If Brigada Eskwela was in full swing, could the opening of classes in public schools be far behind? The yearly activity of the Department of Education, conducted in cooperation with volunteers in the private sector to get the schools ready for the new school year, was concluded yesterday. It had for its theme ensuring “safe, orderly and prepared schools from kindergarten to senior high school” nationwide.
On June 13, over 21 million public elementary and high school students will troop to their centers of education, or what passes for such institutions. What will the hope of the motherland find?
There appear to be many public schools all over the country that are still in disrepair in the wake of typhoons, floods and other such disturbances, or are in conflict areas and unfit, indeed dangerous, for their young constituents. Those schools now without roofs or walls as a result of natural or manmade devastation are often still used; their pupils labor to learn while at the mercy of the elements. It’s a sight more common than rare.
This is how Brigada Eskwela—also known as National Schools Maintenance Week—has become an important initiative. Since 2003, the DepEd has partnered with townsfolk, private groups and NGOs nationwide to clean up the school structures in time for the school opening. The idea is simplicity itself: A community with a school shows how valuable that structure is by coming out and helping fix the facilities. Depending on the state of the school buildings, this involves everything from painting chairs to patching holes in the roof. Everyone pitches in—students, teachers, parents, friends, and kind strangers. (At the Malabon National High School, for example, volunteers from the Inquirer, in partnership with the Philippine Business for Social Progress, turned out last June 2 for the painting of school chairs and the cleanup of classrooms.)
No monetary donations are accepted. Volunteers donate time, effort and construction materials. This enables the DepEd to save billions of pesos yearly in maintenance expenses in a great example of a private-public partnership.
Since its inception, the Brigada Eskwela program has drawn millions of volunteers and over P28.6 billion in noncash donations. In many ways, it exemplifies the best modern iteration of the Filipinos’ admirable “bayanihan” spirit, especially in the hinterlands. Call it educational empathy.
This was something Education Secretary Armin Luistro cited as he led the launch of this year’s Brigada Eskwela on May 30 in Kayapa in Nueva Vizcaya: “That’s why we came to this far-flung municipality—so that we cannot only say in words but also in our hearts that in education, nobody gets left behind.”
The ceremony at Kayapa included the turnover of 231 bicycles from San Miguel Foundation Inc., a boat from Samsung Electronics Philippines Corp., more than 1,000 solar lamps from Icad Foundation and One Meralco Foundation, and school supplies from National Bookstore Foundation Inc. These corporate donations show how far the Brigada Eskwela program has come, and this year, the DepEd succeeded in its intent to bring the program beyond the National Capital Region and on to such remote areas as the third-class municipality of Kayapa.
Then and now, these isolated outposts of education face multiple challenges, such as the recruitment of teachers, the availability of classrooms, and the students’ long, sometimes risky, daily trek just to get to and from school. While these problems require their own long-term solutions, Brigada Eskwela’s spread to the provinces can only improve a bleak landscape, and perhaps some children will be able to learn their lessons in airy, spacious classrooms with a roof over their heads instead of under the trees or stuffed into cramped, airless cells.
After all, getting an education remains important to Filipinos even if it proves elusive to many. The DepEd has the largest share of this year’s P3-trillion national budget—P435.9 billion, from P377.7 billion in 2015. But even that doesn’t seem enough for this country with a 100.1-million population and systemic disorders, even with the praiseworthy Brigada Eskwela pitching in. The incoming education secretary, Leonor Briones, has much on her hands.
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