Pandemic highlights must bridge education system and Indigenous culture

By Karl P. Quilal-lan

TALAINGOD, Davao del Norte (MindaNews/September 25) – The adoption by the Department of Education (DepEd) of the modular distance learning approach in places like Sitio Igang in Brgy. Sto. Niño in Talaingod, Davao del Norte, where online classes are impossible, has compounded the difficulties for learners.

This is how Bernalin Mansiwagan, a 28-year-old teacher from the Ata Manobo tribe, assessed the method used in many fields in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Naglisod naman gani kaayo ang mga bata tong F-to-F pa, she said, “unsa nalang kaha karon? Karon nga papel ra’y nasa atubangan sa bata, wala’y madungog, wala’y makita’g masundog sa atubangan” (Children had serious difficulties even when it was still face to face, how much more these days? Now that there are only papers in front of them, nothing to listen to, and nothing to observe and imitate in front of them. them).

Bernalin cited that these difficulties have existed since the construction of concrete schools. On the one hand, she observed that such environments did not stimulate learning. Rather than welcoming them, the walled-in classrooms only confused students.

“It’s not a place where they fit naturally, so it may not inspire motivation to learn,” she continued.

And that’s just when they walked into the classroom. It became more difficult when they were introduced to Western learning concepts.

Public school teacher Bernalin Mansiwagan rides a motorcycle to get around. MindaNews photo courtesy of KARL P. QUILAL-LAN

“Yes, A is for AppleBernalin said, “but that doesn’t exist in our community. If only A was for Am bothen they would have known it meant ratand the thought process could have been a foundation.

As with the alphabet, so were numbers and arithmetic, symbols and procedures. The objects and ideas used in their upbringing compromised their cultural perceptions, philosophies and practices. Thus, the essence of amplifying the learning process with examples and representations then became ineffective.

“Ata Manobo children only try to learn when they feel they are ready and their parents can see they are ready to learn,” Bernalin noted.

“They watch their fathers hunt in the mountains. They watch their mothers tinker Liyangs (baskets). When they are ready, children join their parents in their practice,” she added.

Now imagine the context of today’s modular learning approach.

The world they knew was not in harmony with the world taught in school. “We needed a bridge! said Bernardine. She believed that connecting the two worlds is the key to a nurturing educational experience. But she said it must be a shared responsibility.

Everyone must do their part. “Grabe na’g tinambling-tumbling ang maistra para makat-on lang ang bata,” she said, “pero naa gihapo’y kulang. (Teachers are already trying so hard to make sure children can learn, but something is still missing.)

Seeing that adversities have surfaced in the fundamental premises of learning, relevant sectors have responded by developing policies aimed at contextualizing Indigenous peoples’ education and reconciling Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices (IKSP) with the principles contemporary education. And although the process was arduous, this initiative has been extended to the writing of today’s learning modules. The promotion of IKSPs in the modular learning approach has been attempted.

Bernalin was invited to be one of the authors of adaptations conforming to the Ata Manobo culture. Unfortunately, efforts to validate this “localized” content have yet to be implemented. She understood that although the intention is laudable, the delay due to the need for a thorough review of the proposed documents cannot be ignored. And so the plight of the students persists.

“The responsibility for learning now rests solely with the students,” she said, “and it’s sad to know.”

In the interest of continuity in learning, the distribution of materials continued. But the content reflected in the Sitio Igang Ata Manobo student learning modules remains identical to the standard material used for all in the DepEd. This meant that the difficulties students had previously were not fully addressed, just “reformatted” during the pandemic.

“But at least it’s already there,” Bernalin said, sounding optimistic.

Even though the modular approach in the delivery of education may have added insult to injury, she argued that its implementation has also produced potential remedies for the future of Ata Manobo education.

The author, Karl P. Quilal-lan (L), with Bernalin Mansiwagan at her home in Purok Tibi-tibi, Barangay Sto. Niño in Talaingod, Davao del Norte. MindaNews photo courtesy of KARL P. QUILAL-LAN

With printed learning materials and the availability of “contextualized” educational content, learning and teaching can become a mere impetus for students and teachers upon eventual return to the classroom. As students progress through the program, this could reorganize their learning expectations and reduce unfamiliarity, which teachers previously saw as a significant problem.

“This access to tangible references at home is a step forward towards building this bridge“, said Bernardin. Moreover, the pandemic may have heralded a solution regarding the limits of the efforts of teachers in the inclusive development of their students.

She said unlike before, teachers and parents now have a stronger relationship. At Sitio Igang, Fridays mark the school receiving completed learning modules and releasing new content to engage students the following week. And since primary school students are considered an at-risk population, parents were asked to claim and submit their children’s papers.

This regular interaction paved the way for the inclusion of parents as actors in the education of their children. From now on, parents are encouraged to be actively present in the progress of their children. A much fuller connection had morphed from what was then limited to student-teacher interactivity. In this regard, Bernalin said that “it’s a novelty for Ata Manobo’s parents here… but it’s a good thing”.

Finally, to ensure the presence of teachers despite the distance, regular interventions and consultations were set up to help Ata Manobo students who had difficulty keeping up, such as the “Gabay Tinig » program in the school where Bernalin teaches.

She feels that this practice of not leaving a child behind could be replicated in the face-to-face approach to better meet students’ needs.

According to her, the Kapwa The right (to unity) is alive after all, the pandemic not reducing it to a simple courtesy.

“It’s slowly coming together,” she said. “We’re getting there.” (Karl P. Quilal-lan for MindaNews)

Janice G. Ball