Perhaps the single most poignant image that appears in the newspapers at the start of every school year is the photograph of young Filipino public school students having class in the shade of trees. They flip the pages of their textbooks—if at all they have textbooks—as the warm wind pushes the leaves on the nearby trees, and as the teacher makes an effort to be heard above the din of the outdoors. While it may showcase the immense value Filipino parents place on their children’s education, it highlights the massive lack of proper classrooms for the students.
Come June 6, some 22 million students will flood the country’s 45,000 public grade and high schools, ready for a brand new year, but the Department of Education estimates that more than 60,000 classrooms are needed to ensure the ideal balance of one classroom for every 45 students. It appears that many students will be learning fractions and proper grammar beneath the trees yet again.
This, while old, dilapidated school buildings, battered by the annual typhoons as well as by wear and tear, cry out in need for care. For the most part, the schools often rely on the parents’ donations for new paint, and the students themselves provide much of the manpower, fixing and preparing the very classrooms they will be using.
But there is hope, and it comes in an amazing communion of intention and deed. Last May 23, the day dawned clear over Bago Bantay Elementary School in Quezon City with the scent of promise and the presence of a great many people.
A long line of over a hundred vehicles rode in after navigating Edsa with colorful balloons and streamers—a motorcade with a purpose. Upon arriving at the school, the gathered people alighted from their vehicles. With them they brought donated construction materials for the school buildings. The crowd, which included Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista and Education Secretary Armin Luistro, was there for Brigada Eskwela, perhaps one of the DepEd’s most significant school-opening endeavors.
Brigada Eskwela aims to close the rich-poor gap for needy Filipino students by gathering volunteers from both the government and the private sector, corporate entities and businessmen, diplomats and barangay officials, soldiers and clergy. It involves basically everybody who cares, both the powerful and the everyman. The goal is to assemble manpower to repair, clean and maintain classrooms in those public schools that require it, to take the classes back indoors and away from the trees.
“One important feature of Brigada Eskwela is that we have ordinary people, civil society and nongovernment organizations helping us fulfill our responsibilities to prepare for the school opening,” Luistro told the crowd gathered at the school that morning. “Brigada Eskwela is a new form of people power. All sectors wholeheartedly got involved.”
From its start in 2003, Brigada Eskwela had grown by leaps and bounds nationwide, and all up to May 28, volunteers were descending upon schools all over the country, ready to show with their hands just how much the future of the students mattered to them. From 2003 to 2008, for example, the Brigada Eskwela program had saved the DepEd some P9 billion in maintenance and other expenses. Every year sees thousands of volunteers joining up.
The most impressive thing about Brigada Eskwela is that it accepts only donations of volunteer time and actual construction materials—no monetary donations are accepted. This corruption-free model also promotes community involvement in the schools. Many of the local businesses give their time and donations in kind to the schools located in their own towns and cities, giving a clear sign that they care about their young students.
The coordinated efforts to refurbish our schools call to mind the legendary Filipino bayanihan spirit, where once entire barangays would join forces to literally move houses to other locations within their towns. Now, the bayanihan spirit has reached the schools—to be sure, a most welcome development proving to be very effective and productive.
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