Thursday, December 18, 2014

DepEd to boost IP education

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

“Ako’y Pilipino! Pilipinas ang bayan ko! Taga Tarukan ako! Lahing katutubo! Tribung Aeta ang kinabibilangan ko!” (I am a Filipino! The Philippines is my country! Tarukan is my home! From an indigenous community of Aetas I come! To the community of Aetas I belong!)

I remember so well the loud, heart-pounding declaration of Aeta children in their first month of classes in the first school ever built in the Aeta hill village of Tarukan in Capas, Tarlac. The builders were their own parents, aided by the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Spirit. The children were like bumblebees, buzzing endlessly, shouting with glee, skipping, hopping on their bare feet, as they raced to school. Snot in their noses, smiles on their faces, sun in their eyes.

I did write about Tarukan’s Bini Pre-School which was made of grass and bamboo and with the bare earth for flooring. It opened on the lush green hillside where I stumbled and fell flat on my face. “Bini” is the Sambal word for seed. It also stands for “Balang oras iaral nawe taha ikanged” (Every moment let’s teach progress).

Some 60 pupils, aged five to 15, were enrolled. Two classes were held every day—one in the morning for those aged five to eight, and another in the afternoon for those aged nine to 15. These were all in the preschool level. One of the teachers came on what they called “Carabao FX.” Where and when is Grade One? I asked then.

That was more than 10 years ago and “seven hills away,” to borrow the words of the great storyteller and National Artist NVM Gonzales.

In the past, one of the most overlooked, if not neglected, communities in the field of education were the indigenous communities. If not for the efforts of anthropologists, nongovernment organizations and religious groups that worked to improve their lives, these communities would have been left very far behind. They had not always been in the government’s priority list.

I am witness to private efforts by individuals and religious groups (not out to convert, mind you) to raise the level of education and quality of life of these IP (indigenous peoples) communities. Going to their remote habitats in the mountain fastness has always been a challenge for me, but interacting with them has proved to be worthwhile.

Then, sitting down finally in my comfort zone to write about their way of life and their struggles has made me become more appreciative of them—their indigenous culture and art, their work to preserve the environment, their efforts to uplift themselves despite discrimination.

I have visited schools, such as the one I just described, put up by IP communities themselves, with the help of Catholic nuns and without government help, if only to make their children have a good head start. Getting government funding, trained teachers and accreditation for their preschools was their ultimate wish.

I have visited Pamulaan in Davao City, a college for IPs from all over the country, founded by anthropologist and Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Ben Abadiano. But before tertiary education there must be education at the lower level.

The good news is that yesterday Education Secretary Armin Luistro signed, in the presence of IP representatives, IP education advocates, support groups, Department of Education regional reps and other government agencies, a DepEd order that would push IP education fast and forward. In my mind, Luistro’s opening lines were accompanied by the beating of native drums and the blowing of conch shells.

“In line with the National Indigenous Peoples Education Policy Framework … particularly the policy thrusts to ‘implement stronger affirmative action to eradicate all forms of discrimination against IPs in the entire Philippine education system’ and to ‘uphold and advocate the protection of the intellectual property rights of IPs,’ the [DepEd] is adopting the enclosed Guidelines on the Conduct of Activities and Use of Materials Involving Aspects of Indigenous Peoples Culture.”

Aligned with the K-to-12 curriculum, the guidelines contain dos and don’ts—a very cultural thing, I must say, but just as important is DepEd’s National Indigenous People’s Education Policy Framework which is meant “to be an instrument for promoting shared accountability, continuous dialogue, engagement and partnership among government, IP communities, civil society, and other education stakeholders.”

Upon going over the details and historical background of the written policy, one would indeed see the reason for fast-tracking IP education. I look at the dates strewn all over the pages and I realize how fairly recent IP rights have been engraved in stone, so to speak (in the 1987 Philippine Constitution, the 1997 Indigenous Peoples Rights Act, the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to name some).

In 2004, DepEd issued an order or “permit to operate primary schools for indigenous peoples and cultural communities” and another order for “the alternative learning system (ALS) curriculum for IP education.” I’d like to mention that after getting exposed to IP communities I learned to write my name in the indigenous way (using the precolonial baybayin/alibata and also the Mangyan syllabary that, I am glad to know, young Mangyan are proud to learn). It is now cool to use them in tattoos or as second bylines. (I did in my recent books.)

Here are just two of the seven DepEd policy statements worth celebrating about: 1) Ensure the provision of universal and equitable access of all IPs to quality and relevant basic education services toward functional literacy for all, and 2) adopt appropriate basic education pedagogy, content and assessment through the integration of indigenous knowledge systems and practices in all learning areas and processes.

It is never too late.#