Towards culturally responsive education for IP learners

Thursday, October 6, 2016

PASIG CITY, October 5, 2016 – Education has been a double-edged experience for indigenous cultural communities (ICCs) and indigenous youth nationwide. On one hand, it has enabled community members, young and old, to interact with the wider Philippine society through the skills needed in relating with government agencies and other institutions. On the other hand, schooling experience has been traumatic for many indigenous youth, with discrimination of their identities and cultures being one major reason, albeit hidden, for several generations of dropouts among them.

From 2000 onwards, ICCs in partnership with various civil society groups have heightened the advocacy for a culturally responsive education for indigenous peoples (IP) learners in our national education system. Community-based education implementers highlight the need for the Department of Education (DepEd) to respond to the specific learning context of indigenous communities, consistent with their education vision and aspirations.

This advocacy, and the dialogue between DepEd and ICCs that followed, gave birth to the Indigenous Peoples Education (IPEd) Policy Framework that was adopted through Department Order No. 62, s. 2011 (DO62). The said policy framework paved the way for the establishment of the IPEd Program of DepEd. The thrust of the IPEd Program to promote a culture-based curriculum was bolstered in 2013 by the enactment of Republic Act No. 10533 or Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013 which calls for a culture-sensitive and contextualized curriculum. These two policy documents are major bases for the issuance of Department Order No. 32, s. 2015 or the IPEd Curriculum Framework, which seeks to guide schools and other education programs in contextualizing and enhancing the K to 12 Curriculum based on the respective educational and social contexts of IP learners.

Several regions provide snapshots of how IPEd is reaching our country’s learners.

Northern Mindanao Region

Region X is home to nine ICCs: the Higaonon, the Manobo, the Kamiguin, the Tigwahanon, the Talaandig, the Subanen, the Matigsalog, the Umayamnon, and the Bukidnon.

Regional enrolment data between 2013 and 2016 show an almost 100 percent increase in IP learners in elementary and secondary levels. One major reason identified for this sudden jump is the openness now of more learners to declare their ethnicity, whereas in previous years they were afraid to divulge their cultural identity.

Region X joins 14 other regions nationwide in contextualizing the K to 12 curriculum in relation to the respective ICCs being served in the region.  Teachers involved as writers of indigenized lesson plans realize the importance of being immersed in the community’s situation and culture to be able to contextualize lessons effectively. In line with this thrust, DepEd trained identified teachers to dialogue with community elders, allowing them to have a clearer grasp of how to interrelate Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices (IKSPs) with the competencies in the K to 12 curriculum.

Region X took the initiative to contextualize the K to 12 curriculum for IPEd until Grade 3, two grade levels more than initially targeted for 2016. Teachers and school heads coming from schools with 70 to 100 percent IP learners are undergoing training for IPEd implementation. The Region also recently opened forty (40) new public schools in several provinces to reach far-flung communities with IP learners.


The Schools Division of Sarangani in Region XII has 39,686 IP learners, who comprise approximately 40 percent of the total elementary school enrollment in the region. Learners mainly come from Blaan, Tagakaolo, and Tboli communities.

The IKSPs of the communities where the learners come from are being documented, in close collaboration with elders and culture bearers, to serve as basis for developing instructional materials to be used in Mother Tongue-based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) from Kinder to Grade 3.

In South Cotabato, home to Tboli and Blaan communities, the DepEd Schools Division of South Cotabato and the ICCs are formulating their IPEd Framework which highlights the agreements reached by both parties on the implementation of IPEd in the province. This shall be launched on October 21, 2016. Tboli and Blaan culture-based lesson plans are also being finalized for use by thirty-six (36) schools with learners who all belong to ICCs and five (5) newly-established schools also serving IP learners.

The Tboli Sbu Senior High School, a stand-alone senior high school in Lake Sebu, is in its second year of operations, catering to twenty five (25) Grade 11 students and forty (40) Grade 12 students. The school has six Tboli teachers. In Grade 12, courses like eco-tourism, livelihood management, brass casting, sustainable crop production, loom/tnalak weaving, embroidery, bead making, and wood carving are offered. The Ateneo de Davao University, in partnership with DepEd, is capacitating the teachers through the provision of technical assistance and mentoring sessions.

Region XI and CAR

Since 2013, DepEd Region XI has been conducting trainings and seminar-workshops on IPEd implementation every third and fourth quarters of the year.

As key players in IPEd, teachers and school heads assigned in schools with IP learners are continuously retooled. Learnings from trainings are sustained through Communities of Practice (CoP) and complemented by learning visits to schools already implementing IPEd. Region XI has also underwent the initial process of contextualizing lesson plans, which includes the field testing of draft lesson plans and demonstration teaching in the presence of IP elders.

Implementing IPEd on a regional scale is a challenge that the DepEd-Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) has taken on, especially with the recognition that the region is comprised of ancestral domains. To provide regional directions and coordinate the efforts of its divisions, it formulated an IPEd Roadmap for 2011-2016. Among its regional efforts were the mass retooling of schools whose learners are all IPs and the capacity building of Education Program Supervisors (EPS) and Public School District Supervisors on IPEd implementation. The DepEd-CAR shall be launching its Regional IPEd Roadmap for 2016-2022 on October 3, 2016.

The DepEd-CAR has also initiated the formulation of cultural standards in dialogue with elders from the various divisions. These cultural standards are now being used by the DepEd-CAR Learning Resources Management and Development System (LRMDS) in assessing the cultural accuracy, appropriateness, and sensitivity of learning materials. Aside from contextualizing lesson plans from Kinder to Grade 3 regionwide, the region has extended its efforts to Grade 7.

With the concerted efforts of all regions to contextualize the curriculum in relation to the realities of our country’s ICCs, schools are in the process of making the words “culturally responsive” and “culture-sensitive” a real experience for IP learners and communities nationwide.