Thursday, October 12, 2006


The Catholic Church in the Philippines sets aside the second Sunday of October as Indigenous People’s Sunday and October might as well IP month.

An NGO that has been working for almost 10 years for the education of IPs is Sikat or Schools of Indigenous Knowledge and Tradition or Silungan ng Katututbong Kaalaman at Tradisyon. The Filipino word sikat means shine and when the accent is placed on the second syllable, it means celebrity, a person of note and achievement. Sikat is a non-church, non-profit, non-stock movement that aims to make the IPs find their rightful place, their place of pride, under the sun through education. Not just any education but an education that is attuned to the IP’s way of life—their culture, language, livelihood, habitat, and everything that defines them. This means developing a “culturally responsive education for indigenous peoples”.

Behind Sikat and supporting it every step of the way is the Asian Council for People’s Culture (ACPC).

In December 1997, a group of people from various regions and faiths gathered for the first National Trainers’ Training in order to share and build visions for a national network of cultural workers and community educators. That meeting gave birth to Sikat and the network of schools.

Al Santos, Sikat executive director and founding member says: “In establishing community-owned culturally responsive schools, we create linking pathways for the promotion of indigenous education among various tribes across the country.”

Community-owned means the people build the schools with their hands, run them, staff them and, most of all, help in making a curriculum that is suited for the IP children. This does not mean isolating themselves or setting themselves apart, this means strengthening their children’s rootedness so that they do not become alienated from their origins. Then they could face the rest of the world with pride—pride in their ancestry and everything that nurtured them—even sharing indigenous knowledge and wisdom that many of them had been ashamed of or wished to forget.

There are now dozens of Sikat schools all over the country. These are mostly in the primary level. While there are now schools in the tertiary level (not Sikat’s) that offer specialized curricula for IPs and those planning to work among IPs, there is no way for an interested IP to get to this level without going through the primary level.

But how could IP communities have primary schools in the highlands if there are no trained teachers? Who is the teacher who will walk through forests primeval and across mountains to get to a remote place on earth? Is it worth it? You bet it is, or must be, for I have met teachers who’ve done this. But they are few. And how long could they last?

One of the solutions to the dearth of teachers is to get trainable ones from the communities themselves. They need not be college degree holders or board passers. Training such teachers is what Sikat has done successfully. Why wait forever for someone with a teacher’s diploma to fall from the sky? The children are growing up fast and can’t remain ignorant and illiterate forever.

In Sikat schools the children learn not only the three Rs but also about themselves. The Sikat school is a strong pillar for empowerment. It transmits knowledge crucial to the survival of the tribes. It encourages students to learn their own languages and protects their identity and rights as IPs. It sustains community cycles and events. In others words, the Sikat school is woven into the cultural fabric of the IP community.

Making this work is not an easy task. It involves tri-partite efforts and involvement of the IP community, the NGO and the local government. Local government units (LGUs) have been responsive, Santos says, and why not, it is their constituencies that would benefit from this type of innovative education. Needless to say, they also need to put in local funds to make Sikat happen.

Now the problematic part. While Sikat education could well serve the learning needs of the IPs up to a certain point, how do they move on from there if their teachers have not gone through the regular qualifying exams and their schools aren’t accredited? Although teachers have gone through Sikat training modules and are definitely well equipped to teach, many have not gone beyond elementary or high school. How will their students go to the next level, high school or college, if the Department of Education has not accredited these schools?

This is what is being worked out, Santos points out. The DepEd really needs to address this concern.

There are IP communities that are not so remote, whose children have access to regular schools. Despite their poor and special background, these children have adjusted and made it to the mainstream. But by going mainstream so early, how much of their sense of roots have they lost and exchanged for what is alien?

Sikat does not merely address the problem of education, it is blazing a trail for the IPs to be educated through a rich and meaningful way. I couldn’t help thinking, well, the farther the purer, but then one can’t remain isolated in this day and age. Education and integration is the key, but integration with pride and dignity. But preservation, too, of timeless wisdom and knowledge that are as old as the hills.

Donate old phone books to the women of the Alay Kapwa Christian Community that makes beautiful bags and baskets out of them as a means of livelihood. Pls. drop them at the home of Maring Feria on 3 Taurus Bel-Air 3, Makati. Tel. 8956234.