MANILA – As the country celebrates Indigenous Peoples (IP) Month this October, a group has called on the government to ensure that students from indigenous communities have access to culture-based education.
Despite laws that guarantee the rights of indigenous groups, access to education for IP learners remains difficult, said E-Net Philippines, a network of civil society groups that advocates education reforms.
“This includes maintenance of their own schools and for them to carry out their own educational activities and the use or teaching of their own language,” the group said in a statement last Friday.
E-Net Philippines asked the government to increase funding for programs under the Department of Education’s National Indigenous Peoples Education (IPED), and establish community learning centers in 100 identified IP communities without access to public schools.
In the Bangsamoro region, for instance, 45,508 IP children have no access to schools, said Bae Jennifer “Limpayen” Sibug-las, Commissioner for Central Mindanao of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.
DepEd should also hire, train and deploy IP teachers in community schools, and get IP leaders as resource persons in drafting learning materials and curricula for IPs, E-Net Philippines added.
Maria Lourie Victor, consultant at the DepEd’s IP education office, said that since 2017, the IPED program has served 121,250 IP learners, and hired and trained 2,177 teachers, mostly members of indigenous communities, on culture-based education.
Citing a report it received, E-Net Philippines said around 5,500 Lumad learners did not enroll this school year, which saw the country's education system shift to distance learning as in-person classes remain prohibited because of the pandemic.
The Lumads were unable to enroll due to lack of access to gadgets, electricity and internet, while some modules were considered inappropriate to the culture of the learners, according to the report.
Victor said the DepEd is still monitoring the number of IPs who did not enroll in public schools this year. Public schools will continue to accept late enrollees until November.
“We think that modular learning is still the best mode of education during this time of pandemic, given [that] IP communities are very remote and online classes are difficult for them,” she said, referring to the distance learning modality where students learn through printed or digital modules.
Victor admitted that the pandemic derailed DepEd’s programs for IP learners this year, but the agency continues to study how it could reach these students.
Victor also lamented how some IP schools were being “red-tagged” or labeled as “communist breeding grounds.”
The DepEd representative noted that the agency was giving “peace education” training to schools in conflict-hit 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,” Victor said.
Earlier this month, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Gilbert Gapay said the military was monitoring Madrasah or Islamic schools over possible recruitment of suicide bombers.
Last year, the DepEd came under fire after it shut down 55 Lumad schools in Mindanao for being unable to comply with the department’s regulations. At the time, the National Security Council reported that the shuttered schools had links to communist rebels.
National Indigenous Peoples Month is observed every October by virtue of Proclamation No. 1906, issued in 2009 by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.