By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
For a federation of teachers, the annual conduct of the “Brigada Eskwela” of the Department of Education (DepEd) is nothing but a “band-aid solution” to the “degenerating” state of public basic education in the country.
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) said that as teachers, students and parents troop to public schools for the weeklong conduct of the Brigada Eskwela 2019, the government’s “lack of vision” to improve the public schools becomes more apparent.
Centered on “bayanihan” and the spirit of volunteerism, DepEd has been conducting the “Brigada Eskwela” for the past 16 years. The weeklong activity gathers education stakeholders to participate and contribute their “time, effort, and resources” to prepare public school facilities for the opening of the school year in June.
For ACT, the “Brigada Eskwela” has become a “manifestation of the degenerating state of basic public education.” Also known as the “National Schools Maintenance Week,” the group also alleged that the program is a “mere band-aid solution” to the “convulsions” of the country’s educational system.
ACT Philippines National Chairperson Joselyn Matinez said that while the concept of “bayanihan” to promote “community appreciation and sense of responsibility towards education” would have been good if it “is not depended on as the alternative to fill in the gaps which the government refuses to address.”
The teachers’ group alleged that the approved 2019 budget “exposes the government’s lack of vision to improve the fundamental learning environment of students.” This is because only Php 25.7 billion was allocated as Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) for the operations of more than 50,000 basic public schools nationwide.
ACT added that the 2019 General Appropriations Act allotted some Php13.2B for the operations of elementary schools; Php 9.7B for junior high schools (JHSs); and Php 2.8B for senior high schools (SHSs).
“The school operations budget only amounts to a little over P1,000 per student for the whole year,” Martinez alleged. “This shall cover expenses in electricity, water, communication, transportation, school-based trainings, supplies and even minor repairs,” she added.
Martinez also pointed out that the allocation, “while 12.7 percent higher” compared to 2018, “will do nothing to upgrade the learning environment in schools as it will only be enough to cover the increase in the cost of operations due to the steep inflation last year” – following the implementation of the TRAIN Law.
For ACT, the budget was “all the indication we need” to say that the Duterte government has “no plans of saving our public schools from deterioration.”
Martinez added that the “Brigada Eskwela,” the State “tries to gloss over this neglect by passing over the responsibility to teachers, students, parents and the community.”
A Great Burden?
For many teachers, ACT said that the “Brigada Eskwela” continues to be a “great burden and challenge” as they are “pressed to raise funds and mobilize people for the maintenance works needed to prepare the classrooms in time for the school opening.”
“The teachers know very well the importance of having a conducive environment so that there will be an effective learning process in the classroom,” Martinez said. “Making this the teachers’ burden, however, is unfair,” she added.
Martinez also alleged that because of the “Brigada,” many teachers are “even pressed to solicit for financial and material support which lay them vulnerable against criticisms and allegations of corruption.”
DepEd – through its External Partnerships Service (EPS) –implements this year’s “Brigada Eskwela” from May 20 to 25 to help ensure that public schools are ready in time for the school opening on June 3.
With theme, “Matatag na Bayan para sa Maunlad na Paaralan,” DepEd said that 2019 “Brigada Eskwela” aims to reflect how DepEd recognizes the “importance of the community in making schools the best place for learners to acquire the values and competencies they need to contribute to nation-building.”
However, ACT maintained that no matter how the DepEd pursued the program, it “can never and will never effect qualitative improvement in the school’s learning environment.” The group added that at most, the only contribution of the “Brigada Eskwela” is to “pump in the barest essentials just so that the rotting educational system may operate.”