Commentary

‘Brigada Eskwela’

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ON MONDAY, May 23, Education Secretary Armin Luistro will lead a motorcade from the central office of the Department of Education in Pasig all the way to Bago Bantay Elementary School in Quezon City, to signal the start of the annual National Schools Maintenance Week, which is more colorfully known as “Brigada Eskwela.”

Brigada Eskwela 2011 is already shaping up to be a huge event.

As early as a month ago, big, well-funded corporate foundations that are also education reform advocates—like the Ayala Foundation Inc., Coca-Cola Foundation Inc., ABS-CBN Foundation Inc., GMA Kapuso Foundation Inc., Globe Telecommunications, Smart Communication Inc. and San Miguel Corporation—have already signed up.

Business associations like the Philippine Business for Social Progress and the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce are already on board as well as IBM Philippines, Intel Technology Philippines and Microsoft Philippines.

Food manufacturers like Rebisco Foundation, Nutri-Asia Inc. and SouthEast Asia Food Inc. are joining in together with Philamlife, Unionbank and Standard Chartered Bank. Private foundations like the JVR Foundation, Fit for School, Hands on Manila Foundation and, of course, the Eggie Apostol Foundation are also helping out.

A few days ago, Secretary Luistro was elated to learn that the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAid) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have signified their participation in this year’s Brigada Eskwela by adopting public schools for repair and repainting.

“We expect more pledges of participation from the private sector and hopefully other international agencies,” said the education secretary.

Brigada Eskwela is actually a logical extension of the stated objectives of Republic Act 8525, also known as the Adopt-A-School Act of 1998. This law was sponsored by Rep. Anne Marie Periquet at the House of Representatives. The late Sen. Marcelo Fernan wrote the Senate version. (The law however became fully functional only in 2003, when former Education Secretary Edilberto de Jesus successfully pushed for the promulgation of the necessary Implementing Rules and Regulations from the Bureau of Internal Revenue.)

RA 8525 establishes the Adopt-A-School Program, “which allows private entities to assist public schools, whether elementary, secondary, or tertiary… in, but not limited to, the following areas: staff and faculty development for training and further education; construction of facilities; upgrading of existing facilities, provision of books, publications and other instructional materials; and modernization of instructional technologies.”

As an incentive, RA 8525 provides that “existing laws to the contrary notwithstanding, expenses incurred by the adopting entity for the “Adopt-A-School Program” shall be allowed an additional deduction from the gross income equivalent to fifty percent (50 percent) of such expenses.”

This incentive is very significant because the Internal Revenue Code already provides for a 100 percent tax deduction for expenses relative to assistance incurred by private entities to public schools, subject to certain conditions. RA 8525’s additional 50 percent thus becomes a very tasty piece of icing on the cake, so to speak.

Brigada Eskwela was launched in 2003 when the Adopt-A-School Program (ASP) secretariat figured that inviting local residents to help fix up the public schools in their area was a great way to generate community support via the time-honored, uniquely Filipino tradition of “bayanihan.”

Indeed, the ASP reports that “over the years, the Brigada Eskwela effort has evolved from a week-long cleaning-up and beautification exercise to a festive coming together of students, teachers, school officials, parents, community members, local government officials, non-government organizations, church groups and the private sector.”

At the moment, Brigada Eskwela continues to be the DepEd’s high-profile summer activity that leaves you with a sense of accomplishment and a nice, warm feeling inside. However, Brigada Eskwela has so much more potential yet to be tapped. The Adopt-A-School secretariat has taken a very big step in the right direction by writing up a “Brigada Eskwela Manual for School Heads.” This 18-page document provides public school principals and school heads with a practical, step-by-step guide to getting the widest community participation for Brigada Eskwela.

And what direction is that?

Fairly recently, the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University—eminently Ivy League—began studying the impact of community organizing for school reform on student educational outcomes. The results of the study, chronicled in the report titled “Constituents of Change” reveal that “community organizing influenced policy and resource decisions to increase equity and build capacity, particularly in historically low-performing schools serving low-income communities.”

“Participation in organizing efforts is increasing civic engagement, as well as knowledge and investment in education issues, among adult and youth community members. Young people, in particular, reported that their involvement in organizing increased their motivation to succeed in school.”

After eight very fruitful years of implementation, perhaps the time has come to elevate Brigada Eskwela into something that catalyzes the emergence of formally organized school communities that have clear mandates to pursue sustained education and school reform all year round instead of just a couple of weeks during the summer break.

Butch Hernandez (butchhernandez@gmail.com) is the executive director of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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