An introduction to Silid Aralan, Inc.

4:24:00 PM

In 2004, PUP Political Economy graduate Arcie Mallari decided to live among the scavengers of Payatas. For three years, he ate food scraps (sometimes competing with dogs and rats to survive) and paid a P500 monthly rent for a model apartment experience at the heart of the bustling capital city.

One day, as he was going about his personal immersion, Arcie met 15-year old Joms. He asked Joms to read a passage from the Bible but as the boy held up the book, he appeared disconcerted and unable to do what was asked of him. The high school student, to Arcie's surprise, could not even read a simple string of words.

The next day, Arcie marched straight to Joms' school and had a word with the principal. What he came to were hard-hitting, eye-opening truths that explain the case of Joms and a thousand others like him:

  1. The indigent have no real sense of achievement. To them, a diploma is nothing more than a symbol of pride. It's just a piece of paper, much like a commencement exercise is just an event.
  2. Schools do not have enough rooms to accommodate the increasing student population. In the public school Joms attended, a class is comprised of 70 to 100 students. Each year, the number of students go up (yay) but there are never enough rooms to accommodate them (gah).

    Do the impoverished children of Payatas want to go to school? Yes. Is our education system making enough efforts to motivate them to show up every day? Uhhh...
  3. Teachers are more concerned about losing their jobs, than making a difference in their students' lives. Assessment for educators are largely based on the ratio of successes and failures in class. A higher number of failing students puts the teacher in a bad light.

*Text in bold are my interpretations.

Arcie committed his time in Payatas to finding a solution. He found reason in Joms and younger kids like Roma who, at that time, cannot dream up a greater dream than being a housemaid. In her innocence, Roma thought her only chance to a better meal were leftovers, that the only thing better than a karton bed is someone else's sofa.

Three years into his immersion, Arcie finally found a name for his cause and one way to address the problem. In 2007, Silid Aralan, Inc was born.

What separates Silid Aralan from most scholarship programs and grants is its focus on the true underdogs. It's easy to find backers for the poor, as long as they are "deserving" (read: top learners). Nobody wants to invest in hopeless cases and lost causes, in uninspired kids who constantly miss the mark.

This is where Silid Aralan finds its thrust. To qualify as a "learner", a student must be both economically and academically challenged. Their grades must fall under the average of 80, from which the group and its volunteer "co-learners" would passionately help them improve.

"How does it impact the society if we only invest in the top learners?"

Consider the statistics: only 1.3% of the student population achieve a grade average of 90 and above, 18.6% get 80 to 89, while 80.1% are either satisfied with minimum passing grade or swimming in a sea of red marks.

"If we help the 80%, we help better [the country]. It's too costly in the future not to."

In the last eight years, the group saw 50% of its benefitting students move up to top ranks in class, and 100% off to college or vocational school with a fifth consistently making the deans' lists.

So, how do they do it?

"We teach them first how to love learning."

Silid Aralan customizes the learning experience based on the profile of the kids' communities. Their methods are rooted in things kids would naturally be interested in such as piko, and turn it into a productive activity where they learn basic lessons like ba-be-bi-bo-bu.

Sometimes they would send the learners out and about the community (from schools to malls and other public spaces) and ask them to make observations. They document what's happening around them, notice pain points and think up solutions that benefit the society as a whole. This practice has given birth to novel ideas like Sinekalikasan, BaZero Project and Libra-Mix.

Through Silid Aralan, underperformers find their footing. They are constantly reminded of their greatness, guided to success and instilled with a willful desire to pay it forward once they get there.

Remember Roma? In 2006, she got in touch with Arcie bearing good news. She was finally graduating from high school, with flying colors to boot. Soon after, she was hired by a company that works alongside Silid-Aralan.

What DepEd has to say 

Silid Aralan has found a supporter in Department of Education's undersecretary, Rizalino Rivera.

Usec Rivera recalled a moment when his then-preschool son sat him down to ask: "How long do I still have to do this?" (PRESCHOOL, Y'ALL.) His son was an achiever, but he did not love learning.

He says: "Students don't fail. It's the system that fails them."

The undersecretary is looking at two ways to solve the problems within our educational system. One is the abolishing of one size fits all methods. "Do not assume that all learners are the same. Let's do away with factory learning."

This is what we hope to achieve with K-12. He says K-12 is not merely adding two years into the hierarchy. It's about revising the curriculum and changing the way subjects are taught. It's about mastery and integration.

Second is urban planning. Rivera agrees about the need for more classrooms. 

"We still have a long way to go, admittedly." But we have momentum, he adds, and the hope is for the future administration to continue. 

How you can help

Silid Aralan, Inc is open to donations, cash and in kind. If you wish to be a co-learner, drop them a line at The group operates all over the country.

On April 28, 2015, Silid Aralan, Inc hosted Turd Talks, which had three of its scholarsJullo, Erlen and Carloaddress a crowd of educators, donors and supporters, privileged youth, and the Department of Education's undersecretary. I received a free ticket, courtesy of a friend who helped make Turd Talks happen. You'll get to know Jullo, Erlen and Carlo in the next post.

You Might Also Like


  1. This is a really great advocacy! :) Thank you for sharing. I might tap them for a non-profit that I'm currently work with. :D

  2. Hi Jhanzey! Silid Aralan is a registered non-profit group. :)

  3. It's amazing how immersing yourself into difficult situations could lead you to actually take action and make the world a better place! It is indeed a wonderful advocacy! :)

  4. I know, right! Constantly amazed at people like Arcie and my friend Kiten (founder of Heart School, where I volunteer) who see a problem and fearlessly steps in to take responsibility. They make the world livable, if not better!

  5. This guy definitely lives with a wonderful advocacy to help these kinds of children. Very commendable and worthy of applauses! I hope his advocacies continue throughout time. Living it up to the spirit, indeed! :)

    Mimi | The Foxy Heroine

  6. I cannot wait to share the stories of SAI's beneficiaries. Was privileged to hear three of them. Equally amazing! :)


Leave a comment, make a friend!

Quote of the Day

"Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed."
CS Lewis

Like us on Facebook