Throughout the Philippines, 50% of Grade 1 students will drop out (Nava, 2009). Beyond the drop-out crisis is a larger, looming problem shared by countries throughout the world; children are disengaged and bored in the traditional classroom.

The rigid style of education has proven difficult to translate to poorer contexts in particular. Financially, families just can’t afford to send their kids to school, as a family of five living on the poverty line would be spending half of their entire household income sending their three kids to school (Moore, 2016). What happens, therefore, is families ‘specialise’ their children (Murakami, 2011). This means one child becomes the hope of the family and their school needs are provided, while other children will work to support the basic needs. This is one reason why poorer families have larger families; as is typically the case, there is a very rational decision behind why poorer people act in such ways.

9c center through the years int.pngFairplay began working in education through a drop-in center, whereby kids had a safe space to learn, play, and rest. We gradually began to sponsor regular kids who felt ready to go back to formal school through the drop-in center. For the most part this has been successful with attendance and grades improving gradually.

However over time it became clear, through research and input from the community, that this could not be a universal solution. If, for example, we sent all the kids currently out of school back to the classroom, class sizes would double from their already egregiously large average of 60-80 in Payatas. It wouldn’t work.

Nor does the traditional system work for most kids. So at Fairplay we believe there’s a better way. We believe in child-centered learning; the students have a say in how the school is run, in what lessons they take, and in how they shape their future. We believe that curiosity should be encouraged and become the corner-stone of the learning process, not shut down for a prescribed curriculum that has little to do with their actual lives. We believe children learn best when cooperating, not competing, when they are happy and engaged, not passively memorising. We believe teachers know their students better, and that they should be free to support their students in ways they deem best, without bureaucratic burden.

This is our vision for the Fairplay Center: the First Democratic School in the Philippines. Students learn at their own pace, focusing on social and emotional development first to ensure they see mistakes as a positive step in the trial and error process that epitomises the real learning process.

The growth Mindset (Dweck), Positive Psychology (Achor), and Emotional Intelligence (Goleman) are key to providing a platform for the kids to work through. The growth in the children have been wonderful to see. Of course we’re nothing close to a perfect learning environment, if one exists, but gradually we hope to continue to offer a happier, more effective learning environment.