(First published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Sunday Biz, August 2, 2015)
By Myrna Rodriguez Co
In a tiny classroom in a little-known community school in Metro Manila, groups of grade 1 pupils cluster around a game board, looking excited. They’re playing the BEST – Business-Expenses-Savings Training – game, a group dynamics exercise with visuals that simulate production and market places.
The groups compete with each other in folding paper to make paper hats which they then try to “sell” to their teachers. Teachers “buy” or reject the hats on the basis of how evenly and cleanly the hats have been folded and how much these are sold for. Based on feedback by buyers, the youngsters improve the hats. The group that sells the most hats wins.
Thus do youngsters learn the concepts of “quality,” “quantity,” and “price,” as well as the importance of team work and time management.
In an adjacent room, the grade 3 class would be engaged in something similar. At their level, however, the game would have increased in complexity. They would be producing real products – ice candy, soap, cookies — and going out of the classroom to sell them. Later, they would be taking account of costs and sales and reckoning profits – putting some back to the business and saving the rest in the bank.
By the time they reach fifth grade, they would be playing EntrePower, another game that simulates how the poor can overcome poverty by choosing roles to play — as employee, money borrower, or entrepreneur.
As they progress through their enterprising education, many of the pupils would be practicing at home what they learn in school. A 10 year old could be selling online bangles she bought in Divisoria with her mom; a 12 year old might be cooking brownies to sell to neighbors.
These non-traditional learning activities take place daily at the Old Balara Christian Community School (OBCCS), a small school of 10 classrooms occupying an 800-sq m floor area in Tandang Sora, Quezon City.
Romantic notions to help the poor
It is however big in vision. It aims to teach the young to be active participants in building their community. It has thus adopted a curriculum like no other, focusing on Christianity, nationalism, science and entrepreneurship, in addition to core competencies required by the Department of Education.
OBCSS is the dream project of Rex and Angelita Resurreccion, a couple uncannily similar in backgrounds. Both are B.S. Psychology graduates of the University of the Philippines Diliman, ground their teeth in entrepreneurship promotion while employed with the UP Institute for Small-Scale Industries, and are certified entrepreneurship trainers of the German-based Competency-based Economies Formation of Enterprise (CEFE), which propagates entrepreneurship training globally through patented modules and tools.
Both have “romantic notions” about helping the poor. Advanced development studies they took abroad affirmed what they had always believed in: Education is the weapon to battle poverty.”
Rex and Angie are also devout Christians who used to lead Bible studies for their community church from an abandoned squatter house in Old Balara.
The community is located near busy streets in Quezon City. 75 percent of the residents are low-income; many are informal settlers.
With their training in development, Rex and Anji soon realized that teaching Bible stories is not enough. Learners should be able to integrate Christian values into everyday life and apply them to practical uses.
This ideal is captured by enterprise education, Anji thinks. For what is more useful than generating income from honest, job-creating enterprise? — she asks. “In order to start a business, learners should be persevering, creative, and confident enough to take risks. To stay in business, they should be honest, fair, principled, and sincere in their dealings.
From notion to reality
She recalls that “the pieces seemed to fall into place” when they decided it was time to start OBCCS.
The year was 1985. They have just come home from Rex’s post-graduate studies in Holland to a country still flushed from having mounted a peaceful revolution.
Rex got wind of a seminar on early childhood education at the UP Child Development Center and asked Anji if she wanted to attend. Abroad, she had the opportunity to take classes in pre-school education
“At the gathering, I introduced myself: ‘I am from the Old Balara Community Church. We want to put up a school but don’t know how to begin,” Anji recalled. “Then two ladies stood up and said they were from Mission Ministries Philippines and that they were looking to help churches planning to put up preschools.”
Mission Ministries donated the school’s first chairs and shelves and some toys and initially helped with funds to supplement what the church members could scrape themselves. From year 2 onwards, the school has been sustained by the community itself.
OBCCS opened its doors in 1987 with 17 students and Anji handling all teaching and administration work. When she had to leave for abroad two years later, she passed on the responsibility to younger members of the community. One of them is Dorothy Sabarez, a gifted teacher, who has held on as school principal for the past 25 years despite opportunities to earn dollars abroad.
Enterprising teachers and learners
“All our teachers are from the community,” Anji said. “They have to be; otherwise, how can they understand how it feels to struggle with poverty?”
Only enterprising teachers can teach students to be enterprising. With CEFE tools and under Anji’s guidance, teachers are oriented to the attributes of an enterprising person and go through the business development process
Teachers use multidimensional learning to impart the lessons. This involves use of images, songs, field trips, discussions, strategy games, simulation games, and actual business ventures.
Students also commit to heart old Filipino proverbs that put across enterprising values to be inculcated. Daig ng maagap ang masipag. Pag may sinuksok may titingalain. Pag maigsi ang kumot, magtiis mamaluktot.
For the past three years, OBCCS has been working with the Small Enterprises Research and Development Foundation (Serdef) to validate its approach to entrepreneurship education for the very young.
With funding from Serdef, a project called Building Enterprising Society Today (BEST) resulted, now on its third year. The project is expected to produce learning materials, including illustrated books, and to manualize the BEST teaching approach for replication in other schools.
Anji is excited over prospects BEST would be adopted widely. However, these days, she has urgent concerns affecting the school’s survival.
A place of their own
Soon, OBCCS may not have a place to hold classes.
Their space, which had through the years appreciated in value, is up for sale. “We were given a year to vacate the premises. Two years at most,” Anji said.
Meanwhile, there’s a place right across the road they have been looking at with moist eyes for many years. With a 2500-sq m area, two buildings, an empty lot for gardening and raising vegetables, and an open space for playing, it is perfect for the school, Anji thinks.
“It will be a haven for children who live in cramped environments,” she added.
About to launch a fund-raising campaign, Anji and Rex are almost done with requirements to accredit OBCCS with the Philippine Council for NGO Certification as a donee institution.
“We are asking people to pray with us that the owners will wait until we have raised the amount they’re asking for. We are asking them to endorse us to companies and groups wishing to help provide alternative education to marginalized children.”
It is a dream, Anji said, but the children are worth dreaming for.