From JD, national correspondent of MeridiE in the Philippines
When it all started…
“Bayanihan” is one of the core essences of the Filipino culture where the concept of the Brigada Eskwela has rooted. Bayanihan (communal unity) or concerted solidarity is the Filipino spirit of helping one another as a community in achieving a certain task without expecting or asking for anything in return. Bayanihan is traced back in the country’s tradition especially in the rural areas when a family wished to move in a different location. The traditional Filipino house, the ‘bahay kubo’ (nipa hut) can be moved using wooden poles which are carried and moved in unison from the old location to the new one. This requires able-bodied men to lift and carry the house. At the end of the move, there will be a gathering or feast to socialize and celebrate the move. This bayanihan spirit of the Filipino people still linger and demonstrated in the modern days in many forms when they go out of their way to help their countrymen in times of desperate needs.
Brigada Eskwela had its roots in Republic Act 8525, which was enacted during the time of President Ramos. The Adopt a School Program aimed to encourage volunteerism and public-private partnership in public education. RA 8525 provided tax incentives for private interventions in schools.
Brigada Eskwela or School Brigade, also known as the National Schools Maintenance Week, is a nationwide voluntary effort that was first established in 2003. A program of DepEd (Department of Education) which aims to address resource gaps faced by the Department through strengthening partnerships with the local communities. The program mobilizes and brings together thousands of parents, alumni, civic groups, local businesses, non-government organizations, teachers, students, and individuals who volunteer their time and skills to do classroom repairs, maintenance work, and clean-up of public elementary and secondary schools. Given the positive result of the program, in 2008, it has become a permanent activity in the school calendar where all schools nationwide are mandated to implement the program weeks before the school opening.
Importance of Brigada Eskwela
In the past, the DepEd struggled in what seems like the lack of priority for education in the country, as reflected in the deficiency of resources for public schools, the shortage of classrooms, overcrowded classes, and schools being not ready for the upcoming school year. In the school opening, pupils and teachers have to put up with an uncleaned classroom, blackboards that are already too rough to write on, chairs with broken arm rests, and other stuff that needs repairs, maintenance, and cleaning. This affects the first day of classes as the teachers and pupils are obliged to do all the tasks instead of focusing on the first day of their lessons in class. To alleviate these issues, DepEd started a campaign through the Adopt-a-School Program (ASP) in 1998. This allows a partnership with other stakeholders who are willing to share resources to improve the country’s public school education. In a few years, the spirit of volunteerism reached an unexpected peak which led the program to the communities through Brigada Eskwela. The practice of this program is essential to the school heads, teachers, and learners or to the school community. As it saves and provides resources on the part of the school. The unrelenting support and effort of various stakeholders resulted into an improved schools’ facilities in preparation for the opening of classes and towards a better learning environment. Teachers can now start their classroom instruction on the first day of classes and pupils can now focus on their lessons without the distraction of prioritizing the cleaning of their classroom prior to school opening.
Every year, more and more people extend help to schools. Companies give cash and/or donations in kind or offer to send their employees to do hours of voluntary work in the schools. Members of different groups like the Philippine Army, Local Government Units, private partners, teachers, and community members (parents and pupils) are the army of volunteers contributing to provide a healthy learning environment to Filipino youth.
Through this initiative, the importance of the community is recognized in making schools the best place for learners to acquire values and competencies needed to contribute to nation-building. Clean classrooms, well-maintained learning tools, and attractive landscaping inspire students to attend school, study hard and persevere to achieve their goals.
During the implementation of the program, public schools are transformed into a venue where people had the rare opportunity to collaborate and be directly involved in an endeavor with the government in achieving one goal. As the DepEd explains, one of Brigada Eskwela‘s goals is to foster understanding among all sectors of society that the education of the Filipino people is the responsibility of everyone. The government which provides free education for the Filipino youth, the community where they grow, and the private sector who will eventually employ them are all stakeholders of education. Their cooperation is significant to the success of every student’s education.
A good and healthy learning environment is indeed a safe school with supplies, furniture, equipment, and good teachers.