By Carlo Figueroa, VERA Files
LA TRINIDAD, Benguet — When weather disturbances enter the country, it's almost certain that government officials and rescue workers will be tackling the issues of climate change, waste segregation, flood control and calamity response.
But students in this province will soon learn these principles in school as the Department of Education's division is set to include disaster preparedness in the curriculum of public schools.
In fact, teachers and school administrators have begun undergoing training to mainstream disaster risk reduction (DRR) and management. Information sessions to orient educators on national DRR guidelines are taking place through a project implemented by the nongovernmental organization People's Initiative for Learning and Community Development (PILCD) and supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives.
"The education sector has a key role to prevent hazards from becoming disasters. DRR in education equips people with knowledge and skills, so that hazards cause the least possible loss of human life and inflict as little damage and destruction as possible," Marivic Patawaran, PILCD program coordinator, said at a recently concluded education forum.
In its 2005 study "Mapping Philippine Vulnerability to Environmental Disasters," the Manila Observatory rated Benguet as one of the five provinces with a "very high" risk to geophysical hazards, particularly earthquakes and landslides.
Typhoons also unusually battered the province in the past decade. "Typhoons 'Feria' in 2001 and 'Pepeng' in 2009 saw unprecedented flooding here," Benguet Gov. Nestor Fongwan said.
"That is why disaster management should not be a choice but should be a way of life," he said.
The education sector is among the most affected by natural calamities. Citing data from the DepEd, PILCD said that in 2006, typhoons damaged 5,600 school buildings in Southern Luzon alone costing up to more than P3 billion and affecting more than eight million children.
Schools also turn into evacuation centers during typhoons and flooding as part of DepEd's mandate to offer schools to host displaced families in times of calamities.
"One of our tasks is to make our school buildings available as temporary evacuation centers," Nancy Lumbas, DepEd (Benguet) division superintendent said.
Allowing the use of school buildings as temporary shelters is a specific response of the DepEd in implementing Republic Act 10121 or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) Act of 2010.
Using this law as a framework, the DepEd also established last year a DRRM Office that will coordinate the department's activities related to disaster preparedness and mitigation.
In a department order, Education Secretary Armin Luistro last year tasked the DRRM Office to develop and recommend policy standards and actions to DepEd management on all activities concerning resilience to disasters.
The DRRMO also aims to "institutionalize the culture of safety at all levels, to systematize protection of education investments and to ensure continued delivery of quality education services," the document said.
Benguet already has several school activities concerning DRR. "We assist in public advocacy campaigns and we also organize disaster control teams and DRR committees in schools and districts," Lumbas said.
And, she said, the division is integrating DRR into the learning curriculum in the following manner:
- The wise use of natural resources is included in the lesson plans in Makabayan (social studies) classes in Grade 6.
- Science classes in Grade 7 integrate lessons on climate change, waste segregation and pollution and their consequent effects.
- The longstanding Citizens' Army Training (CAT) for high school seniors has been expanded to include three more areas for students to focus on: civic work, community service and law enforcement training.
- Modules on disaster preparedness will be used in alternative learning systems (ALS).
- Schools will conduct quarterly earthquake and fire drills.
- Extracurricular activities such as debates, poster-making or essay-writing contests that can be used to advocate for issues related to DRR will be organized.
Mainstreaming disaster risk reduction and management has obviously contributed a share to the province's development.
According to the Philippine Human Development Report in 2009, Benguet ranked the highest among all provinces in the country in the human development index (HDI). The index is a barometer accepted by the United Nations Development Programme to measure development using life expectancy, adult literacy and gross domestic product per capita.
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")