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Tribal language lessons help children appreciate their heritage

Tribal children learn that A is for 'arat,' not 'apple'

Angelina Ortiz teaches a class in Mindanao Angelina Ortiz teaches a class in Mindanao
  • Maurice Malanes, Compostela Valley
  • Philippines
  • November 5, 2012
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While much of the world pushes for more English language education, communities in rural Mindanao are recognizing the power of  locally based lessons.

“The first letter I introduce is P for ‘pasak,’” teacher Angelina Ortiz said. ‘Pasak’ means land or farm in the indigenous Mandaya and Magsaka languages.

"Then I introduce my pupils to how they are related to the land and to various objects, plants and animals within their pasak”  Ortiz said, herself a member of the Mansaka tribe.

After pasak, the students learn "A for arat,” a farm equipment to harvest rice; "B for batad" (upland corn); "C for camote" (sweet potato); and "D for dagmay" (handwoven garment of the Mansaka and Mandaya tribes).

Ortiz says this system encourages students  to appreciate their community’s way of life, farming cycles, belief systems and traditional values.

Ortiz is among the early teachers of “holistic indigenous education,” pioneered by Sildap, an organization established by Catholic priests and tribal activists who witnessed the discrimination suffered by indigenous children in mainstream schools.

Starting in 1982, the group opened 15 schools across Mindanao.

Even though funding issues have forced many of these schools to be turned over to the government, Sildap’s mission has gained ground.

In 2009, former Education Secretary Jesli Lapus issued an order to institutionalize mother tongue-based multilingual education across all public schools. The children now speak their local language, as well as Filipino and Cebuano. English has been the medium of instruction in all schools in the Philippines.

“Our indigenous curriculum used to be suspect,” Ortiz said. “Because our schools were in remote areas, we were suspected of teaching the children of rebels."

Under the order, mother tongue-based multilingual education was implemented last June with the beginning of the new school year. Twelve languages are now used as a medium of instruction: Tagalog, Kapampangan, Pangasinense, Iloko, Bikol, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Waray, Tausug, Maguindanaoan, Maranao and Chabacano.

Ortiz says the order was influenced by advocates of the indigenous curriculum like Sildap.

Having gained the government's attention, Ortiz is encouraged to press for more reforms in the educational system and for government to fully integrate the indigenized curriculum to the public school system.

Her organization recently submitted proposals to the Department of Education and is lobbying Congress to fully integrate the curriculum in schools in tribal areas.

"It helps [students] regain their pride in their own culture and identity," she says.

Ortiz says her way of teaching is part of the “indigenized or indigenous curriculum.” She has been using the curriculum since 1987 and noted "positive impacts" on the children.

“During special days, like the school’s foundation anniversary, the children are not shy to wear their traditional clothes and they take pride in dancing their tribal dances and playing their indigenous musical instruments,” she says.

“They are also more assertive now than before,” she adds.

Before, children from indigenous communities were hesitant to open their packed lunch of sweet potato and yam because lowlanders would laugh at them.

“But with proper orientation that sweet potato, yam, and other root crops are energy foods and better than processed ones, our indigenous children have taken pride in their ‘tribal diet,’” Ortiz says.

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