Mayor Rex Gatchalian (City Mayor, Valenzuela City)
In my observation, when I started as mayor, a lot of LGUs don’t have functional school governing councils. I am guilty of it also. When I became mayor, I didn’t even know what a school governing council was. All I knew was PTA and Local School Board. I realized with the help of Synergeia that we have to come up with school governing councils. It is another tool that indicates the school as an establishment within its own barangay.
Sadly, a lot of LGUs don’t have functioning school governing councils and, if we do, we don’t understand its standing or function. When we were launching the school governing council in Valenzuela, people were complaining that it was a redundancy because we already had PTAs. That shows that the school governing council is not on top of our minds when we talk about education. Without a school governing council, the school virtually runs by itself and is isolated from the community. The SGC has members from the barangays. It will integrate the school’s effort with the overall effort of the barangay.
When it comes to the PTA, I realize that they were fund-raising associations rather than a community of engaged parents. Whenever we talk about PTA, they talk about fundraising for equipment, selling tickets for a concert, for a beauty pageant, and, sadly, it seems that our PTAs have lost their way. They don’t seem to know what role they have to play and, in their minds, when you win as PTA president, you don’t get involved with the learning life of the students because that is the teacher’s job. In their mind, they are there to raise funds for the school so that they can buy things for the school. Our PTAs seem to have lost their way. They are there to create a community of engaged parents.
Imagining the education setup post-COVID, let me start by saying that it is time to deconstruct that whole bureaucracy that we have, building it from the ground up, revitalizing each of those units, clearly defining the roles of each of those bureaucratic levels. If I were in an ideal world setting I really believe that it should be a pyramid more than an inverted triangle. Everything should start from the bottom. We all know that structures with big bases or foundations tend to be more sustainable and stronger and more responsive. We have to start with a bottom-up approach rather than a top-to-bottom approach. We have to widen the structure at the lower levels, the PTA, the SGC, the LSB. Empower them some more so that these bases become the foundation of the new learning structure. The PTAs, the SGCs, the LSBs, the division offices must play a bigger role in the post-COVID 19 education system and everything should emanate from the bottom going up.
Learners must always be prioritized. In the current system the middle of the program tends to be the mayor, we tend to forget why we craft certain programs. But we have to go back and see that the center of it all should be the learners. Programs are crafted for the learners. We should understand that we have to listen to the learner all the time. We have to come up with assessment tools and we have to always listen to the learner.
One thing that we started in Valenzuela with the help of Synergeia are the focused group discussions, not just with teachers, not just with the division, but with students. How do we craft programs if we do not understand the needs, desires, and wants of our students? And I think it is a good practice seen here with the help of Synergeia to always conduct routine focus group discussions. Recently, we ran one on their opinions on distance learning and we have a lot of learnings from there that we can tailor fit to the incoming school year.
When it comes to the PTA, we believe that we have to start transforming our PTA from fund raising associations to engaged communities of parents. We have done this in Valenzuela with the help of Synergeia. We first of all explained to them the function of PTAs. They are not there to raise funds but to become an engaged community of parents. We empowered them through training and they themselves, the core group of parents and teachers became the trainers of other parents.
For the School Governing Councils, in an ideal world, we have to go back to basics. First of all, we have to push schools to form their SGCs. I believe that a lot of schools do not have functioning SGCs. We have to fast track that. Mobilize SGCs and capacitate each one to make them understand their functions. We have to empower SGCs by making them part of the solution. In Valenzuela, we gave them a say in crafting the budget. We gave them a program called “Bottom-Up Budgeting” taking it from the program of Secretary Robredo, where the SGCs were tasked to craft programs that they believe will address a specific need in their schools. They were the ones who crafted the programs and the winning entries were provided funds from the LSB. We saw that these programs are sustainable because it came from them. They felt empowered. Look, my program is addressing a specific need which I know is really important and it is funded by the local school board. Bottom-up budgeting is a form of empowerment of our SGCs and PTAs.
When it comes to the local school board, we have to expand its membership. We have to de-monopolize it from the mayor’s hands by adding more community leaders or stakeholders to make it more representative and participatory. When you have more people at the table, it becomes less mayor-centric because there are more voices to be heard and it becomes a more consultative body. With more representatives there, you get an SEF budget that is more of the students, by the students, and for the students.
It can no longer be programs crafted for the political gain of the mayor or of a public servant who is part of the LSB. I really believe that in an ideal setting, we have to unshackle the LSB to be able to formulate programs to address problems on the ground but not limited to supplemental programs.