On Sunday, December 13, with the help and support of the Silver Star Century Group, we at the Fairplay for All Foundation were able to open our new Fairplay Center.
The Fairplay Center is the base of our education programs at FFA. It’s a safe space in the community of Payatas (mostly known for having the largest dumpsite in the Philippines), where working and out of school children can come to learn, rest, and play.
So last Sunday, we celebrated the full, formal opening of the Fairplay Center. With the help of the Silver Star Century Group, the renovation was made possible from a run-down building with potential, to a fantastic facility with even more potential.
For several months we’ve been using the facility during the renovation period, and the extra space has been brilliant for the development of the program.
And with the culmination of the effort from all our team at FFA, we were able to fully open the Fairplay Center. This includes a Kinder area, given that many of the kids have to look after younger siblings – one of the reasons older girls in particular drop out of school. This means the younger kids learn and play while the older girls have the space and time to learn and rest too.
Upstairs we hold our main classes, with three classrooms known as Eureka (Science area), the Studio (Music and arts), and Lingua Franca (Literacy and language). Farming and other classes are still offered at the previous center too.
The backyard, the final piece of the puzzle, needs to be levelled before we can host more dance, sports, and martial arts too.
And what of our previous center? That will become the Fairplay Café, as in 2016 we can cater outside of Payatas to events – for example we can cater with healthy, tasty, homemade food for sports clinics, CSR events, and offices.
A Brief History
In 2011, Naomi Tomlinson and I, Roy Moore, established the first drop-in center. With few funds and wanting to start from scratch to build things up by working with the community, we started off in a very run-down building along the main road.
Naomi ran the center at this point, organising 20-30 kids who came by each day for basic study. That was crowded. We had started sponsoring our first kids in the nearby public schools, though, and we were making progress. The point of the drop-in center was to get to know the kids and families so we could support those ready to go back to school/at risk of dropping out, and provide individual support for others.
By 2013, we had enough support to get a larger, more permanent base. Immediately the number of kids coming by each day doubled, though our teaching staff grew and the format began to develop.
Since Naomi went back to the UK to study, May (our project manager) and I have taken over everything with this project. And after much planning and preparation, we now have our new Fairplay Center; the final model of the program. The facility means we can transition from supplementary education – identifying kids who dropped out or never went to school at all – to providing full-time education ourselves in a happier, more effective learning environment.
Through the drop-in center model we identified children to get back into school, or who were at risk of dropping out. We currently sponsor 45 kids in the nearby public schools. These kids are for the most part doing very well in school; some are top 10 in their class, even top 5 and sometimes top 1. In classes of sometimes more than 80 children this is an impressive feat.
However that over-crowding also tells you something of the long-term feasibility of sponsoring children there. Sponsoring a child back into formal school is great for that kid, but in the long-run if we return every child to the classrooms, that overcrowding will become an even bigger issue and the quality of education will fall.
In addition, traditional school doesn’t suit everyone. It’s why so many kids drop out and have very low engagement across the world, not just in the Philippines. The traditional formal school model was created in Europe, then copied in America, and then brought to the rest of the world through colonialism. Countries saw it was good at teaching discipline, obedience, and uniformity (hence uniforms, strict schedules, and a reliance on obedience to the authority over the kids). There’s a great TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson here, about how this school system was created to make factory workers, and that it hasn’t really been updated since.
Informal education is surprisingly effective. The Spanish, for example, found that the Philippines had a higher literacy rate than Madrid when they first arrived (Woods, 2006). With no formal education system, the community based model was teaching people effectively for that period. Skip forward a few hundred years and more and more people are home-schooling because they’re seeing that the world is changing, and that education isn’t only possible in a school setting.
And beyond academics, more than basic literacy and academic measures, often the biggest problem in communities like Payatas is mindset. With constant negative attention, few kids have good self-esteem, self-confidence, or the emotional and social skills to effectively deal with what life brings. Not surprisingly that translates to very high dropout and very low engagement rates in poor communities – in the Philippines roughly 50% of students drop out at some point (Nava, 2009).
Emotional intelligence is key for their decisions and problem solving, and thus learning (Goleman, 1995). The Marshmallow Test is a good example of this, where those 4 year olds who could resist the lure of one marshmallow now to receive two marshmallows when the experimenter returned after 15 minutes (delayed gratification), scored much higher SAT scores even years later because of their underlying sense of emotional intelligence which allowed them to study longer and more effectively.
The first step with kids in Payatas, then, isn’t to find a building with better facilities, it’s to boost the intrinsic worth of the child. Until children are confident in themselves, trust themselves, and have developed control of their emotions, they rarely develop long-term learning patterns. The flipside of that, is that when the child sees they are capable of learning from their own motivation and action, when they feel treated with dignity, when they develop a growth mindset (Dweck), then with access to better facilities and the space and freedom to choose, those learning habits last a lifetime.
This is the basis for our new Fairplay Center; a school which develops social and emotional learning first. A child will likely never need to know what the capital of Madagascar is, or how to work out the area of a hexagon, but they will need to know how to respond to their emotions appropriately, how to develop constructive relationships with others, and how to delay their gratification and develop self-discipline so they can accomplish their goals.
Other intelligences follow, including the academic, but this must be the first step. One of our girls at the Center, one of our first five full-time students as we experiment with having full-time kids, dropped out of school in Grade 3, for example. After 2 and a half years of formal schooling she was totally illiterate. When she first came to the Center she was shy and disengaged, had a short temper and would lash out frequently. She was used to being called a failure and seemed to want to lash out at others before they could, in her mind, lash out at her by calling her a failure again – whether on a report card, on the streets, or back home.
At the center, her emotional intelligence developed. Given the freedom to trust herself, she saw that the staff and kids here care for each other as individuals and joined in. She developed self-worth and began joining in with activities. Over time she signed up for many classes and less than a year later, she’s well on her way to reading stories – not just reading letters or words now. Meanwhile her confidence grew so much she was one of our dancers performing in front of 300 people at a recent event, as well as at the opening. When kids feel safe and happy, their learning jumps forward in huge leaps.
So What is Democratic Education?
This is why we’re really excited about our center developing into the first Democratic School in the Philippines. Of course many people haven’t heard of Democratic Education before, so what is it?
In a nutshell, the idea is that everyone is free to do what they want, as long as they don’t disturb anyone else’s freedom: ‘Malaya tayong gawin ang gusto natin, huwag lamang tayo makaistorbo ng iba’.
In practice that immediately means students are free to join whichever classes they choose, if any at all. Attendance is optional, no-one is forced to do or learn anything. That means you have a classroom of engaged students, not kids forced to sit and listen. Importantly that also means teachers are free too. Teachers can teach what they want, how they want, not burdened by a National curriculum designed by politicians with no background in education, as happens across the world.
Typically, Democratic Schools also have a weekly meeting for the community. Anyone can raise up ideas and issues, everyone will discuss them, and then together vote on solution (one vote per person regardless of age).
To see more about how a Democratic School works you can check out this fantastic 4 part series via CBBC in the UK about Summerhill, the First Democratic School in the UK and usually the model for all subsequent schools built on this philosophy.
Democratic Schools already exist in over 30 countries. In Payatas, for those who have dropped out of formal school, for those who are trapped in a negative environment with constant criticism undermining their self-worth, it can be a fantastic place. As we develop our methods and as we show the data over the next two years, that will become clearer.
The current education system in the Philippines isn’t Filipino. It’s an efficiency model based on Western logic spread through conquest for the purposes of the conquerors.
But we can build a Filipino system, an education based on relationship and community, which harness the most positive aspects of Filipino culture. This is our dream with our education system, and week after week, month after month, it is becoming our reality.
Thanks again to everyone who has made this possible, especially the Silver Star Century Group for making the renovation of the Fairplay Center possible. Check out our video in preparation for the celebration of the event:
Get in touch with us at FFA be emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org