Brigada Eskwela

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By Neil Honeyman

An Independent View

Monday, May 26, 2014


I AM a supporter of volunteerism.

All communities depend on volunteerism to some extent.
Ten years ago, the education system was insufficiently funded. The fabric of school buildings was deteriorating and there was allegedly no money available to undertake essential maintenance work.

In 2004, then Education Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad, supported by Undersecretary Juan Miguel Cruz persuaded a large number of people to give freely of their time to do the necessary repairs to school buildings.

The value of this work was quantified at the time to be worth P1 billion. Volunteerism had the important benefit of ensuring that students were able to attend schools that were less dilapidated than they would have been without the voluntary contributions.

Times change.

Ten years later the education budget is more than double what it was in 2004. The Department of Education (DepEd), with 2014 budget of around P330 billion, can well afford to provide the basic infrastructure necessary to implement its education system.

But no.

We now have Brigada Eskwela.

In principle, this should be a continuation of the genuinely volunteer activities of 2014. The tone, regrettable has changed. Many parents enrolling their children were bullied with hectoring zeal by pushy school administrators into “volunteer” activities. Volunteerism for many schools is dead. Coercion is alive and well. Parents are also expected to pay fees for the Parent-Teachers’ Association of up to P800. This is too much and more than many parents can comfortably afford. In the past, successive Secretaries of Education have said that there should be no fees payable as a condition of enrolment. This is no longer the case, if it ever was.

Schools in Zamboanga have suffered grievously as a result of last year’s fighting. It would cost approximately P2 million to provide school facilities necessary for basic education. DepEd balked at the cost.

“It’s not in the roadmap” is the limp reply. The roadmap being referred to is the basic steps necessary to provide a semblance of security and stability in Mindanao. It is not meant to be full of nitty gritty details such as providing adequate schooling. We could expect DepEd to use its initiative and refurbish the Zamboangan schools. It makes us wonder what is happening to the P330 billion education budget.

Teachers tell me they still have to pay for basic materials, such as chalk, from their own resources.

Later this year, DepEd Secretary Armin Luistro is due to report to Senate as to the extent to which DepEd now has sufficient classrooms, teachers etc. to provide proper education for our children.

Luistro needs tough questioning from the senators. It will not be appropriate for him to patronize our elected representatives.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on May 26, 2014.

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