This article was originally posted in the Facebook group "The eSkwela Project - out-of-school youth and adults learning throu...", and subsequently posted to my Wordpress blog. Additional text to original article is in italics.
I'm sharing this blog entry I wrote about an extraordinary public servant (the late Philippine Interior Secretary and former Naga city mayor Jesse Robredo), and how he supported the ICT in Education project I used to work for, the eSkwela Project - community eLearning Centers for out-of-school youth and adults. It also touches on the needed local support and evaluation mechanisms for ICT in Education projects.
I was fortunate to meet then-Mayor Jesse Robredo back in October 2009, on very short notice. As the eSkwela Project Team and trainers from DepEd-BALS were wrapping up the training activity for eSkwela learning facilitators in San Fernando and nearby municipalities in Camarines Sur, I thought it wasn’t a bad idea to try our luck and meet with a Naga City LGU staff or official to make a pitch on the eSkwela Project. I expected that the LGU might not be in work mode anymore, as we asked for a last-minute meeting on a Friday late afternoon and with typhoon Santi just a few hours away from hitting the city. A former colleague (Pete Rabago) connected me to Mr. Bob Ursua, who was in charge of the Naga City School Board at that time, and was pleasantly surprised that Mr. Ursua would still have time to meet with us.
I would have been satisfied to give the eSkwela information materials to Mr. Ursua (or Sir Bob, as I now call him), be on our way back to Manila and just follow up with him via email – but he suggested that we go to the Mayor’s office at that moment and inform him about the project directly. To learn of Mayor Robredo’s accessibility and hands-on approach was another pleasant surprise.
photo by Mr. Erick Torrecampo of Naga City LGU
Sir Bob accompanied us to Mayor Robredo’s office, and I observed how the office was reflective of its occupant: close to his desk was the meeting area where he receives his constituents. (Looking at Mayor Robredo's photo with some of the Naga LGU staff, I now remember the big table in the meeting room where his name plate prominently rests. At that time, I couldn't figure out whether the table was for meetings or his personal workspace as there was also a stack of documents on it. I guess it's for both. Again, it speaks a lot about the good mayor's no-nonsense approach. Here was a local government official who actually did a lot of his best work in the city hall; many of his contemporaries cannot say the same, putting extraordinary effort only in plastering their faces in LGU property and song-and-dance numbers during campaign trails.)I also could not help but notice the shelves surrounding the room - filled with trophies, medals, certificates awarded to him over the years for his exemplary public service. Sir Bob briefly described the project to Mayor Robredo in Bicolano, after which I and eSkwela colleague Jofel Josef showed him a sample e-learning module of eSkwela. It did not take him long to grasp what the project is about. He told us that he has no doubts in the impact of eSkwela and how it raises the quality of non-formal education. He added, however, that he is mindful and cautious of where public funds will be spent. He raised the question to us: will it be better to invest on infrastructure requirements of an eSkwela Center – computers and Internet connection - or put money instead on books, classrooms, teachers that schools are sorely lacking? By asking the question, Mayor Robredo demonstrated that he is genuinely interested in the programs he brings to his constituents (it is not uncommon to encounter disinterest and lip service when we go out and try to get support for eSkwela). His question is indeed something for those in the field of ICT4E to seriously think about, and less of a challenge to the legitimacy of the project (immediately right after the meeting, Mayor Robredo gave the go-signal to the city school board to support the equipment requirements of an eSkwela Center in Naga). From that day onwards, I always share Mayor Robredo’s question to the teachers and education officials we encounter in our ICT4E projects.
the eSkwela application as greenlighted by Mayor Robredo; photos of equipment, and eSkwela learners (photos from eskwelanaga.wordpress.com)
He became DILG secretary and was no longer mayor when the first eSkwela Center in the city was inaugurated, but Sec. Robredo sowed the seeds of eSkwela in Naga City. The incumbent Mayor, Hon. John Bongat, learned a lot from his predecessor and continues to support eSkwela (to date, there are now ten eSkwela Centers in Naga, with another two centers in the pipeline). The LGU still has the imprint of its former mayor, as it remains one of the most progressive and service-oriented LGUs in the country.
The eSkwela community, as the rest of the country will forever remember you as a true servant leader. Maraming salamat at paalam, Mayor Jesse.