Teachers: We’re like ‘solicitors general’ during Brigada drive
MANILA, Philippines — Some public school teachers have taken to calling themselves “solicitors general” or “professional beggars,” as they are left with little choice but to seek donations in cash or in kind from students’ parents, alumni, or volunteers to prepare classrooms for the Aug. 22 opening of classes.
It’s the reality most of them face during the yearly Brigada Eskwela drive, wherein they enlist the help of local residents to repair or clean up campus facilities and fixtures for the new school year.
But in a statement issued on Monday, the Department of Education (DepEd) reminded school heads about the ban on the collection of fees or solicitation from volunteers for school maintenance and classroom repairs.
“Brigada Eskwela is anchored on the spirit of ‘bayanihan’ and has been the prime mover of volunteerism and community involvement in the [DepEd],” according to the agency headed by Vice President Sara Duterte.
The statement drew wry smiles from members of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) in the National Capital Region.
“It’s funny because, ironically, they say that solicitation is not allowed but that is what actually happens during Brigada Eskwela,” Ruby Bernardo, the group’s secretary, told a press briefing on Wednesday.
“When DepEd released [that statement] we, teachers, just laughed because, on the ground, we call ourselves solicitors general,” she said.
While the no-solicitation policy seems sound, the lack of resources leaves school teachers with no recourse but to seek help from friends, parents and alumni, Bernardo said.
“Even if we shell out our personal money, it’s still not enough to have our classrooms repainted,” she added.
As a result, teachers have become “professional beggars,” ACT chairperson Vladimer Quetua said at the same briefing.
Some schools and school divisions even hold contests to determine the best implementer of Brigada Eskwela, forcing teachers to solicit additional resources so their classrooms could meet certain standards, according to Bernardo and Quetua.
A public school teacher in Quezon City, who requested anonymity, said that during the yearly implementation of Brigada, “it is inevitable that some will offer help while others will ask for help.”
“Stakeholders, especially politicians, when they know that schools would conduct Brigada, they would tell us to go to their offices because they would give [assistance],” she said, adding that these include in-kind or monetary donations.
In her school, money collected from donors would usually be spent on materials such as paints, alcohol or disinfectants, brooms and other cleaning tools.
But the problem starts when schools at the district, division, and national levels are made to compete for the “best Brigada implementation,” according to another teacher from a public elementary school in Quezon City, who also asked not to be named.
Even if the goal is to foster cooperation and community spirit, the winner of the competition, according to the teacher, would be selected based on the resources received by the school, the number of volunteers who participated, and the projects they implemented during Brigada.
The amount of resources is computed based on the price of materials donated to the school, the teacher said.
In effect, schools “are compelled to solicit because of the contest from the district, division to the national level,” the teacher said. Solicitation “happens because of the contest, because we want our school to be recognized as one of the top performers.”
According to DepEd Memorandum No. 62, series of 2022, school heads are directed to “engage education partners during Brigada Eskwela for resources generation” for the printing of materials and the acquisition of sanitation and medical supplies, among others.
But in the same memo, DepEd pointed out that no fee should be collected from parents or solicited from other volunteers and stakeholders.
“So what should we actually do?” one of the teachers said, noting a contradiction in the policy.
Brigada will run until Aug. 26, but the academic year officially starts on Aug. 22. Schools have the option to hold full in-person classes or maintain a setup that blends face-to-face sessions and distance learning until Oct. 31.
By Nov. 2, all public and private schools in the country will switch to five-day in-person classes, according to an order issued by Duterte on July 11. The only exceptions are schools identified by DepEd to be under special circumstances; they may continue with the blended setup.
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