|An upland community shows a way forward|
|Wednesday, 28 July 2010|
Learning Sustainable Life, a book about the Pulangiyen community's effort in integrating multi-lingual education (MLE) as part of their development and peace process, was launched last 23 July 2010 at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) in Makati City.
For the community itself, the impact goes deeper as the education APC
provides is the Pulangiyen's only opportunity to benefit from formal education. Thus the parents and children consider this education as more than just an academic experience, but as a way to strengthen their cultural identity. A number of APC students completed the basic education cycle in APC and have entered the mainstream public high schools.
Dr De Jesus further noted that, "those wholabored in the vineyard can take comfort that there is an opportunity to expand the program. The documentation of these innovations can allow other indigenous groups to take the ideas and start their own culture-based education systems. It helps institutions advocating for MLE to gain strength and reaffirmation of the difference that these institutions can make in indigenous communities."
Pedro Walpole, SJ, the book's author and Executive Director of APC, shared a brief explanation of the book and some stories from the community, noting that the engagement process underlying cultural empowerment presents opportunities for enrichment in society.
Reiterating the introduction from the book, Fr Walpole shared that "our culture and community are the starting points of our education. This is why we call it mother language."
Excerpts from Fr Walpole's presentation:
In the Philippines, there is a high dropout rate in elementary and high school in the Philippines because the myth of going to school runs out by the 2nd or 3rd grade. Students cannot bluff their way anymore by Grade 2 because they do not understand what the teacher is saying. When kids drop out of school, they essentially drop out of society. APC works with kids that have not even entered society yet.
We move so fast in education and curriculum and we do not take stock where students come from. I live in an area with five different armed groups who visit us sometimes. So we negotiate by saying we have 100 kids studying in the community and we request all groups to pass another way. Of the 40 sitios serviced by the school since 1992, only the community in Bendum has not evacuated. The rest are forced to evacuate to avoid the armed struggles affecting their sitio. The identification of Bendum as a center of education in Upper Pulangi has given the community a level of stability.
Bendum is a place that local people want to protect for its environment at all cost. It is also an area that the mineral industry treasures. At the same time, its community is ranked within the bottom 10 of the Human Development Index. We saw our first nurse in 1999, the first visiting government official who did not carry a gun.
Culture-based education is best exemplified by the story of Apu Palamguwan, who dreamt that his children would someday learn to write stories of his people. Apu Pangsulat is another mythical character in the Pulangiyen culture who knew how to write. The book cover shows Apu Palamguwan and his dream and is in a wall mural displayed at the main hall of the school that the students and teachers drew.
The stories of Apu Palamguwan and Apu Pangsulat may be considered as just myths, but in anthropology, myth is the greater truth, not the untruth. Connecting the school principles with Apu Palamguwan is how the community learned to see the value of education when we started. Apart from learning how to read and write, another value they see is learning mathematics, to learn how to trade. Using lamps at night, we read government documents, studied business transactions, and learned how to communicate with local governments. In retrospect, this is how many schools began, from the daily context of local communities.
Culture-based MLE entails putting concepts together experientially and using the mother tongue as the medium of instruction. Once students grasp the basic concepts, then it is just a matter of enriching these concepts in different languages other than one's own. Now, APC students who enter high school are able to catch up in the basic subjects, even if they are a little behind in English and Filipino.
Education in APC is not just for the individual student but for the whole community, so that they can stand as one community. With these education principles, we are hopefully beginning a process.
With 15 digestible sections discussing education under the main categories of culture and environment, the book provides examples of other education systems in the margins of Philippine society.
The Pulangiyen is also called the Bukid-non, but the term Bukid-non is the name given them by lowlanders, which translates as ‘people of the mountain'. The Pulangiyen name themselves after the river they most relate, the Pulangi. This way of naming is similar to the root word for the Tagalog, taga-Ilog. It took us 17 years to find the meaning of Pulangi which means river in Cotabato.
But according to the Pulangiyen elders, the root word of Pulangi is "pulang," which means to sit up all night and wait to resolve a dispute. "Nalandangan" is another old Pulangiyen term that refers to the traditional process of peace-making which was already documented in Philippine history circa 1800s. These days, the more common conflict resolution process in Mindanao is "magahat," or to cut off the opponent's head.
So, we are not just developing an educational framework, but also a cultural framework where not just language is upheld, but also culture. Thus, if education goes beyond language and becomes culture-based, then education will much likely enrich any peace initiative.
Peace is about active communication and interrelation of people. Given the country's 7100+ islands and 100+ languages, we need culture to establish productive peace. We need this type of education to integrate peoples of the Philippines with integrity, and not through assimilation in the national economy from the bottom, which is the industrial revolution approach to integration.
Educational support is needed not just for those who excel, but also for those who can help our society in reconciling with creation. Learning from indigenous cultures may help us re-learn this lost spirituality.Click here to view the Gallery of the event.