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Robert B. Beñas

· Volume I Issue IV

Reality happens in most of our schools in the country. This article aimed to revisit our national education system and give its readers an idea what this so-called ‘reality’ means. Because I, like Paulo Freire and some of you, believes that:

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world”

In a Third World nation or in a country like the Philippines which struggles much with societal issues including poverty, education can already be the most precious gem one can attain. Filipinos view education with high regard. In fact, the Philippines has become a central destination especially for learners of English as a second language. In the results of 2013 Business English Index, which measures business English proficiency, Philippines, among all the countries in the world attained the highest median score. Philippines has become a prime source of English education for its Asian neighbors. Thousands of students from all over the world flock to the country because of its low tuition rates and reasonable cost of living. Well, education and change can be intertwined vis-à-vis. Education is transformational. “Education system may keep on changing and at the same time changes lives. That is why people work so hard to become educated,” Rice (2001) said. In lieu with this, it has not been long since former President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino Jr. has authorized the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013 or commonly known as K-12 Curriculum. It is a momentous Philippine educational reform achievement of the decade as well as an ironic move. In the Philippine curriculum history, similar program has rooted and was already implemented during the Marcos regime, a known rival of the Aquinos. I hate to end up by concluding that education system in the country is also under political manipulation, but one thing is for sure, the Philippine curriculum as it was before up to this date is dancing cha-cha. “Always refer back to history” as the maxim goes.

K-12 program indicates the positive outlook of the government to bring the country into line with the international standards of education. Moreover, UNESCO listed the Philippines as, not until 2013, was the last in Asia and was one of the only three in the world with a 10-year pre-university primary education. The implementation of 13 years of basic education aims to bestow students with a more substantial basic foundation that will allow them to complete in a more regional and global sense. And I quote Lea Salen Peralta, an ASEAN correspondent from the country saying “the realities and challenges of globalization necessitated ASEAN to forward a more internationally recognized systemof higher education that hopes to entail a more potent instrument to combat extreme poverty, food shortages, environmental degradation, human rights violations and sustainable development hurdles which permeate its member states.”

In light of these, does the Philippines gone so ambitious at par trying to go vis-à-vis with neighboring nations? Not to compare, but whatever then the response, it leaves a big question mark to whether K-12 is the key or padlock to success and if education for every Juan dela Cruz really a privilege or a right? The answer lies to those who at least attain the sweet fruit of education which referred to as “pamana” (inheritance).

Education for Every Juan: Tracking the Philippine Laws and Losses

The State shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels, and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all,” this is how the 1987 Constitution states its Article 1 under provisions on education. Furthermore, in its Section 5, it has been said that “the State shall assign the highest budgetary priority to education and ensure that teaching will attract and retain its rightful share of the best available talents through adequate remuneration and other means of job satisfaction and fulfillment.” This is evident in a budget tracking from fiscal year 2016 showing that Department of Education got 14.4% of shares amounting to Php. 501.81B which even soar high during 2017 budget appropriation which goes 16.9% of the total budget share or equivalent to Php. 567.6B. ( Contrary to that, DepEd only got Php. 528.8B for the fiscal year 2019, a little bit lower from that of 2017 and 2018 budgets. Php. 800M of it is “for teachers’ allowance which will be given on World Teachers’ Day” ( On the same year marks the full-blown implementation of free tuition for state universities and colleges around the country. Started school year 2018-2019, the government had shouldered the tuition fees of students enrolled in 112 state universities and colleges, 78 local universities and colleges, and technical-vocational (tech-voc) education and training programs registered under the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA). This is in connection to the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Republic Act No. 10931 or the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act which also includes provisions detailing how students can avail of loans and other subsidies to help fund their tertiary education. Hoping that this will give way to remedy the roster of dropout rate and out-of-school children and youths (OSCYs) soaring problem.

In an in-depth dealing with the issue, one in every 10 Filipinos aged 6 to 24 years is an out of school child and youth, a study-survey of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed. The 2016 Annual Poverty Indicators Survey (APIS) which was published in 2017 also backed this up showing the country has about 3.8 million OSCYs or about 10% of the 39 million Filipinos with an age range six to 24 years old. Most of this number belongs to ethnic group minorities and are indigenous people. According to Amnesty International Journal, there are 370 million indigenous peoples in the world that are clustered to 5000 various groups. Seventy percent are in Asia. In the Philippines, indigenous peoples make up an estimated 17 million of the country’s population. The United Nations reports that majority of these peoples are situated in Northern Luzon and in Mindanao while some spread out in Visayas. APIS, one of the annual activities under PSA is a nationwide survey that presents data on the socioeconomic profile of Filipino families, and other information that relates to their living conditions. It is designed to provide inputs to the development of an integrated poverty indicator and monitoring system in the country. It covered around 11,000 sample households. Turn outs are as follow: the most common reasons among OSCYs for not attending schools were marriage or family matters (42.3%), high cost of education or financial concerns (20.2%) and lack of personal interest (19.7%). Truly that the government has gone so far yet so near to combat illiteracy. With the aforementioned reasons, indeed, there is so much more to do.

Education and Indigenous People: Into the Mirror of Indigenous Peoples’ Education (IPEd) Chances and Hindrances

Although a concrete and universal definition of “indigenous” is uncertain, there is an understanding that indigenous people differ from the dominant groups in the society for a reason that they possess “a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories.” They have a distinctive social, economic and political system and carry with them a firmness to preserve their culture and conserve their ancestral environments. However, indigenous peoples face multifarious problems and hindrances. They are often displaced from their lands, are relegated as second-class members of society, and are alienated from the spread of capitalism. These unpleasant ‘realities’ continue to exist. These distressing actualities can be majorly attributed to the deprivation of access to quality education for indigenous communities. The design of education programs must weigh up the special needs of these communities. Indigenous students cannot thrive well in mainstream education methods that do not take into account indigenous culture. Therefore, due to the diversity of indigenous peoples, a system that assumes universality will not only be ill-fitting but also be disastrous for them.

Now, you might be asking what approach is then appropriate. A tailored model that promotes human rights, gender sensitivity and especially “indigenous perspectives, innovations and practices in an environment that replicates traditional ways of learning” (United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, para. 4) might have utility in the proliferation of a competitive indigenous education. The United Nations Inter-Agency Support Group emphasizes that the “most effective way is to work in a community-based, bottom-up manner to ensure that infrastructure, pedagogical materials and curricula meet the sometimes-unique needs of indigenous teachers, learners and their communities” (United Nations Inter-Agency Support Group, p.2).

As a result, the government overhauled the education system to adhere to international standards that are perpetuated by ASEAN, the Department of Education (DepEd) adopted the Indigenous Peoples Education Curriculum Framework which enunciates “guidance to schools and other education programs as they engage with indigenous communities in contextualizing the K-12 Curriculum” (Republic of the Philippines- Department of Education, 2015, para. 1). This DepEd order, which is a product of numerous consultations with elders, leaders and initiators of community-based indigenous learning, recognizes the right that indigenous peoples have for a culturally sensitive and responsive education. This will serve more than a million indigenous students in public schools and in community and civil society organization-managed schools. The curriculum is tailored on the distinctive attributes of indigenous communities: (a) the ancestral domain; (b) the worldview of the community and; (c) indigenous cultural institutions. Additionally, the framework takes into account the vernacular languages of the learners with the implementation of Mother Tongue-based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE). This approach allows the reinforcement and supplementation of Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices (IKSPs) and Indigenous Learning System.

According to DepEd, the curriculum seeks to enable “indigenous learners to be future culture-bearers capable of exercising their right to self-determination as they interact with other cultures.” Moreover, this also promotes inclusion, participation and empowerment. But then again, underneath these provisions are distressing hindrances. Who actually are expert of one’s cultures? Are these correctly taken into accounts as reflected in the school’s materials such as books and the like? If it so, are they written in the correct vernacular languages’ orthography? Absolutely, we can’t afford to draw confusions like claiming Cordillerans are Aetas as well.


Indigenous peoples in the Philippines continue to struggle breaking prejudices and stereotypes that are assigned to those of different cultures and geographical spaces. However, it might be best to keep an optimistic outlook for their future. Hopefully, in the years to come, the government will persevere in supporting an appropriate education for indigenous learners.

I, as an indigenous teacher of indigenous learners, could sense the effort of the government to further fortify its commitment to indigenous education by promulgating the guidelines on the conduct of activities and use of materials involving aspects of indigenous peoples in the initiative of Secretary Leonor Magtolis Briones, an adopted daughter of Kalinga and Apayao. Aside from that, it is evident that DepEd has also intensified its recognition to private educational institutions that serve learners from indigenous communities.

Finally, to strengthen the education of millions of indigenous peoples in the Philippines will be vital for the country, especially in the context of the ASEAN integration. An education curriculum that is anchored on the Filipino culture will be crucial in maintaining the indigenous identities to prevent the erosion of local stories, beliefs and traditions. A competitive model that allows for these peoples to participate in a broader scope will be beneficial not only for the indigenous communities themselves but also for the entire country as nurturing of their abilities and capabilities will contribute to the overall development of the Philippines.