as achieving functional literacy according to the standards of the LCC, where will the money come from?

How do we Eat an Elephant?

The Philippines has 88 million people, with 8 million overseas. Inside the Philippines, the people live in 42,000 villages or barangays ranging from a few hundred people to tens of thousands. The villages are aggregated into 1500 municipalities and 117 cities, which are further aggregated into 80 provinces outside MetroManila, which has its 17 cities and towns.

These local communities are located in a variety of ecosystems: the urbanized ecosystems, the rural lowlands, the coastals, and the uplands.

From a national perspective, the magnitude and diversity of the population and communities pose an overwhelming challenge to the idea of adult and popular education for all. This is even more daunting because there is no single state authority that is responsible. The Literacy Coordinating Council is an inter-agency council with a small secretariat and little funds. It has formulated and adopted the definition of functional literacy, does some promotional work, and gives recognition and awards to outstanding literacy workers, programs, and local governments.

The Department of Education allocates very little from its national budget for adult learning. It has 600 paid positions for mobile teachers, compared to almost 500,000 teachers for elementary and secondary schools. The budget of the Bureau of Non-Formal Education, renamed as Bureau of Alternative Learning System, is less than one per cent of the total education budget.

There are two other education authorities, the TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, and the CHED (Commission on Higher Education). They supervise and regulate universities, technical schools and training centers. TESDA has also some outreach programs in communities. Unlike the formal basic education system, which is mainly public, the technical and higher education system in the Philippines is mainly private.

There are of course other national agencies budgeted programs for various "extension" services that have adult education components. For example, the Department of Agrarian Reform has services for close to one million agrarian reform beneficiaries, and over one thou-sand "agrarian reform communities". But generally, these programs of other government agencies are not seen as part of the total education effort and budget. Correspondingly, they are not monitored and held accountable to the standards that have been adopted for adult functional literacy.

In a recent meeting of the National EFA Committee, the member government agencies were asked to look into their programs and budgets, so that they could identify which can be considered part of the government's contribution to EFA.

Since EFA looks at the over-all national picture of basic and functional literacy, the task seems overwhelmingly beyond available national resources and organizational capacity. Trying to achieve it can be compared to the challenge posed by the question: "How do you eat an elephant?"

The standard answer is of course "Bit by bit." That points to a possible strategy, of decentralization and devolution of adult and popular education. Do we follow a village by village, or at least town by town approach?

Diverse Modes of Organization and Financing

How then could adult education be organized and financed?

National government efforts in adult education are inadequate, even less adequate than its efforts at formal basic education of children. A recent law on basic education promotes the strategy of decentralizing delivery and responsibility, and involving both the local governments and the local communities.

The same strategy applies to adult and popular education. But un-like formal basic education, which is mainly financed by national government and mainly delivered by a government system, adult and popular education in the Philippine experience is mainly a partnership of NGOs and government units.

Based on my personal experiences and observations, there are many modes of organization and financing.

  1. The first may be called a "classical" mode. Adult and popular education programs are implemented by NGOs, many of whom have roots in social movements, using grant money from some donor country, either from government or NGOs. The NGO may or may not enter into partnership with local governments, but their usual partners are people's organizations or community-based organizations.
    Actually most of the programs are not primarily for popular and adult education. Education work is embedded in programs of participatory local governance, sustainable livelihoods, coastal resource management, environmental protection, gender equality, and others.
  2. A second mode uses funds collected from Northern sponsors for children in villages. These used to be given directly to individual children or their families. Now, the funds are pooled together for community-wide programs, toward making "child-friendly communities". Education of children and out of school youth is one of those programs, and implemented by community volunteers, in partnership with NGOs and local government units.
  3. A third mode is not financed by outside grants or sponsorship funds, but by the earnings from microfinance programs. In the case of a microfinance consortium which I am assisting, the program assists selected borrowers to develop entrepreneurial skills, and also to become new community leaders.
  4. A fourth mode uses government funds, like the program we had in TESDA, to train out of school youth and adults in skills in the communities for self employment, or CBTED (community-based training for enterprise development). The LGU, or local government unit, designates a CTEC or community training and employment coordinator, who partners with NGOs and others in implementing the training projects.
  5. A fifth mode is specific for conflict and post-conflict situations, since it uses peace-building and post-conflict program funds, and needs more complex organizational arrangements.

Toward Alternative Learning Systems

Whatever its mode or organization and financing, adult and popular education in the Philippines can be described as "alternative learning practices" rather than constituting an alternative learning system. This is understandable, since the advantage of NGO-based local programs is that they are contextualized and diverse. But they have the disadvantage of not having comparable standards and agreed-upon measurements of outcomes, unlike the formal education system.

The challenge to adult and popular education programs in the Philippines is not only to prove their relevance to EFA, but also to develop their own quality standards so that they can interface with the formal education system as alternative learning systems.

Adult Education and Development


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