‘Last Mile Public Schools’ bill hurdles House education committee

The House Committee on Basic Education and Culture recently approved House Bill 650, or the Last Mile Public Schools Act, which aims to establish public schools in geographically isolated, disadvantaged, and conflict-affected areas and provide the necessary access roads.

The measure vows that “never again would a child bear the burden of going to school by crossing rapid waters of rivers, or taking a long walk in rough trails before getting to school.”

“It stresses 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,” said principal author Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Salceda, also the Ways and Means Committee chair.

Last mile public schools are located in isolated communities that are farthest or hours away from town centers; with less than four classrooms, without electricity; with more than 50 percent of the student learners belonging to indigenous tribes; with less than 100 student population; with makeshift non-standard classrooms: and without no repairs or new projects for the last four years.

Salceda said the bill would require the convergence between the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Education in comprehensive planning and constructing infrastructures that will serve learners.

“The duty of the State also includes taking concrete steps towards achieving zero illiteracy by ensuring that the needs of the students are addressed, taking into consideration having adequate facilities and educational supplies and materials, accessible roads to schools and availability of teaching personnel,” the bill states.

Economists have long stressed that under investment in roads and education is holding the country back from progress, Salceda said.

Quoting a report from the National Economic Development Authority, the measure points out that only 14 percent of local roads are paved, compared to 69 percent of national roads.

“Local roads are generally of poor quality and condition. The same goes true for the public school buildings. Worst yet is the absence of buildings and personnel for schools located in geographically isolated and far-flung areas,” the bill states.

To date, there are about 8,000 last mile public schools nationwide that need to be empowered and strengthened.

There is also a need to upgrade school facilities that will provide teachers with more opportunities to improve their teaching methods and provide students with new learning means.

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