Sunday, May 13, 2012

A different kind of camp

MANILA, Philippines - It's easy for today's teachers to look askance at the internet when it comes to utilizing it for teaching. After all, social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr have often been labeled as distractions for today's young people. But rather than shy away from the internet, Sa Aklat Sisikat (SAS) Foundation has opted to utilize it to their advantage. SAS Foundation is behind the Computer Access Mentorship Program (CAMP), an online teacher-training program that utilizes the same face-to-face modules that the group has been using in its read-a-thons and teacher training workshops in public schools. CAMP is a step into the future for a program that has successfully served 882 public schools, 24,654 public school teachers, and a little over a million students, as well as distributed almost 204,000 children's books over the course of 12 years. "We're very proud of what we've achieved. But when you're looking at a system that is composed of 500,000 teachers, thousands of schools, and 20 million students, you have to ask yourself if you are making enough of a difference for it to actually matter in the long run. Going online was one of the methods we were exploring to try to have a bigger footprint, to make a bigger change in the system," explains Clarissa Delgado, director for special projects of the SAS, as to the foundations move to establish itself in a digital frontier. VALIDATION The CAMP program may only be a little over four months old, but the road to get there has certainly been much longer, involving a decade of fine-tuning and perfecting the modules and submitting them for evaluation by the Massachusettes Institute of Technology's Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (MIT-JPAL). "When you're doing an impact survey, you need to wait a certain amount of years until you feel your foundation has had an impact. SAS waited 10 years until we decided to reach out and contact (MIT-JPAL)," says Delgado. She admits that they were expecting to receive a less than favorable assessment from MIT-JPAL and were steeling themselves to go back to the drawing board. However, the final report had nothing but good news for them. "They said we had a measurable positive impact on the students and that we've increased the number of times they read in a week, that we've increased their word recognition.We were overjoyed. We were very happy and surprised. I don't think we expected it," recalls Delgado. That positive result would be what would eventually push the SAS to take the next step and put the program online. Through the Asian Development Bank, the foundation was able to acquire a grant from the Republic of Korea's e-Asia and Knowledge and Partnership Fund, which the group used to develop CAMP as well as the creation of 25 computer labs across the Philippines, housed within chosen council offices of the Boy Scouts of the Philippines (BSP). INteractive Because SAS' face-to-face training program takes place over a number of days, the foundation had to make a few adjustments to make the program and methodologies work on an online platform. In its current form, the online program includes an introduction and four modules. The introduction ushers in the teacher to the concept of simple literacy versus functional literacy, which means simple decoding versus comprehension. The first module identifies what level or capacity the students are as readers, while the second is finding out how to increase the student's level. The third are methodologies that the teacher can use, while the fourth is classroom management. All parts of the program are made to hew as close to the face-to-face teacher training program as possible, with adjustments made to copy the interactive element present in the face-to-face trainings. "Not only is the introduction, module one and module two, interactive with the teacher, but modules three and four are actually a series of 40 videos of real public school teachers teaching in a classroom using these methodologies," enthuses Delgado. "These are videos that we filmed during the first day of school of 2011. We took two teachers that were trained by SAS and we asked them to demonstrate these methodologies." However, unlike the face-to-face trainings, the CAMP program allows a little more flexibility when it comes to the teacher's hours. CAMP sites are open all day, and teachers are free to come in whenever they themselves are free. "Feedback has been good. They found it interesting and they like the fact that it's not so rigid and that they can do it whenever they're free and they can do it on their own schedule," says Delgado. "They appreciate that it doesn't take too long and that it gives them proficiency credits in the Department of Education and service credits in the Boy Scouts. It's beneficial to them in those ways." While CAMP sites are currently only located in 16 council offices in Luzon, Delgado says that there are already plans to expand it to six more sites in the Visayas and four more in Mindanao. Delgado also says that there are also plans to make the CAMP program work together with the face-to-face training program as soon as CAMP finds its own feet. "Eventually, by the second iteration of CAMP, we will begin to merge. Once we select our teachers for the teacher training, we might have a more stringent selction process, work longer face-to-face with these teachers, and then use CAMP as an in-service tool that will help them forment and develop them further as teachers. We want to work even more with the teachers face-to-face and online. By next year we will hopefully have them working closer together," ends Delgado.