Attached is an Aide Memoire from DepEd Undersecretary Alain Del B. Pascua on the Provision of Access Roads for All Learners (ARAL).
Table of Contents
Department of Education continuously strives to provide the best service to its stakeholders in fulfilling the constitutional right of every Filipino to quality education. It is both a challenging and rewarding role for DepEd to be at the forefront in covering all the facets of a student’s learning experience. Among these is the provision of learning facilities which DepEd is currently prioritizing by constructing and repairing classrooms, providing school furniture and ICT equipment, supplying adequate math and science tools, and upgrading electrical systems.
DepEd is aggressively channeling its effort to address all the barriers that might hinder the students from having a holistic learning experience. However, the Department has also noted that the implementation of such measures has only benefited the more fortunate, reachable, and sustainable sector of learners, teachers, and stakeholders. Although it is the utmost intention of DepEd to cover every stakeholder, challenges such as geographical location, peace and order issues, and difficulties in mobilizing projects remain to hamper the full execution of the programs and activities in store.
Upon recognizing this challenge, DepEd has prioritized the development of Last Mile Schools under the DepEd 2020-2021 School Building Program by allocating a chunk of the Basic Education Facilities Fund (BEFF) for the improvement of the facilities in schools situated in far-flung areas. DepEd Memorandum No. 59, s. 2019 titled “Prioritizing the Development of the Last Mile Schools 2020-2021: Reaching Out and Closing the Gap” was released to formalize the measure to address the need for more standardized school facilities in geographically isolated areas.
The indicators used in identifying a school as among the Last Mile Schools are as follows:
a. having less than four classrooms;
b. with makeshift or non-standard;
c. absence of electricity;
d. have not been allocated funds for repairs or new construction projects in the last four years;
e. with a travel distance of more than one hour from the town center, or with the difficulty of terrain;
f. having multigrade classes/classrooms;
g. with less than 5 teachers;
h. having a student population of fewer than 100 learners; and
i. with more than 75% Indigenous People (IP) learners.
The indicators paint a picture of the location of the schools being isolated, hardly accessible, and disadvantaged. In response to this, and aligned with DepEd’s objective to keep schools in Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged and Conflict-Affected areas (GIDCAs) at par with the development of schools in urban areas, it launched another flagship infrastructure program with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). The convergence project is referred to as Access Roads for All Learners (ARAL) which seeks to provide accessible and safe road networks for teachers, personnel, learners, and parents through the construction of roads and bridges leading to remote and far-flung schools.
Current State and Policy on the Access Road for All Learners (ARAL)
Under the SY2019-2020 Basic Education Information System (BEIS) Data, there are about 28,683 public and private schools nationwide that are accessed by crossing bodies of water without a bridge, and about 36,030 schools that can be reached by passing difficult terrain mainly due to varying geographical locations and conditions around the country.
|Region||Schools accessed by Crossing body of water Without a bridge (Public & Private)||Schools reached by Passing difficult terrain (Public & Private)|
Thus, in 2019, Albay Representative Joey Sarte Salceda introduced House Bill 307, the “Last Miles Schools Act” proposing the convergence of DPWH and DepEd in the comprehensive planning and construction of infrastructure that will benefit the students, as follows:
1) Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged and Conflict-Affected Schools (GIDCAS)
2) Last Mile Public Schools
3) Access Road to Learners (ARAL)
The bill cited that there is a lack of awareness on the correlation between roads and education, however, economists have emphasized that underinvestment in roads and education contribute to the hampered growth of the county. HB 307 is backed up by the findings of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) that only 14% of local roads are paved, compared to 69% of national roads. Furthermore, local roads are relative of poor quality and condition, and public schools in far-flung areas are not comparable with those located in urban areas in terms of basic facilities.
The core intent of the proposed legislation is to establish a policy that will advocate equitable access to education especially for learners situated in geographically isolated, disadvantaged, and vulnerable areas, not only emphasizing the need for school facilities but also the roads that lead to the learning sites. The proposed policy also opens an opportunity for partner agencies to converge and channel their collective effort in addressing the infrastructure needs.
The Department has submitted a proposal to President Rodrigo Roa Duterte through the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) detailing the intent of prioritizing the construction of roads leading to the Last Mile Schools. However, in a letter dated 26 July 2021, received from OIC Director IV Ma. Cecilia M. Narido, the request was returned without favorable action citing the reason that national roads are segregated from local roads. DPWH as a national agency is endowed with the responsibility of building and maintaining national roads. On the other hand, barangay and municipal roads are under the jurisdiction of the local government units as stipulated in Section 17b of the Local Government Code. Another ground for the lack of favorable action from the DBM is further supported by Section 2b of Executive Order No. 138 on the devolution of basic services and facilities to the LGUs including roads. Considering that roads leading to schools have difficulty in terrain and are situated relatively far from town centers, this subject matter falls under Local Government Units.
The DBM has juxtaposed ARAL with the Department of Tourism-Department of Public Works and Highways Tourism Road Infrastructure Program (TRIP) which is geared towards the construction and upgrading local access roads leading to designated tourism destinations aligned with the 10-point economic agenda of the current administration which aims to promote rural and value chain development toward increasing agricultural and rural enterprise productivity and rural tourism.
Another similar case is the implementation of the Farm-to-Market Roads funded by the Department of Agriculture but implemented by the Department of Public Works and Highways. While the Department is one with the government effort to also bolster tourism and agriculture, it is arguable that the intention of the Department of Education to establish safe and secure access roads for students also merits the channeling of resources in order to improve the quality of services being rendered to the learners.
It is the duty of the State to “protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels, and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all.” This entails the provision of adequate and safe facilities and access roads that will benefit the learners.