Group calls on government to ensure IP learners’ access to a culture-based education

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DepEd IP office promises more IP teachers and Peace Education training in conflict areas

We are closely monitoring the data on enrollment and non-enrollment in public schools of our indigenous learners from the indigenous peoples’ (IP) communities. We think that modular learning is still the best mode of education during this time of the pandemic, given IP communities are very remote and online classes are difficult for them,”

This was the answer of Maria Lourie Victor from the Department of Education (DepEd) IP Education Office, who joined the webinar on “Advancing Indigenous Peoples’ Rights to a Sustainable, Quality and Culture-based Education” today, launched by E-Net Philippines in partnership with ChildFund, in commemoration of National Indigenous Peoples’ Month this October.

E-Net asked the DepEd for any updates on the 2.9-million IP learners, based on DepEd 2019 enrollment data, who may or may not have enrolled this school year, given the complications to access to education brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Another report received that around 5,500 Lumad IP learners were unable to enroll this school year due to the pandemic and the lack of access to gadgets, electricity and internet; while some of the modules received are not appropriate to the situation and culture of their sector.

There have been inroads in the DepEd’s National Indigenous Peoples’ Education (NIPED) program since 2017. We have been able to serve 121,250 IP learners and around 2,177 teachers were hired and trained in culture-based education and most of them are member of the indigenous communities. Sadly, the pandemic derailed our IP programs, and we are studying how to better reach our IP learners this school year as education for all should not be hampered even by a pandemic,” Victor added.

Schools are zones of peace. It is unfortunate that a few IP schools are red-tagged, or are labeled as communist breeding grounds; but we in DepEd have recently been giving “peace education” training in schools in conflict areas. It is important that teachers are oriented on the issue of peace talks, and that the school and IP communities have a strong relationship,” explained Victor, when asked during the open forum.

Bae Jennifer “Limpayen” Sibug-las, Commissioner for Central Mindanao of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), shared in the webinar on the current state of education for IP learners. She shared basic and culture-based education is important to the 41% of IP communities, aged 0-14 years old; while continuing educational opportunities should be extended towards the 56% of IPs that are 15-64 years old.

The NCIP is celebrating its 23rd anniversary of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) this year, with the theme, “Correcting Historical Injustices for Indigenous Peoples’ Rights and Welfare.” It is also the 11th year of Proclamation 1906, which declared October as National Indigenous Peoples’ Month.

Let us help our IP communities by providing more schools. In the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) alone, out of 2,490 barangays, there are only 1,730 with established schools. A deficit of 760 barangays without elementary schools as 547 are served by adjacent barangays, leaving 213 with no access to any learning facilities,; translating to 45,508 IP children with no access to school,” said Sibug-las.

In the case of Aeta communities in Botolan, Zambales, the Lubos na Alyansa ng mga Katutubong Ayta sa Zambales (LAKAS) were able to establish their own highschool in June 2013, as approved by the DepEd Division of Zambales. For school year 2020, the Lakas Highschool has around 300 students; mostly Aeta students and some “unat” or lowlanders.

We were able to create our own curricula. We have Aeta teachers who teach indigenous knowledge systems and practices, IP rights and sustainable agriculture. We also wear our traditional costumes when teaching to promote our culture. Aeta customs and traditions, including dances, music and sports, are included in our subjects; including survival skills,” shared Lito “Jubag” Jugatan, a tribal leader and teacher at Lakas Highschool.

Chita Sulan of Lake Sebu’s Tboli women organization, Klubi Kestifun Kehebol Yom Ketengan, underscored the importance of education for Tboli women and children. She claimed that Tboli women and children who enrolled in the DepEd’s Alternative Learning System (ALS) program have gained valuable knowledge, not only in numeracy and literacy, and confidence in pursuing their livelihood. They were able to form their group of local educators and education volunteers, develop their own earning materials based on local history and culture, and they use their mother tongue when teaching.

ChildFund Philippines, a co-sponsor of the webinar, shared their experiences in working with IP communities. They have been working with 12 local NGOs in 21 provinces, towards enhancing numeracy and reading through identity and cultural heritage among IP children.

The webinar was attended by representatives from different ethnic groups such as Dumagat or Agta of North Quezon, Kankanaey/Igorot tribe of North Luzon, Aeta in Zambales, and Ubo, Teduray, Tboli, and Manobo tribes of Mindanao.

Professor Flora Arellano, president of E-Net Philippines, a network of 130 partners and organization that advocate for education reforms, asked the DepEd and the national government for higher budget allocation for the implementation of programs under the National Indigenous Peoples Education (NIPED), to ensure that no one will be left behind, including our marginalized IP learners, in education.

Provide for the establishment of community learning centers (CLCs) in 100-identified IP communities without access to government schools. Consequently, hire, train and deploy IP teachers to teach in these IP community schools. We call on all stakeholders to work together in advancing the rights of our Indigenous Peoples. Walang Dapat Maiwan, Walang Maisasantabi!,” added Arellano.

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