March 26, 2023

Education empowers people. But how can this be done when many of the learning institutions in the country are left behind in many aspects?
Before the declaration of lockdown in Benguet, I and my colleagues in the Department of Education travelled to some remote schools in the province. The itinerary was to visit two schools in a day.
Filled with enthusiasm, we started our journey at 4:30 a.m. The rough terrain of the road that winds up the mountain forced us to hire another vehicle with dual brake for our safety. Although I used to drive, I was worried as the car struggled to move up the rocky road. Looking at the steep cliff on the roadside was scary. I held on to the handrail of the car as one of my hands clasped my bag tightly.
We had to stop to let an old cowboy car following us move ahead as the driver seemed more expert traversing the road. Silence reigned as everyone seemed praying to be able to return home alive as we continued our journey. Even our cellular phones were automatically in silent mode as there was no signal in the place. We did not see houses along the way. We finally passed by piles of sacks, thinking we already reached our destination but to our dismay, there was no one there.
Finally, after more than five hours of travel, we reached the barangay road towards the first school to be visited in our itinerary. Folks waited and warmly welcomed us. Classes here were composed of less than a dozen and a combination of three to four grade levels handled by a lone teacher whom we provided technical assistance.
We went to visit more schools and saw the plight of teachers, learners, and the community members. There’s no question about the hospitality and industry of the people and their commitment to help for the cause of education. But how can they help when they themselves belong to the community that needs assistance? They lack electricity, Internet connectivity, good road, and health center. Their school buildings are old, and they have poor water system, among other challenges.
President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s latest State of the Nation Address recognized last mile schools as a priority to be considered in education. Nationwide, there are 7,144 schools that need support. In the Cordillera alone, there are 1,223 schools which are considered in the category of Last Mile Schools. Two hundred ten of them are in Benguet.
Department of Education Memorandum 59, s. 2019 presents nine indicators of last mile schools. However, it does not distinctly tell that all the indicators must be evident for a school to be called such.
To reach out and develop last mile schools requires commitment. Banking on the government alone for help may take a long time for a school to level up to the needs of time. There is an innate revolution with grace of school frontliners to work for quality, accessible, relevant, and liberating education.
School personnel would find ways to develop their school the best way they could. Many schools implement Pera sa Basura and Gulayan sa Paaralan programs as sources of small funds to augment the support from the government. These activities that bring out the real elements of the Brigada Eskwela continue to contribute in enhancing the schools’ physical landscape, provision of facilities and materials, and trainings of teachers and learners. Other stakeholders extend their assistance in many ways as Benguet people are known for their adherence to the practice of “binnadang.”
All efforts are geared towards the holistic development of the learner, the center of all endeavors in school. — Virginia B. Salio-an