BANGSAMORO SPEAKS: Because no Bangsamoro child should be left behind

(Delivered by Minister Mohagher Iqbal during the virtual launching of the Ministry of Basic, Higher and Technical Education Learning Continuity Plan and Multi-Platform Communications System on 15 June 2020 in Cotabato City)

BI-SMILLĀHI R-RAḤMĀNI R-RAḤĪM

Ladies and gentlemen, Good afternoon! Asalaamu Alaikum warakmatulahi taala wa barakatuh!

It is my honor to welcome all of you to the Balik Eskwela online launch in the Bangsamoro Autonomous in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). While we would have preferred to conduct this event in a more interactive and celebratory manner, we have to make necessary adjustments due to the threat of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Nevertheless, I am happy that despite the limitations brought by the crisis, technology has allowed us to come together and express support to our primary goal in education: that no Bangsamoro child will be left behind.

Minister Mohagher Iqbal delivers his message during the virtual launching of the Ministry of Basic, Higher and Technical Education Learning Continuity Plan and Multi-Platform Communications System on 15 June 2020 in Cotabato City. Photo courtesy of MBHTE

Today’s event will also discuss the salient points of the BARMM’s Education Continuity Plan School Year 2020 to 2021. And speaking of technology, I also have the privilege of presenting our plans to establish a multi-platform communication system that would help the Ministry address the challenges brought by this pandemic and ensure the implementation of the learning continuity plan. The latter was made possible with the support of the Australian Government – Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) through the Education Pathways to Peace in Mindanao program.

Balik Eskwela Program and the Learning Continuity Plan

In my short message for the Department of Education’s Oplan Balik Eskwela launch last June 1, I commended Secretary Leonor Briones and the DepEd leadership for their decision to update the annual Brigada Eskwela with the impact this pandemic to the education sector. Undoubtedly, Covid-19 has drastically affected both the national and Bangsamoro governments to accomplish our mandates and deliver vital services. Therefore, it would be ill-advised to disregard the risks of this health and emergency issue to our programs.

Due to quarantine measures and distancing protocols, the usual activities associated with Brigada Eskwela will not happen this year without the clear guidance from the BARMM Inter-Agency Task Force for COVID-19 Response and proper authorities. However, I would like to reiterate that Brigada Eskwela, and now Balik Eskwela, is more than just the cleaning and repair of classrooms. It is about the education stakeholders coming together to ensure that all learners will have access to quality, inclusive, and relevant education. This message is embodied by Balik Eskwela’s theme this year, “Pagpapanatili ng Bayanihan Tungo sa Kalidad na Edukasyon para sa Kabataan,” which roughly translates to preserving the Bayanihan spirit towards quality education for the youth. Bayanihan refers to communal unity and cooperation, values that we need to exemplify, especially now that we are dealing with the pandemic.

Keeping this theme in mind, all education stakeholders – government, teachers, education managers and administrators, local leaders, civil society and parents – must work tirelessly together to ensure that our children and students are learning and thriving in a secure, inspiring, and healthy environment. And we hope this coming together will strengthen the implementation of the Ministry’s Education Continuity Plan School Year 2020 to 2021, also known as the learning continuity plan (LCP).

Under Memo Order no. 204 series of 2020, I authorized the creation of the Technical Working Group (TWG) in the Ministry of Basic, Higher and Technical Education that will draft the learning continuity plan for the incoming school year. After the TWG conducted a series of meetings and consultations with education officials, partners, they submitted the final draft the Education Continuity Plan for the School Year 2020-2021, which I approved on May 29, 2020.

The document has four annexes, and each corresponds to specific guidelines for Basic Education, Madaris Education and Islamic Studies, Technical Education and Skills Development, and Higher Education. Each annex covers essential topics, such as but not limited to:

  1. Start of enrolment and pre-opening activities of all schools,
  2. Personnel development and work arrangements for educators and MBHTE employees;
  3. Appropriate teaching and learning processes, alternative learning systems and training delivery modalities per sector;
  4. Delivery of education services for learners under challenging circumstances;
  5. Instructions for parents and stakeholder engagements;
  6. Guidelines for traditional Madrasah and Islamic learning centers; and
  7. Observance of health and safety protocols, including the provision of water, sanitation, health facilities.

Due to its scope, all education stakeholders must study and understand the LCP guidelines. For my presentation this morning, I would like to highlight the overarching standards:

  1. “Moral Governance” shall always be the overarching guiding principle and the Ministry’s official doctrine in the performance of its mandate and the execution of its policies, programs, and activities.
  2. We practice “Stay at Home, Stay Learning”;
  3. The safety and well-being of all learners, education personnel and other education stakeholders shall be the top priority of the Ministry;
  4. As provided in Republic Act No. 10533, schools and learning institutions shall continue to deliver education services that are “relevant to the needs of the people, the country and the society-at-large” in compliance to the minimum health and safety standards and directives from BARMM-IATF, MOH, and other proper authorities;
  5. All education stakeholders, parents, community leaders, and local government units shall be involved in the planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of activities and interventions relative to the continuity of education service delivery;
  6. Until the situation improves, home-based or distance learning shall be the preferred modality. However, face-to-face learning in school and other training centers may be employed if and when the local situation and public health measures allow; and
  7. Schools and other learning institutions shall continue to function as learning hubs where learners can access facilities and other learning equipment and materials such as libraries, playgrounds, laboratories, internet connectivity, technical and vocational workshops, and training facilities.

For our part, the Education Ministry shall ensure technical, administrative and financial support is available to schools, Madaris, division offices, district offices, TESD training centers, and provincial offices, and higher education institutions in the Bangsamoro so they can effectively implement this plan. Furthermore, the Ministry shall consider the responsibilities, duties, and workloads of its teaching and non-teaching personnel at the schools, madaris, division offices, district offices, TESD training centers, and provincial offices, and higher education institutions. The Ministry shall uphold Republic Act No. 11032, also known as Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018.

Invoking the Bayanihan spirit, I want to emphasize that while the Ministry will provide the strategic direction and necessary support, implementing the LCP is not solely our responsibility. In other words, the Ministry would need the cooperation and support of all education sectors and stakeholders in the Bangsamoro. For instance, the Schools Division Superintendents, Education Program Supervisors, Master Teachers, and ICT Trained Teachers shall take the lead in the development of instructional materials/ modules in preparation for the opening of classes under primary education. The higher education institutions (HEIs) in the Bangsamoro shall submit to the Ministry their respective Learning Continuity Plans (LCPs) on or before June 30, 2020. The TESD Provincial Offices will advocate using asynchronous eLearning tools through the TESDA Online Program (TOP) or other open sources online/offline training courses during community quarantine periods. And finally, with supervision from the Ministry and Division Offices, the Madrasah mudaraa (principals) are authorized to decide on the specific learning delivery modalities in compliance with distancing measures set by the BARMM Ministry of Health.

During this critical moment, all of us must show resourcefulness, tenacity, accountability, and determination to ensure that this crisis and the shift to the “new normal” will not hamper our young people’s learning and overall development. Therefore, we have to seek innovative means to ensure that the whole Bangsamoro education community can effectively collaborate and address the needs of our constituents.

COVID-19 is a game-changer, and if the “new normal” requires us to resort to distance learning, then we have to respond accordingly. In this regard, reaching the farthest Bangsamoro child will become a key priority for the MBHTE and BARMM government. This is no easy task, but I am pleased that one of our key partners from the international community is willing to support the Ministry in implementing the LCP during the time of Covid-19. As I mentioned earlier, the Ministry has plans to establish a multi-platform communication system that would help us address the challenges brought by this pandemic and support the implementation of the learning continuity plan.

Multi-Platform Communication System for the MBHTE

We are grateful to the Australian Government – Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for supporting us in this endeavor through the Education Pathways to Peace in Mindanao program. The Education Ministry sees communications as a vital instrument during the time of crisis. We understand the relevance of the timely dissemination of information on education as well as acquiring critical feedback from our constituents.

Hence, we will be utilizing several platforms to ensure two-way communications and engagement with divisions, districts, and communities is possible. More importantly, we need a robust and functional comprehensive communication system to support the learning continuity plan (LCP) and provide us instructional delivery options to reach all learners in the Bangsamoro.

The Ministry’s multi-platform communications system consists of five (5) components:

First is the mechanism for virtual meetings and remote work collaboration. We are using Microsoft Teams for this event, one of the key features of Microsoft Office 365. We now have access to a secure and standard communication tool with support from the DepEd National and as facilitated by the Pathways Team. Once fully functional, this component will allow MBHTE officials to meet regularly abd work while observing safety and distancing measures. It can also serve as a parallel communication and service delivery mechanism for division offices and schools with access to the Internet. Moreover, the system will maintain better liaison between the Ministry and DepEd Central Office. I am thankful that many of our guests from the remote areas managed to join us in today’s event. I hope we will be able to maximize this platform for our work.

The second component is the Short Messaging Service (SMS) gateway service, or commonly known as “text blasts.” This service is for communicating messages to and from communities that have access to telecommunication services. This automated communication platform will enable the Ministry to send SMS alerts and notifications to deliver real-time information to teachers, learners, school heads, parents in diverse locations. We can also collect survey-type data from the schools and division offices and consolidate all responses in one centralized location accessible to MBHTE. We have already started using this system. In fact, we used this service to invite almost 12,000 individuals to watch this launch on the official Facebook account of the MBHTE. The mobile numbers were collated from the attendance sheets from the various education activities and numbers from our officials and partners. Rest assured that we will handle the mobile numbers with utmost confidentiality, and you will only receive significant announcements from the Ministry.

However, we understand that there are connectivity issues in the Bangsamoro, and not all areas have access to the Internet, computer, and telecommunication facilities. This concern is the reason why we designed the MBHTE’s communication system to be multi-platform, meaning we are not only limiting ourselves to the Internet or SMS.

The third component is the revival of the MBHTE Radio Station, including possible relay transmission to the divisions as well as select partnerships with community and private radio stations throughout the Bangsamoro. The radio station can host public service programs, messages, and public service announcements. More importantly, it will be one of the mechanisms for delivering education services to MBHTE leaners via school-on-the air programs. We are working closely with the Pathways Project Management Office (PMO) to renew the radio franchise, procure the necessary equipment, and hire technical support to turn curriculum delivery modules into a radio format.

The fourth component is the use of two-way radio communication for transmitting information, guidance, and instructions to communities not covered by SMS and the Internet. Once we have finalized the appropriate mechanisms, the Ministry will link with accredited radio groups in the region such as the Karancho Radio Forum and Emergency Response Group to help the Ministry reach far-flung barangays, especially in the island provinces.

The fifth and last component is mobilizing the MBHTE School Network and community-based volunteers to crucial areas in the Bangsamoro. The Ministry has already organized 45 volunteers for its monitoring and evaluation mechanism. We plan to engage and train an additional 45 volunteers to strengthen the communication system we are trying to establish. These volunteers will be detailed in communities and shall provide the regional office feedback on the situation, especially in the geographically isolated communities. The Ministry will also tap school networks such as the parent-teacher associations (PTAs) and School Governing Councils (SGCs) for this endeavor.

Conclusion

Guided by the principle of Moral Governance, the Ministry is committed to the formation of an education system that reflects the ideals, needs, aspirations of the people in the Bangsamoro. We are also keen to adapt and respond to the “new normal” by developing a context-based learning continuity plan and utilizing a variety of methods – including a multi- platform communication system – to deliver education services in the BARMM amidst the pandemic efficiently.

Even if the situation stabilizes, the political and socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 virus will persist. Nevertheless, I am confident that when the BARMM government, development partners, civil society organizations, families, and communities work together, we can adequately protect our educators and ensure that no child will be left behind.

I want to thank the Department of Education as well as MBHTE officers, personnel, and educators from the various School Divisions, higher education institutions, Technical Education and Skills Development institutions, and the Madaris for joining us in today’s event. Again, thank you to our longtime partners from the Australian Government and the Pathways PMO for the continued support, notably in these trying times.

To our guests tuning in via social media, I hope my presentation gave you some information about the BARMM government as well as the interventions and programs of the Education Ministry. You are more than welcome to share ideas to help us accomplish our mandate and realize our promises to the Bangsamoro people. Sukran at magandang hapon sa ating lahat!

 

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