By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
As the country grapples with COVID-19, the Department of Education (DepEd) officially launched the “new face” of its Brigada Eskwela (BE) and Oplan Balik Eswela (OBE) programs to fully assist the preparation of the stakeholders for the coming school year (SY) 2020-2021 scheduled to start in August.
For the first time, the DepEd has decided to jointly implement two of its major school opening programs.
“Ang araw na ito ay napakasaya, napakamahalaga – ang araw na ito ay araw ng tagumpay para sa edukasyon (This is a joyous and important day – this day is a day of triumph for education),” said Education Secretary Briones said during the virtual kick-off hosted by DepEd Region VI via Facebook and Youtube livestreaming on Monday.
“This is a day of victory for Filipino people and may this continue,” she added.
Aimed at promoting sustainable and safe living, DepEd has decided to reconfigure BE and OBE to highlight the application of knowledge and convergence of efforts to address health and social issues at home, in school and community relative to the new framework in light of COVID-19 situation in the country.
‘Brigada Eskwela’ undergoes a facelift
One of the most-anticipated back-to-school activities of DepEd is the “Brigada Eskwela” or the National Schools Maintenance Week. This is when volunteers such as parents, members of the community, and the private sector come and work together to do clean up, repainting, and minor repairs to ensure that public schools will be ready in time for the school opening.
DepEd Undersecretary for Legislative Affairs, External Partnerships, and Project Management Service Tonisito M.C. Umali Esq. explained that the BE started as a week-long event encouraging local communities and parents to volunteer. The target was 4,000 schools to be involved, but 12,553 schools took the challenge Institutionalization of BE.
In 2008, Umali said that the BE was institutionalized through DepEd Order No. 24 wherein “stakeholders may volunteer their time and skills to ensure that public schools are ready for the opening classes.” He noted that from 2016 to 2019 – under the leadership of Briones – became more than cleaning, painting/repainting and minor repairs because other partnership activities were also integrated.
In the previous years, BE has been a major school activity that runs for the entire school year. It’s national kick-off is usually festive and each region usually hold their respective kick-offs. Umali noted that in light of the COVID-19 situation in the country, this year’s BE has been reconfigured.
For this year, Umali said that “deviate from the traditional concept” of physical cleaning, painting, repainting, and doing minor repairs in schools. Instead, this year’s BE will instead “prioritize preparations and strengthening partnership engagement to ensure that quality basic education will continue despite the challenges posed by COVID-19.”
Under the joint BE and OBE Framework and Action Plan under the New Framework, DepEd said that stakeholders can support the this year’s “Brigada” by donating thermal scanners; hand sanitizing equipment or materials; and printing of COVID-19 and sanitation/proper hand washing hygiene information materials to aid BE and OBE in introducing protection and health protocols to learners and teachers.
DepEd – through the BE – will also engage partners in the promotion and provision of learning options such as local radio and TV stations and other available media, and the printing of self-learning modules for distance learning, as a form of partnership to deliver the basic education curriculum in the time of COVID-19.
Umali noted that regional and division virtual BE kick off activities will also include orientation on the COVID-19 situation and scenarios; discussion of the Learning Continuity Plan (LCP); investment in education; giving new direction in engaging partners; one major BE activity to be adopted by RO/SDO; conduct of psychological first aid (PFA) and PFA training; discussion on the basic roles and responsibilities of different sectors, including parents; and debriefing of learners, among others.
Among the suggested partnership engagement activities for BE, Umali explained, will also include disinfection of schools; mobilization of essential items; conduct of virtual psychological first aid sessions/psycho-social interventions; virtual orientation activities with partners and PTA on DepEd’s LCP; distance learning; and other virtual or online school-based initiatives or virtual partnership appreciation.
OBE for info drive
Just like the BE, Umali noted that the OBE was also reconfigured but it will continue to “engage stakeholders to ensure that the learning modalities” under the Basic Education – Learning Continuity Plan (BE-LCP) will be “effectively and efficiently” implemented.
The OBE will now focus as “information drive” for DepEd’s LCP. In partnership with BE, the OBE, headed by Undersecretary Jesse Lorenzo Mateo, will focus on an information campaign on the implementation of the LCP of the DepEd in light of the COVID-19 situation in the country.
In a recent online press conference, Mateo noted that this year’s OBE will focus on informing stakeholders about of the learning opportunities amidst COVID- 19; and addressing enrollment-related problems; answering Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).
Unlike before when there is a physical set up for the OBE, Mateo said that DepEd will rely on virtual communication on school opening related concerns. “This is challenging – especially in terms of disseminating and gathering of information to parents and learners,” he admitted.
For those who have school opening concerns but do not have access to technology, Mateo assured that they can still get in touch with DepEd. “It is possible for our schools to have physical set up using its skeleton workforce but they have to observe the minimum health standards,” he said.
Under the new framework, Mateo said that OBE member agencies will perform a critical role by providing guidelines on healthy and safety; peace and order; transportation in the context of COVID-19 to ensure the safe conduct of any allowed face-to-face pre-opening and opening school activities.
Mateo said that in the duration of the OBE initiative, Public Assistance Command Centers (PACC) will be set up at the central, regional, and schools division offices nationwide to “ensure that issues and concerns are immediately addressed in their respective areas.”
The other functions of the command center, Mateo said, is to receive, process and respond to simple queries, information requests, and grievance from the general public; assist in the dissemination and clarification of DepEd policies, programs, projects and processes, particularly those relevant to enrollment issues; monitor, document, and submit daily reports on all issues and concerns received daily, including the action taken to the OBE-PACC Central Office.
Mateo said the PACC at central, regional, and division office shall use any available online means of communications that are accessible to the public: hotline, email, SMS, and social media accounts. The OBE, he added, will also ensure that every question from parents and learners in relation to new and adjusted DepEd policies, rules, and regulations on enrolment and class opening due to the COVID-19 situation will be addressed.
The theme and slogan of the Joint BE and OBE Implementation is “Pagpapanatili ng Bayanihan Tungo sa Kalidad na Edukasyon para sa Kabataan” and “Bayanihan sa Paaralan,” respectively.
Overall, the BE and OBE under the new framework, will involve activities that shall highlight partnership initiatives that complement the DepEd’s efforts to “ensure that quality basic education will continue despite the challenges in adapting to the COVID-19 situation.”