The House Committee on Basic Education and Culture approved on Wednesday the “Last Mile Public Schools” bill (HB 650) which aims to establish public schools in geographically isolated, disadvantaged, and conflict-affected areas of the country and provide them the necessary access roads.
Principally authored by Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, House Ways and Means Committee chair, HB 650 seeks serve as the roadmap of the education system in the coming years to bridge the gap, navigate the way towards enhancing the welfare of poor families by breaking the barriers and clearing the roadblocks that hinder rural Filipino students from learning.
The measure vows that “never again would a child bear the burden of going to school by crossing rapid waters of rivers, or taking a long walk in rough trails before he gets to school.”
It stresses the duty of the State “to protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels, and take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all.”
Salceda said the bill would require the convergence between the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the Department of Education (DepEd) in comprehensive planning and constructing infrastructures that will serve learners in Geographically Isolated Disadvantaged Conflict-Affected Schools (GIDCAS), Last Mile Public Schools, and Access Roads to all Learners (ARAL).
HB 650 stipulates that “the duty of the State also includes taking concrete steps towards achieving zero illiteracy by ensuring that the needs of the students are addressed, taking into consideration having adequate facilities and educational supplies and materials, accessible roads to schools and availability of teaching personnel.”
Salceda noted that many people do not realize the connection between roads and education, but economists have long stressed that under-investment in roads and education is holding the country back from progress.
Quoting a report from the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), the measure points out that only 14 percent of local roads are paved, compared to 69% of national roads.
“Local roads are generally of poor quality and condition; the same goes true for the public school buildings. Worst yet is the absence of buildings and personnel for schools located in GIDCAS and in far-flung areas,” it added.
The schools in far-flung areas, also known as Last Mile Public Schools, are located in isolated communities that are farthest or hours away from town centers; with less than four classrooms, with no electricity; with more than 50% of the student learners belonging to indigenous tribes; with less than 100 student population; with makeshift non-standard classrooms, and those with no repairs/new projects for the last four years.
HB 650 said that currently, there are 8,000 last mile public schools in different parts of the country that need to be empowered and strengthened. There is also a need to upgrade school facilities that will provide teacher with more opportunities to improve their teaching methods and provide students with new learning means.