House passes 2 Salceda educ bills: Public Schools of the Future, Last Mile Schools

National, News

The Lower House has passed two bills authored by Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda designed to elevate public education in the country. One bill aims to promote a state-of-the-art public school system, while the other seeks to provide a fair chance for students in far flung and conflict ridden communities in knowledge pursuit.

Approved by the House in an online session early this week were the unnumbered substitute bills to HB 311, the Public Schools of the Future in Technology; and HB 307, the “Last Mile Schools Act” which proposes the construction of public schools facilities and the necessary access roads in geographically isolated and disadvantaged conflict-areas.

Salceda said HB 311 seeks to introduce public school students into the digital world, by providing each with a laptop computer and access to the Internet, to prepare them for the “disruptive technologies” of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is said to have started in the middle of the last century. It is the digital revolution characterized by a fusion of technologies that blur the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.

The Covid-19 pandemic may have sped up this surge in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, with face to face school classes now being discouraged in favor of online learning, and work from home mode is now allowed, to facilitate the required social-distancing.

Salceda said that under his HB 311, public school students will “receive instruction in a digital classrooms complete with digital boards and such other digital tools and devices that will allow them to be at par with their peers in advanced countries.”

It is projected that by 2025, half of today’s activities could be digitally enabled, and that in two years, 65 percent of current work skills will become obsolete, due to technological innovations which is forecast to further intensify in the coming years, he said.

HB 311 aims to prevent unemployment in the coming decades by introducing today’s students into the digital arena, and “the skills to leverage” and increase their ability in earning a living in the near future. Equipping them with information and communication technology skills at the basic education level will give students in remote areas equal opportunities. The imaginary school would operate seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and where students can access their ‘classrooms’ in the comfort of their homes with the use of  computers and/or other mobile devices.

HB 307, on the other hand, seeks to provide public schools facilities in geographically isolated and disadvantaged conflict-areas or GIDCA, and the access roads to all ‘Last Mile Schools’ nationwide, and ensure that “never again should a child put his life at risk by crossing streams or taking long walks on poor roads whether in good or bad weather, just to get to school.”

Salceda said the country should focus its education program more in GIDCAs, where school children are known to walk long stretches of mountain paths and poorly maintained roads, cross stream rapids and flood-prone areas, exposing themselves daily to dangers just to learn.

The so-called ‘Last Mile Schools’ are schools located in far flung areas or hours away from town centers and have less than four classrooms, aside from any of the following: no electricity, with less than 100 learners 50% or more of whom are children from indigenous tribes, with makeshift and or non-standard rooms, and with no repairs and new projects in the last four years.

The proposal mandates three government agencies — the Departments of Education (DepEd), Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and Budget and Management (DBM) — to draw the comprehensive roadmap in providing access to these areas and close the gap in three years. Under the proposal, DepEd and DPWH will converge to plan and construct the infrastructures within three years to benefit public school students in: 1) the geographically isolated, disadvantaged and conflict-affected areas; 2) Last Mile Schools; and 3) schools with limited or no Access Roads to All Learners (ARAL).

Salceda said there are about 8,000 Last Mile Schools nationwide that need to be empowered and strengthened and their facilities upgraded, so teachers will have better and more opportunities to improve their teaching methods and provide students new means of learning. The roadmap, he added, “should navigate the way towards the full development in education of families in GIDCA communities, and is intended to break the barriers, and clear the road blocks that hinder students from learning, and thus pave the way for the full participation of all citizens in nation building and socio-economic opportunities.”

It is 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 towards achieving zero illiteracy,” he stressed.

The lawmaker said “the State should also ensure that the needs of students are addressed, adequate facilities and educational supplies and materials are provided, most importantly accessible roads to schools are built and teaching personnel made available.”

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