This is the transcript of the presentation of BARMM Education Minister Mohagher Iqbal at the IAG webinar on the "Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic to Education in the BARMM" on June 3, 2020. This paper was prepared before the approval and release of the MBHTE Guidelines for Education Continuity Plan for SY 2020 – 2021. The plan, also known as MBHTE Memo No. 250, is available online via the Education Ministry’s official Facebook page.
BI-SMILLĀHI R-RAḤMĀNI R-RAḤĪM
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, Asalaamu Alaikum warakmatulahi taala wa barakatuh.
Thank you very much to Atty. Benny Bacani and the Institute for Autonomy and Governance for inviting me to speak in this web-based seminar (or webinar) entitled the “Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic to Education in the BARMM.” I hope my presentation will be able to answer your initial questions and, at the same time, generate ideas that would allow us to deal with the difficulties brought about by this pandemic.
But before I proceed to the topic assigned to me, I believe it would be worthwhile to provide updates on the education sector in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). These updates would give us an overall picture of where the Ministry was at in terms of programming before the pandemic urged us to observe quarantine and distancing measures.
Improving the Bangsamoro Education Sector
As you know, the Ministry of Basic Higher and Technical Education is the largest agency in the Bangsamoro. We are managing more than 60 percent of the BARMM employees, consisting of division superintendents, teachers and school administrators, school nurses, and other non-teaching personnel.
Proportionate to the size of the organization is the breadth of its problems and challenges. For instance, high dropout rates of our learners, limited school facilities, lack of access to education services (especially in the remote areas of the Bangsamoro), and inadequate teacher management processes are just a few of the issues that the Ministry needs to address.
While the Ministry is around one a half years old, the setbacks we are dealing with have been plaguing this region for the last decades. We are fully aware that we need to undo almost 30 years of systemic problems, but we prefer to use our energy to solve problems rather than nitpicking.
Our journey towards effective and transparent self-governance began with the resolute commitment to pursue Moral Governance in the Bangsamoro. Admittedly, our people are yet to feel the bulk of the improvements, but as the famous proverb says, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Slowly but surely, the Ministry of Basic Higher and Technical Education has already introduced good governance practices and crucial reforms, including:
- Initial efforts to “clean” the human resource list and payroll system;
- Provision of relevant review sessions for prospective educators and school heads;
- The observation of appropriate working hours;
- The reiteration of no collection of fees and other incentives from teacher applicants;
- The setting up of a data management system to promote evidence-based planning and decision-making;
- The review and implementation of education-related interventions supported by our international and NGO partners – Save the Children, UNICEF, WFP, World Bank, Education Pathways for Peace, among others;
- The creation of proper procedures in the hiring of qualified teachers through the Regional Human Resource Merit Promotional and Selection Board;
- The establishment of the Monitoring and Evaluation System, or MEMO System, for transparency and accountability;
- Undergoing the proper bidding process for the construction of classrooms;
- The reshuffling of school division superintendents, the first time in 20 years;
- Our improved performance in the 2019 Palarong Pambansa as well as the successful conduct of the 2020 Palarong BARMMAA;
- The Ministry's increased presence on social media (Facebook) to disseminate significant MBHTE updates; and 13. We are improving the salaries and employment status of MBHTE personnel.
- I have promoted 285 provisional teachers from across the nine divisions in the BARMM to regular employees.
- We increased the basic pay of contractual employees from P7,500.00 to P12,267.00 at the lowest level.
So far, our endeavors have received support from our constituents. While many of us in the BARMM are new to government service, we are determined to carry out our mandate to serve the Bangsamoro people and fulfill the directives of our principal, the Chief Minister Ahod B. Ebrahim.
Let us now proceed to the main topic of this presentation.
Impact of the Pandemic to the BARMM Education Sector
No doubt, Covid-19 is a "game-changer"; the pandemic has significantly affected the BARMM and other relevant institutions’ capacity to deliver essential services across the Bangsamoro region due to stringent health measures. And even if the situation stabilizes, the political and socio-economic impact of the virus will persist.
One of the immediate impacts of the pandemic to the education sector was that the school year did not conclude smoothly. Schools were compelled to observe quarantine measures, thus affecting students, teachers, and parents. Because any mass gatherings were prohibited, academic institutions could not hold their graduation ceremonies, which is considered a highlight for any student who has worked diligently to complete his or her studies.
One of the challenges during this pandemic is the ability to release necessary resources and the speedy implementation of projects of the BARMM government. The day-to-day functions of the Education Ministry were very much affected and since April, we have been operating with a skeleton workforce. Due to the limited number of employees reporting to work, our operations slowed down. We were not able to process straightaway the applications to vacant positions in the Ministry as posted in the BARMM Job Portal. The BARMM momentarily delayed the hiring of teachers from the island provinces, and distancing measures and movement restrictions affected the education initiatives of our local and international partners in the Bangsamoro.
Despite the limitations, we decided to focus on the tasks that we can accomplish. For instance, we prioritized the processing and release of salaries, so our employees and teachers will have resources while on lockdown and celebrating the Holy Month of Ramadhan. Last month, we released the Emergency Relief Assistance Allowance (ERAA) amounting PHP10,000.00 to all MBHTE employees, including teachers and Contract of Service workers. In addition to their salaries, we also released the mid-year bonus to qualified Teaching and Non-Teaching Personnel of the MBHTE.
Moreover, we had to recalibrate our programming to meet the basic needs of our constituents. Our international partners did the same as well, and since last April, they have approached us to discuss any support that would help the Ministry to deal with this pandemic. We have to be flexible during these trying times and it would be unwise not to factor in how this pandemic will affect our ability to accomplish our responsibilities. In addition to slowing down our operations, COVID-19 will exacerbate the problems in the BARMM, such as poverty, corruption, injustice, and inequality.
The response of the BARMM and the MBHTE
The goal of the IATF is to provide appropriate intervention and countermeasures to prevent further spread of COVID-19 in BARMM communities.
The MBHTE is a member of the BARMM IATF Clusters for Health and Crisis Communication. The health cluster is closely collaborating with the identified response clusters in the preparedness and response to a possible COVID-19 outbreak in the BARMM. The communication cluster is responsible for providing critical, accurate, and timely and multi-dialect information using multimedia, posters, billboards, and reading materials. To avoid panic and anxiety among the population, the BARMM is keen to disseminate primary and relevant information on the coronavirus disease, including its symptoms, complications, transmission, and prevention.
As a response, the Bangsamoro Government organized the Inter-Agency Task Force on Covid-19 Response.
Internal to the Ministry, we also issued Memorandum Order No. 204, series of 2020, directing the Formation of Technical Working Group (TWG) for Education Continuity Plan for the School Year 2020-2021. The TWG Steering and Working Groups conducted series of meetings and consultations with education officials, partners, learners, and parents to formulate adaptive strategies for Basic, Madaris, Higher, and Technical Education amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
We are in the process of finalizing the Education Continuity Plan.1 This plan will help us make preparations for the incoming school year while complementing our other efforts to implement vital institutional reforms and pursue relevant programs in key education-related areas. The Ministry is considering utilizing flexible learning modalities for the coming school year, including distance learning. However, whatever learning or content delivery options we adopt should also be based on several factors. These include the communities' risk level (low, medium, high), the location of each school (city center or remote), and the accessibility to the technology of households, communities, and schools. On the latter point, one of our partners (Pathways) is helping us create a multi-platform communication system to help disseminate information including the Education Continuity Plan and serve as an additional instructional delivery option.
We have released surveys to the various school divisions, so we have a clear picture of the risk factors as well as school readiness, including information on facilities, Internet connectivity, and even electricity. We are fully aware that once classes open in August, the parents will either think, "I will not send my children to school due to uncertainties brought by the pandemic” or “If I send my child to school, how will he or she learn considering the readiness of the school during this time.” The Ministry must be ready by then to address these scenarios.
While we are finalizing these plans, our teachers, students, and communities' welfare and safety are paramount. Precautions are necessary to prevent the potential spread of COVID- 19 in school settings. In doing so, we must exemplify care and compassion to avoid disparaging students, teachers and MBHTE staff who are vulnerable to the virus.
I want to emphasize that COVID-19 does not differentiate between socio-economic background, ethnicities, disability status, age, or gender. Therefore, the education sector in the Bangsamoro should continue to be a respectful, inclusive, and supportive environment for all learners and educators. School divisions, academic and professional institutions, and Madaris can establish measures to prevent the entry and spread of this disease by students and personnel at risk of infection while minimizing disruption and protecting students and staff from discrimination.
I hope my presentation was informative and relevant to today’s webinar. I am happy to respond to your questions.