TULA: Teaching life’s lessons to kids in school

TULA is one of the five winners of Globe Future Makers Program

Kickstart President Minette Navarrete, Ashoka Philippines Chairman Rico Gonzalez, TULA teachers Mara Eala and Elise Zulueta, TULA Founder James Centenera, and Globe Telecom Head of Innovation Mikey Garrovillo

While today’s school teachers focus mostly on imparting knowledge, this group of educators thought otherwise. They believe that learning is not just about knowledge but also building character, attitude and skills.

“The impetus behind the creation of our organization is that we recognize, especially in the Philippines, that there is a big achievement gap in school, and the gap exists because kids need more than just academics to thrive and survive in the 21st Century. Unfortunately, kids struggle not only to learn Math and English but also in developing their attitude, character and skills such as strength and resilience, courage and drive,” according to Mara Eala, Content and Learning Manager at The Ultimate Learning Accelerator or TULA.

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TULA is a chain of after-school centers that aims to provide kids with the support they need to succeed in school and beyond school when they grow into young adults. Its advocacy won it a place in the recently concluded Globe Future Makers Program where five game-changing digital solutions were picked up among 135 entries.

Elise Montinola, who takes care of TULA Operations and Customer Service, said the team was elated for being chosen as one of the top five winners of GFM. “We know that a big part of GFM is about leveraging the use of technology. This is why we developed our own TULA app that contains our lessons in ‘gamified’ format that learners can take home and practice. We try to make learning as dynamic as possible, from the teachers to the lessons, to show that learning doesn’t have to be boring,” she explained.

She added:  “Technology and the TULA applications and other dynamic teaching techniques are all part of the TULA curriculum to support kids’ learning. We hope our learners and their parents realize that the applications, together with the actual lessons at the centers and with our coaches, are what’s needed to help kids reach their full potential.”

Montinola is confident that GFM will help open more doors for TULA through the use of technology to spread its wings to other areas here and abroad.

“Globe Future Makers was launched to influence and build a whole ecosystem of social innovators like TULA and help create a positive impact on society with the help of technology.  It serves as a platform to enable the winners to receive coaching and mentorship from some of the best social innovators around the world, gain access to relevant startup workshops, and be connected to possible partners and investors.  These assistance will allow them to build their products faster and launch sooner to benefit the communities that they aim to serve,” said Chelle Gray, director for Globe Citizenship.

Eala said teaching methods and curriculum in many schools today are still very traditional. ”Rote memorization doesn’t teach kids about analysis and critical thinking. What’s missing in the curriculum is that it doesn’t teach kids to be curious, how to think, how to work with others, how to work hard, and other essential traits and skills, which kids can use when they grow up and look for a job.”

The youthful mentor said their teaching involves 2-hour learning sessions, with the first hour devoted to Math and English where kids have the most difficulty. The second hour involves “Missions,” or project-based activities that tackle Science and Technology, Transportation, Medicine, Journalism, and other interesting themes that kids enjoy and are relevant for their future.

“These may seem like adult things but we want to expose kids already to these industries so they get motivated and start thinking what they want to be when they grow up and drive them to succeed in school.  We want them to see school not as an end but as a stepping stone to get a clear view of what they want in life. Essentially we’re teaching them life’s lessons, like life coaching for kids. When we asked them before what they want to be in life, the most ambitious choice was a soldier or barangay tanod because that’s their world. Our mission now is to change that and expand their world, like in transportation, we tell them you can be a pilot or astronaut. That they can be anything and the sky’s the limit.”

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There are currently four TULA centers – two in Pasig and another two in Makati.  There are also plans of scaling up within Metro Manila, around the Philippines, and in other countries like Pakistan. “We’ve already piloted programs in Pakistan, and are looking at other countries. The goal is to help 10 million kids in the next 10 years. It’s not really a low-hanging fruit that we’re after but something that is important for all kids,” Montinola pointed out.

TULA has already gained notice abroad, becoming a winner for “SOLVE at MIT”, a social innovation contest in the US led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Its mission is to identify the best solutions to specific, actionable challenges through open innovation, and build and convene a community of leaders and change-makers committed to partnering together to pilot and implement these solutions.

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