Hon. Rex Gatchalian
Mayor, Valenzuela City
Let me start off by saying that my presentation is all about education and education governance and local government units. As you all know, as I was introduced, I am the current city mayor of the city of Valenzuela, one of the 17 component cities of Metro Manila. The next slide will show you what I want to start with.
Let me start with this bold statement. Unfortunately, (this is not a sweeping statement but rather a statement of fact) in the Philippine education setting, the student is actually set up to fail. I know it is quite drastic for me to say that but let me substantiate that.
I said those things because I realize, after eight years serving as local chief executive of Valenzuela, I that all the characters that are surrounding the child in this setting tasked with working towards the success of the child, are actually working towards hindering a child from learning.
First of all, the parents. Parents are supposed to be the early or first contact of a child in learning. They are supposed to be the first teachers at home. Unfortunately, learning in the Philippines doesn’t happen at home because we have disengaged parents. I realized earlier on that their concept of being a parent is watching TV with their children rather than opening a book and learning to read with their child.
We have local school boards set up in our cities and municipalities but these local school boards are not representative. They are not consultative and more so because the mayor has the strongest voice. It is so mayor-centric. Only his voice gets heard. And we all know sometimes when the mayor starts talking, it becomes more about him rather than about the child.
Also, our local school boards tend to be myopic in its vision of solving the problems of a child. Their solutions are always infrastructure-heavy. Now let me put you in the paradigm of my setting. It is infrastructure-heavy because everybody thinks that, for the child to succeed, you need more classrooms. They think that most of the problems of a child is skin-deep. But it is inside. It is emotional, mental. It is not just about gravel-and-sand solutions. Also, in our education setting, every concern is not treated as holistic but as a piecemeal problem with a piecemeal solution.
Case in point: feeding and illiteracy. These are two things that studies have shown to be correlated. But, in most schools in the Philippines, we try to address hunger in school and illiteracy as two separate things. It can be a holistic approach but it is not that way.
I would like to call it the dual personality of the education setting in the Philippines. It’s neither centralized nor decentralized. It’s centralized in the sense that it is too rigid but when you want to decentralize, it they invoke centralization. But when we want to invoke centralization, they invoke decentralization. Meaning, there are no clear-cut responsibilities. When you don’t know whether it is the role of the national government or the local government, things fall into the cracks. That’s the sad part. We haven’t really defined our education setup in the Philippines. This is a sweeping statement. I know some of you will say it’s unfair. But my first-hand experience is this: our national education system sometimes tends to have this culture of denial. Meaning, from top to bottom, everybody just tells you, from teachers all the way to the superintendents, “Look, Mayor, there is no problem. Everything’s nice. Everything’s good.” But mayors are not supposed to ask these things. So, whenever the major agency tasked with education is in denial, then obviously you won’t find solutions to the problem.
So what did Valenzuela City do? In a nutshell, Valenzuela City set out to challenge the status quo of the education setup. We realized that local governments can dismantle the status quo of schools with their own arsenal. In our case, in Valenzuela City, we ventured into places where, traditionally, mayors or the city are not supposed to venture. I would get answers, like, “Mayor, you’re not supposed to do that. Mayor, that’s not your job. Mayor, you can’t do that.” But we just realized that when you use your political capital or your political will to dismantle this mindset, the status quo, and deconstruct education from the ground up, it won’t be a hundred percent deconstruction but it should start from somewhere.
Next slide, I’ll show you our program. It’s actually our own program. It’s called the “Education 360 Investment Program.” It’s a program that is holistic, that treats everything as a systemic issue, and has the child in the middle. That’s why it is “360.” We envision it to be a circle with the child in the middle. Just briefly—I won’t bore you with the details—it’s a holistic approach because it starts talking about building facilities. But we ventured further into “Nanay Teacher.” Nanay in our language is “mother.” So it’s “Mother-Teacher.” It is empowering our parents to go beyond the vision of what a parent-teacher conference is and be engaged in the learning life of one’s children.
Our program also incorporates a teaching camp, even if it’s not devolved. Meaning, the teachers in the camp are re-strategized with the most modern teaching strategies. We also help in curriculum development. We launched our own anti-illiteracy program. We started working on our own feeding program. And we started incentivizing these programs and brought in inclusive learning as well as a well-rounded program for sports.
Moving forward, what I learned is you have to learn to defy gravity by challenging the status quo. It’s pretty much like saying LGUs must take the driver’s seat in crafting the program of education. You can’t just say it is the division office’s or the DepEd’s problem. It’s everybody’s problem. I’ll give you an anecdote. Earlier in my term, we wanted to do a reading camp because we found out that a lot of our kids in their right age or right grade level could not read. They were frustrated non-readers who just didn’t know how to read at third and at sixth grade. Instead of just fighting them and trying to touch the curriculum because it is not devolved, we created our summer reading camp. Of course, there was a pushback. The DepEd people were saying, “There’s no problem, Mayor. You don’t have to do this.” But I just kept on harping on the problem and that we had to do something. Another takeaway is we have to listen and to keep on listening because the right answers normally come from the stakeholders.
You have to think out the box and come up with innovative programs to work around the system. We also realized that we had to recalibrate. Making mistakes actually breed upgrades in governance.
The next slide will tell you about our challenges. Just when you knew it, COVID happened and it made matters worse. COVID turned government issues upside down, including education. Suddenly, all the playbooks that we knew were out of the window. So, moving forward, we created our own setup. We created our Valenzuela Live, which is our own distance learning platform. We basically created the “streaming school.” We were streaming standardized content for all our students to watch. This content is tailored to pattern after their modules. The sad part with the national setup is what they’re watching on national TV doesn’t match with what’s created locally in the modules, in the learning kits. So, here, they are synchronized. What they are streaming is standardized content for the entire division. We created our studios. We tailored the material to our own learners.
To sum up what I said, in our template for learning to challenge the status quo, the mayors must come up with a conscious effort to take the driver’s seat. You cannot keep on saying, “It is not my responsibility. It is not devolved, so I let the national government deal with it.” You have to sit down and tell the division offices that this is a partnership, a co-pilot issue wherein the national and local governments must come up with creative, innovative solutions to solve the problems especially brought about by COVID that turned the entire education system upside down.
Again, I have said it. Mayors must take an active role in dealing with education because you have the political capital. People recognize you. You are a face that they are comfortable with. You are face that they can relate with. You are a face that they trust and you have to use that trust to come up with materials or programs that will suit our local learners. But, in order to do that, you have to engage the entire community. I am not an educator but we managed to come up with our own education program because we engaged everybody—all the end users—especially now in the time of COVID, when the challenges are more pronounced. You need more players. You need the business sector. You need everybody in the picture.
Last, we will talk about one more takeaway. We need constant monitoring and assessment, especially in the age of COVID. Distance learning is new to the Philippines. Distance learning is new to Valenzuela. But we realized that, in this uncharted territory, we have to keep on testing. You have to make sure where you are, where you stand, so that you can calibrate or discontinue or upgrade programs as they come along.
Thank you for giving me this time to share the Valenzuela story.