Despite various improvements to the Philippines’ public school system, it still faces many challenges in the delivery of quality education, such as inefficient teacher deployment, inadequate classroom facilities, and limited funding, according to the 2016 World Bank report “Assessing Basic Education Service Delivery in the Philippines: Public Education Expenditure Tracking and Quantitative Service Delivery Study.”
For a certain breed of individual, these challenges merely present opportunities to reach out and help the community.
Master in Development Management (MDM) student Antonio “Jaton” Zulueta, Jr. is one such individual. Seeing a chance to make a difference, Jaton founded the A-HA! Learning Center, a tutoring center in Makati that offers free services to public school children.
A-HA! is the realization of a dream that Jaton had been nursing for more than a decade. From an early age, he wanted to become a teacher. “When volunteer opportunities arose to teach in Makati public schools, I considered it to be fate,” Jaton said.
It was when he started working with public school children at the Manila South Cemetery that he realized he had fallen in love with teaching. It was 2003. Since then, Jaton has turned his volunteer work into a brick-and-mortar center that engages various community stakeholders to provide what A-HA! calls supplementary holistic education.
A-HA! specifically addresses the problem of decreasing enrollment rates at the secondary public-school level. According to Jaton, one of the factors that contributes to this drop is the lack of teachers. Larger classes make it difficult for teachers to focus on students, especially those who need more help.
“I realized that the public-school system needed support,” Jaton said. “And after seeing how industry experts struggled with educational reform policies, I believe that after-school tutoring provides a means for the private sector to address gaps in the public-school system.”
To date, A-HA! Learning Center has served more than 2,000 children, helping them with their homework, English skills, and value formation. The center holds around 15 sessions a week, spread out over five days, and currently has 120 enrolled students. Aside from academic tutoring, the center also teaches students important values such as resilience, independence, and helpfulness.
“What fulfills me the most about this kind of work is seeing how A-HA! Learning Center has become a safe space for [the kids] to study and express and explore themselves freely,” Jaton said, emphasizing the importance of letting children actually experience their childhood in a positive environment.
And Jaton’s hard work has already borne fruit. Students at A-HA! display more confidence and have gotten higher grades, won awards, and received citations for improved behavior.
A-HA! continues to grow, with the core team expanding from four to 50 members distributed across several subcommittees. These members represent different stakeholders, such as barangay officials, student leaders, A-HA! students and parents, church leaders, government workers, and private citizens.
The center also has plans to partner with the Makati city government for an ambitious undertaking; an A-HA! Learning Center in every public school. A pilot project with Nicanor C. Garcia Sr. Elementary School is already slated for August 2018.
Jaton praised his AIM MDM professors, saying that they showed him what “a great teacher looks like.” He also shared how surrounding himself with like-minded people inspires him to keep working toward his goal.
“I believe the best way to serve your country is to volunteer your genius,” Jaton said.