“Haraya”: How visionary and imaginative learning pathways can help individuals succeed
Op-ed by Dr Edizon A. Fermin, Vice President for Academic Affairs of National Teachers College, Philippines, and participant in the ASEF Capacity Building Training on Equitable Access to Higher Education in Edinburgh, UK, from 24–27 November 2019
During her college graduation last June, Michelle Sison got a big surprise. The National Teachers College (NTC) in Manila, Philippines declared her as the first recipient of the Gawad Haraya, NTC’s highest graduation award.
She proudly narrated, “As a single mom at the age of 42, I never imagined being able to graduate. All these years, I was so afraid to mingle with the younger students and thought that I may be left behind. I believed that they were so clever, and I would not fit in. But my life changed at NTC. It made me happier and more fulfilled. I discovered that I can do better, and age is not an issue. Life at the campus made me realize that life was not all about struggles but also fun.” In August, Michelle joined her teachers at NTC to help nearly 13,000 students and their families to stay out of poverty through education.
Michelle’s story is one of millions of narratives of simple beginnings and remarkable endings that NTC students are known for. The 91-year old family-owned school was acquired in 2018 by Ayala Corporation, the Philippines’ oldest and largest conglomerate. Committed to building the Filipino nation through education, Ayala has invested in strengthening further the school’s mission to reach out to students from low income and at risk groups. It has recently instituted financing options to promote equitable access. Its more important concern now is to increase the likelihood of student success. In fact, this should very well be the more important focus of every higher education institution (HEI).
While the country’s Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UniFAST) Act of 2015 has enhanced access, it has also spawned challenges relative to success . Thus, a menu of disastrous concerns has surfaced — inadequate academic preparation, inflexible schedules for working students, psychosocial maladjustment, limited school-based coaching, unstructured student wellness initiatives, unreasonable retention policies, and more. Philippine HEIs must address these issues urgently.
There is hope. The 2018 report, All Around the World — Higher Education Policies across the Globe authored by global tertiary education expert Jamil Salmi (2018) identified eight categories of non-monetary measures that countries promote to increase opportunities for access and success of students from under-represented groups. These include: (1) outreach and bridge programs, (2) reformed admission procedures/affirmative action programs, (3) institutions set up in remote areas, (4) distance education available to equity groups living in remote areas, (5) specialized institutions targeting under-represented groups, (6) academic and career guidance and counseling, (7) flexible pathways and transfers/recognition of prior learning, and (8) retention programs. 
Among the categories, the Philippines should seriously consider increasing success through flexible pathways and transfers and recognition of prior learning. Afterall, it has created new bridges and ladders in the acquisition of educational qualifications.
In 2013, the Commission on Higher Education implemented the Expanded Tertiary Education Equivalency and Accreditation Program (ETEEAP), which recognizes knowledge, skill, and prior learning attained by individuals from non-formal and informal educational experiences. In 2014, the Ladderised Education Act was promulgated to strengthen the interface between technical-vocational education and training (TVET) and higher education thereby allowing students and workers to choose when to enter and exit in the educational ladder. In 2018, the Philippine Qualifications Framework Act prompted the development and maintenance of pathways and equivalencies that assist students to move easily and readily between the different education and training sectors and between these sectors and the labor market.
These policies are very promising. But the numbers they have yielded are not encouraging. As of 2017, only 96 of over 2000 HEIs offered ETEEAP programs which are limited to such areas as criminology, business administration, public administration, psychology, and political science. As of 2018, there are only 151 HEIs that offered a total of 308 ladderised education programs. They covered only a small percentage of individuals who aspire to earn their degrees. But there are more in industries that allow people to develop relevant competencies as they work. To this date, such credentials have remain undervalued.
Michelle and many other second chance learners could have taken a shorter, more efficient, and livelier journey into earning their qualifications. Meantime, the absence or ineffectiveness of pathways for recognising prior learning will continue to prevent more students from succeeding, let alone considering the option to finish their degrees.
Developing haraya as a philosophy is a good start. In Filipino, it means vision and imagination. In Swahili, it means pride, dignity, and freedom. Visionary and innovative learning and credentialing pathways can go a long way in helping individuals succeed in terms of pride, dignity, and freedom.
 Salmi, J. (2018). ‘All around the world — Higher education equity policies across the globe’. https://worldaccesshe.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/All-around-theworld-Higher-education-equity-policies-across-the-globe-.pdf
 Yee, Karol Mark. (26 July 2018). The future of qualifications. Presentation made at the seminar “Degrees of Coherence”. Mandaluyong City.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely by the author(s) and do not represent that of the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF).