The Philippines Indigenous Peoples’ Core Curriculum

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ID-leah-croppedThe Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) provides a strong policy basis for Indigenous Peoples’ Rights to Education. The formulation carries a strong articulation of positive educational outcomes against the colonial foundations of education in the Philippines.

Education was used as a key institution during the early twentieth century to drive American colonial policies and programs in the Philippines.

Of the fourfold bundles of IP rights provided for in the IPRA, the implementation of the Right to Social Justice and Human Rights is least studied.

The second volume of The Road to Empowerment: Strengthening the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (Arquiza, 2007) illustrates what peoples’ organizations (POs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have achieved in their work on indigenous education and indigenous health (see Vargas, 2007), but does not account for the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples’ (NCIP) execution of its mandate in these areas. This essay looks at the delivery of indigenous peoples’ right to education in the Philippines by reviewing  one of the most important works of the NCIP—the Indigenous Peoples’ Core Curriculum. This study takes a rights-based approach to make a case for indigenous peoples’ rights to education in the Philippines.

Section 4, Rule VII, Part VI of the IRR also provides for the creation of an Office on Education, Culture and Health (OECH) as the NCIP structure responsible for the effective implementation of educational, cultural, and health-related rights as provided in the Act.

The OECH crafted its IP Education work with a view to its role as “an enabling partner” for the IPs’ physical and social well-being, ensuring that programs are “adopted to the peculiarities of the specific ICCs/IPs”(NCIP Annual Report 2006, 22). The OECH aims to harness, integrate, and harmonize multi-sectoral efforts of all stakeholders in safeguarding the educational, cultural, and health-related rights of ICCs/IPs.

Curriculum development for indigenous peoples’ education

The OECH raised the issue of ‘inappropriateness’ in the current education system in the Philippines and asserted that this current system “has contributed to the further marginalization and exploitation of IPs.” Thus, the OECH prioritized a program in curricular revisions that positions and prepares the IPs “to be more attuned with needed life-long learning values and life-skills for the development and protection of ancestral domains and their culture and to advocate for IP rights and welfare” (see the NCIP document, “Profile of Education, Culture and Health programs/projects for Indigenous Peoples contained in the MTPDP-MTPIP 2005-2010: Considerations for the medium-term work and financial plans”).

In a move to address the problem of an already operating and well-entrenched, Western-developed educational system in the Philippines, the OECH, concerned as it was to institute change in the system over the long term, embarked on two tasks: 1) to develop an IP Core Curriculum and 2) to push for policies that will indigenize the existing educational system. This was implemented mainly with the DepEd, in coordination with educational institutions and other organizations through the systematic conduct of activities like workshops, fora, and consultation-meetings that explored new pedagogical approaches and identified the contents needed for curricular development and intervention in Philippine formal education.

In 2004, the OECH collaborated with the Department of Education in a Dep-Ed-led project titled “Development of an Indigenous Peoples’ Core Curriculum,” with funding from UNESCO. The OECH developed a conceptual framework to guide its work in curricular development, and later, its pilot implementation. This framework is concerned with the cultural grounding of IP education in specific ancestral domains, and seeks to promote cultural diversity in the existing educational system. The framework recognizes that the context of education for IPs revolves around their vision for their own communities and the larger society where they move about, and their thinking about their individual and collective existence clearly articulates a vision for self-determination. The OECH believes that it is important for IPs to work from an understanding of the elements and dynamics of their society as the basis for their capacity building as communities.

Curricular changes are viewed as important in developing vibrant cultural institutions and facilitating a good teaching-learning process. In the Dep-Ed IP Core Curriculum, education is generally envisioned as ‘enabling’ (for recognition and empowerment), ‘ensuring’ (for protection), and ‘enhancing’ (for development and promotion), a tool for the continued vitality of the indigenous peoples’ ancestral domains and heritage (see Department of Education–Bureau of Alternative Learning System [BALS] 2006, vol. 1).

OECH believes that its curricular program intervention is well guided by the IPRA’s provision (Section 28) for an Integrated System of Education. The OECH envisions an educational institution relevant to the needs of IPs, and promotes their knowledge systems and practices in the formation of strong cultural character and identities. Thus, the curriculum is seen as the foundation of a long programmatic change in a Philippine educational system which does not account for indigeneity. However, the DepEd takes a different view, believing that this indigenization of the Basic Education Curriculum was a venue to “allow IPs to embrace the Basic Education Curriculum (BEC) while preserving their cultural heritage and traditions” (Lapus 2008). How was the effort to develop an Indigenous Peoples Curriculum reduced to an indigenization of the existing BEC–Alternative Learning System(ALS) curriculum of the Dep-Ed?

IP Core Curriculum design and content

The IP Core Curriculum was a special project under the leadership of the Dep-Ed Bureau of Alternative Learning System [BALS]. It was foreign-funded and initially developed to provide IPs with the needed learning values and life skills in the development and protection of their ancestral domains and their cultures. A learner from a certain indigenous cultural community is expected to go through this curriculum with consciousness of the whole context or process to be undertaken and to apply learning to his or her specific community. This curriculum development program was a response to the clamor of some IP leaders for an IP Core Curriculum after Dep-Ed conducted a series of consultations and dialogues with various stakeholders, local IP leaders, ALS implementers, and IP educators. The dialogues revealed the following: a) the DepEd basic formal education and non-formal education curricula do not respond to the specific needs of IPs; b) IPs are seldom or never consulted in developing the curriculum to suit their peculiar educational needs; c) formal schools and non-formal education sessions continue to use English and Tagalog, rather than IP languages, as the medium of instruction; and d) IP curricula offered by other organizations and mission schools are not recognized by DepEd (see Department of Education–Bureau of Alternative Learning System [BALS] 2006).

totemWith functional literacy as a goal, the IP Core Curriculum sought to develop the following learning strands and competencies aimed at locating IP contributions to national development: communication skills; problem solving and critical thinking; development of self and a sense of community; practice of ecological sustainable economics; expanding one’s world view and Mothercraft Pagsasarili (Department of Education – Bureau of Alternative Learning System [BALS] 2006). The learning competencies of this curriculum were drawn from the existing DepEd-ALS curriculum for basic literacy at the elementary and secondary levels. The curriculum focused on the following areas which are conceived as core concerns of IPs: family life, health, sanitation and nutrition, civic consciousness, economics and income, and environment.

While the learning strands and competencies were subjected to a series of focused group discussions and validation workshops with leaders and various IP stakeholders, such activities were only consultative in nature, following an already structured procedure (NCIP Annual Report 2005, 32). A Dep-Ed policy was issued in 2010 which provided for the development and pilot-testing of the IP core curriculum and instructional materials for Alternative Learning System (ALS) nationwide (DepEd Order No. 101, series of 2010). This issuance allowed for the further development of the Generic Core Curriculum for IPs on Alternative Learning, a project supported by UNESCO. The curriculum was pilot tested in IP communities from 2005-2007 with a budget of PhP 67,381.25 and direct cost of PhP 58,592.39 for each site. Pilot testing was undertaken to validate and/or improve the already prepared core curriculum with its learning materials. Other than pilot testing, this core curriculum had modules with corresponding instructional materials, reference guides, and facilitators’ manuals which were translated by the IPs and subjected to a series of focused group discussions, rigorous scrutiny,and refinements, both in the field and at the policy-making levels.

This lengthy and meticulous process served to strengthen the OECH view for IP education where the indigenous communities at large are themselves considered as constituting the entire school. The OECH also advocated the choice of IP language as medium of instruction which is well in keeping with DepEd Order No. 74, series of 2009 on the “Institutionalization of Mother-Tongue Based Multilingual Education.”

The content of the IP Core Curriculum shows that it largely indigenizes the pre-existing curriculum of the Department of Education, and is perhaps the very basis for Education Secretary Brother Armin Luistro’s claim that the curriculum content was revised to deliver the core education goals of IPRA (Ina Hernando-Malipot, “DepEd develops curriculum for indigenous peoples,” Manila Bulletin, September 15, 2010). But  closer examination of the curriculum content brings to the surface certain curricular hitches and complications. We can grant good intentions in this attempt to indigenize an existing curriculum, but the target outcomes (what an IP will manifest after undergoing this curriculum) might end up faulty or incoherent because the curriculum design is not founded on an indigenous learning system or structure, thus delivering mixed messages to teachers and students alike. Take the case of communication skills, where the core areas do not reflect indigenous or traditional formulations (e.g., roles in existing rituals and other affairs that promote community well-being) and the terminal objectives are derived from the national development directive that the IP must make his or her own contribution to Philippine national formation. The indigenization intent failed to change the philosophy of the curriculum, ending up as a structured remedial intervention for IPs in the Philippines.

Needless to say, its intervention works to perpetuate hegemonic tendencies in the IP Core Curriculum.

An important problem with the curriculum has to do with its configuration of IP knowledge and practices. The curriculum acknowledges the existence of such knowledge and practices but does not provide the changing or evolutionary character of traditional practices and belief systems. The contemporary relevance of the IP Core Curriculum may need to capture well the changing views of IPs about their kin relations vis-a-vis the conduct of community rituals and the changing views of IPs on the use and management of their natural resources.

If the curriculum is supposed to deliver functional outcomes, cultural traditions should be viewed as evolving entities and not static forms. Functional outcomes need to be drawn systematically from well-articulated vision and goals of changing IP communities, e.g., as expressed or formulated in traditional settings during community ceremonies or in well-defined development plans. While the objectives of the curriculum articulates a strong ‘conceptual support’ to the needs of IPs by emphasizing the relationship between the indigenous peoples and their culture/ ancestral domains, the indigenized content of the curriculum is too weak in its present form to deliver on this goal.

An indigenous peoples core curriculum for national development?

Since the curriculum followed a structured indigenization process allowing IP knowledges and ways/systems of learning to be subsumed under Western learning categories and designs, the learning outcomes will continue to be measured in terms of mainstream society’s expectations. Competency is still measured using non-indigenous indicators such as scientific thinking, scientific values, and interpersonal skills. Such expected outcomes still perpetuate the dominant nationalist paradigm for developmental education. The institutions created by the State, such as the DepEd for pedagogical purposes, dispense bureaucratic power that perpetuates the historic colonial past institutions that continue to pursue the integrationist and meliorist aims of, say, the Commission on National Integration (CNI) in 1957.

The five learning strands of the IP Core Curriculum contain competencies developed from a ‘state integrationist thrust’. Thus far, the contents and pedagogy are removed from the ways in which the indigenous peoples of the Philippines have constructed their social, cultural and natural worlds. While the IP Education Framework developed by the OECH has strongly articulated the indigenousness of the IP Education programs, the IP Core Curriculum as seen in the curricular content does not deliver this. The expected competencies could have been anchored on collective aspirations of indigenous communities, some of which are already officially articulated in the Indigenous Peoples’ Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development Plan (ADSDPP). For it to be meaningful, the IP Core Curriculum should be culturally constructed away from the National Basic Curriculum framework.

The intended goals and the learning strands do not match. In effect, the curriculum was formulated to incorporate, partially, the knowledges of IPs that are determined to be not detrimental to national development goals. It remains a challenge for the IP Core Curriculum to consider the usefulness of important evolving indigenous and traditional knowledge systems that allow IPs to become strategic actors in a changing world, and not as objects of development programs or subjects of tribalized tourism.

Programs aimed at indigenizing the Philippine education system have thus far been about improvements directed at ameliorating and advancing the current bureaucratic practices.

In the Philippines, homegrown or locally developed programs appear to have better chances of sustainability. The case of the SILDAP-assisted schools of Davao City in southern Philippines is a case in point. The dynamic conceptualization of several community primary schools was driven by the need of the communities themselves after several activities that helped the communities to come up with a well-conceived community development plan. IP education was envisioned to play a vital role in the continuity of traditional values and practices needed for their survival in their ancestral domain, so the concept of IP school program was developed around the desire of IP leaders for the revitalization of their traditions and in keeping with their heritage. An IP curriculum, along with instructional materials in local languages, was developed and revised a number of times. After several schools were established, the curriculum was approved by the Dep-Ed. Both the management structure and the curriculum came into sight as the education program was being developed. After some years of assistance, the community schools were co-managed by the communities and the LGU. Community ownership of the schools was crucial to their sustainability.
Dr. Leah Abayao is assistant professor of history in UP Baguio. Email her at [email protected]

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