The Landmarks of their Learning | #AkoSiDaniel*

By Stephanie Dofitas, a senior studying in the University of Pittsburgh. Stephanie spent much of her youth years in the Philippine education system, and is currently a Kaya Co. fellow with Ritmo Learning Lab, creator of JoomaJam: an app that harnesses the power of music to advance culturally relevant education.

Education, the humble acquisition of knowledge, was always a priority in my family. My father came from a family of teachers, and back when I was a youngster in Iloilo, I was even able to attend the school where my grandmother was the principal. But years later, I found myself on a one-way flight with my family to the US, partly because my family believed that I would be able to get a better education there.

Now, if those who have access to quality education view that what is available already isn’t enough — then what of those who don’t have that access in the first place?

I understand it’s a complex issue; access to education isn’t the only factor to consider. And access in itself is a dense concept. There’s the obvious financial dimension: in some ways, quality education in the US is cheaper than an equivalent education in the Philippines. Then there’s access to methods, techniques, relevance. The importance of education is not only in the knowledge being delivered, but also in the way that it’s transmitted and received: What would be the use of quality information from the best of textbooks, when it’s communicated without consideration for different learning styles?

I know this from firsthand experience. I was one of those students that was sent to the US to learn, but as an exchange student, my learning style and what I was used to was already different than what my teachers were accustomed to. I know what it’s like to be bored during multiplication quizzes and to mindlessly memorize the history of a country new to me — and I’ve even come to know that I’m an auditory learner. While my high school teacher pushed a recall strategy for his quizzes and tests that involved the visualization of our notes, instead I would do better using the tone of his voice during the time the notes were taken.

Members of Republikha and Ritmo Learning Lab, which aim to transform early education in the Philippines through the use of music.

​There are actually ventures in the Philippines that address this issue: I currently intern for Ritmo Learning Lab, the creators of the music-based K-3 learning app JoomaJam, who also conduct research on play/alternative learning methods, and incorporating this into conducting public school teacher training. I’ve also come to know Habi Education Lab, which seeks out new models of learning and teaching driven by design thinking. And I’ve come to admire the work of Food for Hungry Minds, whose resources and strong learning community enables children of different styles and strengths to meet their potential.

These are willing ventures that are passionate to spread the knowledge that they can and make an impact — continuously presenting their material in schools, or holding workshops for teachers and educators. With full knowledge that the heart of the issue is accessibility, these ventures seek support as they move forward with their social mission: considerate of different methods of learning and teaching, to see what the education sector needs, while promoting and creating a space for effective and engaging learning.

As I studied in the US, differences in learning style did cause my interest in classes to dwindle. I was busy adapting to the education values of a new country, and at the same time I found myself grappling with with racism and privilege. But I never stopped enjoying the act of learning. Even outside of class, I always found myself wanting to learn something new.

It was through my school and university that I found the support to rekindle this love of learning, through mentors, teachers, and a supportive community, all of which has brought me to a stronger understanding of who I am and what I bring. And that’s the final key to education access for me at the moment: the cultivation of a student’s own strengths and talents.

2015 Kaya Collaborative fellows visiting an Aeta community in Bataan.

With the other Kaya Collaborative fellows, I took a trip to Bataan to visit four now-new friends at the Aeta community. These kids climbed kilometers up a mountain everyday, just to go to school. They wanted to go to college, and after that, come back and teach the rest of the community and support them.

Whether they are studying by the light of a fast-food restaurant or asking for money through the trafficked streets of Manila to support their tuition, or climbing mountains, there are these kids have the will to study — but what’s missing is access. Their will has already conquered struggles that I have never had to face.

And a big part of education to me has been struggle: the struggle in education, not for it. To have a space to struggle because of that drive to learn and find yourself in the midst of people who support you. For me, it was through my education and university that I found my support, mentors, peers, and opportunities. More than anything, they gave me permission to struggle and to grow in new ways.

For students I wonder what the landmarks in their learning might look like. Who’s going to be their favorite teacher? Mentor? Who’s going to be their Filipino Student Alliance and their Kaya Collaborative — the organizations that bring them to find hope for the future?

This is what education access means to me: not just being able to receive knowledge but also have the opportunities to struggle well — to change, grow, and find a place that truly fosters one’s own individual potential.


#AkoSiDaniel is a campaign inspired by Daniel Cabrera, a child from Cebu who was recently photographed studying on the sidewalk beneath streetlights.

The campaign, led by The Philippines Foundation, is galvanizing support for global education and collecting signatures to present to a United Nations meeting in the fall. To get involved, sign the petition at

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