Philippines 'indigenizes' basic education
MANILA - The Philippines is "indigenizing" its basic education curriculum for the country's various ethnic groups to boost the development of what has been regarded as marginalized people without dissolving their respective cultures and traditions.
Rozanno Rufino of the Education Department's Indigenous Peoples Education Office said the process of consulting leaders of various tribes to "interface" their cultures and practices with the curricula for elementary and high school education in their respective communities began after the issuance of the policy in 2011.
"The process of indigenizing would depend on the pace of each community. It will not happen in one snap. Our target is that each school with indigenous people learners should indigenize its curriculum. The curriculum should be culture-sensitive, contextualized, responsive and flexible for the communities," Rufino said during last week's National Indigenous Peoples Education gathering in the capital Manila.
"And it's starting now," he added.
Out of the 20.8 million students currently enrolled in elementary and high schools all over the Philippines, 5.7 percent, or close to 1.2 million, belong to indigenous groups.
The country has around 100 ethno-linguistic groups, the majority of them being in the southern island of Mindanao and falling below the poverty line owing to both their traditional reliance on agriculture and lack of access to education.
The groups have kept their cultures and traditions intact by resisting Spanish and American colonization from the 16th century up to the first half of the 20th century.
"Most of us indigenous people cannot go to school. There's a lack of access because of poverty. We need more scholarships because only that will sustain and give our indigenous people youth a better place as they also try to protect the rights of the community," Leonor Quintayo, chairwoman of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, told Kyodo News on the sidelines of the gathering.
Having completed her education with a degree in accountancy, Quintayo, who belongs to an indigenous group in Davao province on Mindanao island, said, "Education is really empowerment."
Rufino said that along with the programs of making education accessible to indigenous communities, the government is prioritizing indigenizing the basic education curriculum to be able to give the indigenous people "genuine human development."
He said it is not enough that members of the indigenous groups be asked to perform their traditional songs and dances in school as a way of preserving and promoting their culture.
"We're veering away from the simple add-ons. We'd like to know the aspiration of the community, how that is linked to their ancestral domain, how they want their language preserved, their indigenous science respected, and their value system retained. So, it would be better to interface all these with the different subjects," Rufino explained.
He cited an example in Occidental Mindoro province south of Manila wherein a school even set its school calendar to align with the community's farming cycle and not with the regular school season because of the local belief that "planting is part of education."
"They are saying that they don't want their culture to be forgotten. They said there is no point in having their kids know how to read and write, and learn about Western literature if they do not know the essence of their own culture," Rufino said.
Boyson Anib of the Davao City-based Matigsalog tribe said indigenous peoples aspire to preserve and pass on their traditional knowledge, way of life, and spirituality to the next generation amidst the continuing modernization of Philippine society.
Timuay Hilario Tanzo of the Teduray tribe, who also serves as deputy governor for indigenous peoples in the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao, expressed confidence that with an indigenized basic education, their youth will be better equipped to assert their rights in mainstream society and even before the Philippine government, particularly on their ancestral domain.
"These communities, just like any other, also want to have better, comfortable lives. But respect for one's own culture is also part of genuine human development," Rufino said.