It’s a school where a student spends equal time in the classroom and the farm.
The Family Farm/Rural Schools (FFS/FRS) concept has been around for quite a while, but with little fanfare it has helped changed the lives of rural youths and their families.
Impressed by the success of FFS/FRS, the Department of Education (DepEd) is considering weaving the K to 12 Basic Education Program into their curriculum.
At the 1st National Summit of the FFS/FRS in the Philippines in Pasig City, DepEd Undersecretary for Programs and Projects Undersecretary Yolanda Quijano said the schools could be good models in the implementation of Senior High School (SHS) component of K to 12, "particularly in the specializations that lead to addressing local needs such as agriculture and fisheries."
The SHS, to be launched in schoolyear 2016-2017, gives the student a choice of academic, technical-vocational and sports and arts specializations.
According to Philippine Federation of Family Farm/Rural Schools, Inc. (Philfeffars) Vice President Jose San Juan, the summit was organized precisely to raise awareness about the family farm/rural schools.
"Although we’ve been here for a quite some time, not so many people know that this kind of special school exists," San Juan said.
San Juan, who is also president of the Dagatan Family Farm School, Inc. in Lipa City, Batangas, said that FFS and FRS are basically "private special schools," since their funding comes from the tuition paid by the students.
The schools are accredited and recognized by the DepEd as "special secondary agriculture schools" since they merge DepEd’s high school curriculum requirements, and Technical Education Skills and Development Authority (TESDA) for post-secondary schools with their unique curriculum.
There are also FFS/FRS that cater to out-of-school youths and are funded by donors and sponsors.
"FFS/FRS is a school which is an association of families, professionals, and institutions that assume responsibility of development and promotion of the rural environment through integral educative actions, especially with the youth, as a way of responding to common problems," San Juan said.
How do FFS/FRS differ from the traditional school? "Unlike in traditional schools that focus on academics required for higher education, we are more on developing integral formation which includes skills, values and basic education with the involvement of their families with the end goal inclined towards rural development," San Juan said.
The method of teaching in FFS/FRS is based on the "four pillars": Integral Formation; Rural Development; "Alternancia" (use of alternating cycle) and Responsible Associations.
"The FFS/FRS has a unique, community demand-based curriculum that emphasizes farm or enterprise creation or improvement, entrepreneurship and skills acquisition," he said.
The teaching method is largely based on Alternancia, a system where learners spend time "in-school" learning subjects needed for future employment and a time "off-school" in farms or enterprises where they have practical learning and small earnings which they bring back to school.
San Juan said the FFS/FRS educational system caters to students aged 15 to 30 especially those who do not like traditional school or those that are out-of-school. "Before, only select students who are usually sons and daughters of farmers are accepted but the FFS/FRS have changed their policy and began to accept anyone as long as they come from the rural areas and pass the entrance exams," he said.
Quijano said there is a possibility they could offer the Grades 11 and 12 or Senior High School (SHS).
"I am impressed with the method of teaching being used in these schools," Quijano said. "I believe that the thrusts of our FFS/FRS are also in line with the implementation of the K to 12’s SHS which is geared to producing globally competitive learners."
Describing the FFS/FRS as "newly-formed special schools," Quijano formally opened the doors of DepEd to FFS/FRS to help them prepare for the K to 12 program. "We encourage you to write to us how DepEd could support you in the implementation and transition to the new curriculum," she said.
Quijano explained the K to 12 program to the representatives of the country’s FFS/FRS attending the summit.
She lauded the FFS/FRS for its unique method of teaching, which she said falls under one of the imperatives of the K to 12: expanding job opportunities.
"With the use of the unique curriculum of FFS/FRS, they can reduce jobs-skills mismatch and provide better preparation for higher learning," Quijano said.
For Alberto Maramot, teaching in a FFS/FRS is his way of giving back. An alumnus of Dagatan Family Farm School, he took up Secondary Education, major in English, and is now an Academic Head (Principal) and a teacher or what they call "tutor" to the students.
"It’s rewarding to know that you can give back to the institution that has helped you even if the salary is relatively lower than that in public schools," he said.
Contrary to the public perception that special agriculture schools such as FFS/FRS have a less hectic schedule, Maramot said teaching in FFS/FRS is "very challenging because we focus not just on academics but on the overall formation of the student which involve moral and spiritual growth."
Maramot said one unique characteristic of the FFS/FRS is the "Paksa" or a thematic approach to learning.
"These are sets of topics that our students study every cycle which include family visits and professional get-togethers wherein the topics are identified together with the parents," he said.
The students are also required to submit a "Family Enterprise Journal" which is a kind of project proposal on what business or enterprise they want to pursue.
"With this kind of training our students are prepared to face the real world in terms of work attitude since they are already trained to handle problems that they can encounter while running their own enterprise," Maramot said.
The Philfeffars said one of the major challenges that FFS/FRS faces is financial problems. There are only 12 FFS/FRS nationwide, and the group hopes to draw more support not only from the local governments but from the national government as well.
The group is looking forward to the passage of House Bill 6050 which institutionalizes rural farm schools as an alternative delivery mode of secondary education.
By INA HERNANDO-MALIPOT