‘Last Mile Schools’ program brings hope to remote villages amid learning crisis

LEYTE. Education and village officials, students, and teachers pose at the new school building under the Department of Education’s “Last Mile Schools” program in San Miguelay Elementary School in Sta. Fe town in Leyte on November 23, 2023.
LEYTE. Education and village officials, students, and teachers pose at the new school building under the Department of Education’s “Last Mile Schools” program in San Miguelay Elementary School in Sta. Fe town in Leyte on November 23, 2023. (Contributed photo)

JESSIE Creado, an eight-year-old student, could not contain his excitement upon seeing the new school building in their village of San Miguelay, in Sta. Fe, Leyte.

“I am happy that we have a new building. It feels good to attend my classes,” the Grade 2 pupil said.

Department of Education (DepEd) Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III emphasized how a school building becomes a symbol of hope to reverse the declining trend of education in the country.

"Having a building is important in the whole learning process...We must be very clear that the only way to solve the problem of poverty in our country is to make sure that every child gets to go to school," said Densing III, in charge of the department’s School Infrastructure and Facilities.

The inauguration and turnover of P13.3 million worth of two new classrooms equipped with solar panels at San Miguelay Elementary School under the DepEd's "Last Mile Schools" program happened on November 23, 2023.

Ricardo Abejo, a 43-year-old parent, said that the new school building is a big help to them.

“Before, we found so much inconvenience because the flood water reached the floor of the classrooms. This new building is much better because the design is elevated,” Abejo said.

Abejo has a 10-year-old pupil at the said school.

“I am happy to see him inside his new school. Students usually get too lazy to attend their classes when there is a flood. Now, they always feel good,” he said.

“I am touched by the gesture of our government for providing our students a comfortable place to learn,” Abejo added.

San Miguelay Elementary School, located some seven kilometers away from the town proper, has 74 students from Kinder to Grade 6.

Dr. Mariza Magan, the education superintendent of the DepEd-Leyte Division, lauded the school personnel and village officials for their services to the pupils despite the geographical isolation of their school.

“Your passion is the driving force behind the transformation we are witnessing today. To the students, the heartbeat of this institution, may this building inspire and empower our students to reach new heights in their lives,” said Magan.

“This new building will be an instrument with more convenience and peace to our learners, for education will pave the way for their personal growth and will help them achieve a bright future,” added the school head Clarissa Arejola.

Densing said that DepEd is short of 165,000 classrooms all over the country.

“It will take years to solve this crisis, and to be able to solve this, it should be all hands on deck. The support of the community, of parents, is also needed and not just the government alone solving this education crisis that we are facing,” he added.

Sta. Fe District supervisor Dr. Ramil Bingco assured the maintenance and security of the new school building, with the help of the village and school officials.

Aside from poverty, family problems, lack of interest and transfer of residence, the lack of classrooms in remote villages also became the reasons why there are students who quit schools.

In Leyte Division alone, a total of 383,515 learners were enrolled before the start of the school year, but only 377,631 are currently attending classes, according to a report from Catholic news site UCA News.

“Let us look into our own municipality if there are children and teens who have not completed basic education,” Magan said in her appeal to local officials.

The DepEd's “Last Mile Schools” program aims to solve the gaps in facilities of schools located on difficult terrains and isolated islands and transform makeshift classrooms and other school infrastructures into standard ones, specifically those schools with no electricity.

PH education 'worst state'

Meanwhile, a non-profit organization Philippine Business for Education (PBE) said that education in the country “is in its worst state that puts us in humanitarian crisis, and our learners are victims of this war.”

“The Philippines remains a world laggard in education, remaining at the 2022 bottom rankings in reading, math, and science proficiency similar to 2018. Now more than ever, we need to take up arms and fight this war against illiteracy and poor education,” the organization said in December 2023, following the release of the 2022 Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Among the 81 countries that participated in Pisa, the Philippines ranked 75th in Math and Reading tests, while it ranked 79th rank in Science.

An official of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) earlier urged everyone to help in resolving the learning crisis in the country.

"The learning recovery program is a project of DepEd, so we have a duty to lift up all the students, teachers, parents, and all members… We will really work together," San Fernando La Union Bishop Daniel Presto, the chairman of the CBCP Episcopal Commission on Catechesis and Catholic Education, told Radio Veritas on December 29, 2023.

Presto appealed to parents and education stakeholders “to continue the learning and development of young people in the community and at home.” (SunStar Philippines)


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