“ We can’t afford to send our children to formal schools in the town proper. Our source of living relies on these mountains. I dreamed, that one day, we can have our own schools right here. And I’m thankful ,it has happened now”, Nanay Nena in her 50’s and a mother of six explained in the Manobo dialect. Her statement simply reflects how Lumad in the hinterlands yearn for education suited to their condition.
Traversing the mountainous portion of Lianga, San Agustin, Marihatag and Tago, municipalities of Surigao del Sur, dwells the almost 30 indigenous Manobo communities under Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumunod (MAPASU)or the Persevering Struggle in the Next Generation. These communities are located sporadically near each other at the heart of Andap Valley Complex, which is known for being rich in natural resources. And for many years, lumad endured terrible situations brought by threats of development aggressions. Their resistance to such conditions led them to strengthen their unity. They have survived four massive evacuations since 2004. According to Datu Ondaw, “Our schools became our inspirations in strengthening our resolve during those tragic days of evacuations. Losing our schools means losing our generations.”
The historical struggle of Lumad in defense of their ancestral land have cultivated the sincerity of community members and leaders in working for the benefit of their tribe. It puts them in a platform of seeing education instrumental to their unity. With bitter experiences under the current oppressive and repressive society, the more they embrace education that would nurture ancestral land in the most human way and mold children to participate in creating a democratic and just world with critical minds and a creative perspective. Most Lumad in the said communities prefer to practice and participate in the process of creating genuine development for their indigenous communities. Education’s responsibility should respond in accordance to this context from the peoples’ perspective and resolve.
These are the challenges of ALCADEV in its educational innovations for the Lumad youth that involves community members and leaders founded within the context of their current socio-economic, political and cultural conditions, which are different from usual mainstream education. Indeed, it is an alternative education with a holistic educational approach that responds to the needs of the people.
Tailoring curriculum after community’s need
ALCADEV doesn’t train lumad youth into a predictable mindset shaped by a capitalist world view reflected in a standardized curriculum. Neither does it shape them into robotic minds where their active participation becomes an agent of stagnating communities that do not progress. Instead, learners are trained to do things that emerge from their life experiences, creativity, active participation in social responsibility and genuine and just democratic processes.
The unique and diverse characteristics of indigenous peoples orLumad is considered by ALCADEV in outlining its system of knowledge and skills. Lumads are essentially dependent on their lands in ensuring survival of their families and communities . ALCADEV’s goal is to equip indigenous youth with relevant knowledge, skills and values to be able to improve the quality of life in their communities.
ALCADEV designed a specialized curriculum that is culturally appropriate and focused on different agricultural and livelihood skills. Basic health, teaching literacy and numeracy and community development work skills are also incorporated in the eight subjects while the learners’ intellectual capacities are also enhanced during the four years in school.
The learning center is a venue for leadership formation. Learners are housed in the school’s dormitory. They live in a very dynamic way where they can freely exercise leadership and responsibilities among themselves. The occasional conflicts within the school are considered part of the learning process for individual growth. Learners are trained to define school policies, initiate planning and resolve conflicts based on their defined guiding principles.
Integrating sustainable agriculture in an alternative learning system
Learners have to wake up early and work in the farm every 5:00 o’clock to 7:00 o’clock in the morning. Each year level is entrusted with a farm area to cultivate. This served as a venue for them to practice agricultural skills and knowledge learned from their agriculture subject.
Each learner has their own garden plot to take care every afternoon. The rest of the hours are spent on academic enhancements. Farm produce is used for the learner’s food consumption in school. Each year level will focus on a core skill in agriculture. A course on Scientific and Sustainable Agriculture Farming Management is taught to first year learners. Knowledge and skills in animal husbandry are enhanced in the students’ second year. They get to know more about processes of organic fertilizers, feeds -making and pesticide-making in the third year. Intensification of health and other appropriate community development skills are also given emphasis in this stage of learning.
A special community practicum program is designed for the year four learners. They will undergo different trainings and workshops for community development work which they are going to apply during the community practicum. They can either be a literacy and numeracy teachers, community health care workers or community para-agriculturists. This is also the stage where learners undergo intensive review on Accreditation and Equivalency Test, a yearly national examination conducted by the Bureau of Alternative Learning System-Department of Education (BALS-Dep Ed). Passing the test is equivalent to a formal school achievement.
A 100 percent passing rate was achieved by ALCADEV learners in the Accreditation and Equivalency Test conducted by the BALS-Dep Ed in the year 2010-2011.This year , the passing rate was 95 percent. A few learners proceeded to college through a scholarship program but they were determined to go back and participate in community development work when they graduated.
During summer break, ALCADEV learners organized summer farm work in school facilitated by the Anyagan Sumisilat Student Organization (ASSO), the student body organization. Learners from every community grouped together and spent one week alternately in the school for food production in preparation for the next school opening. After complying, they went home and helped their families and elders cultivate farm lands and livestock, applying knowledge and skills that they learned from school. They assisted in a food security project implemented by ALCADEV to different lumad communities under MAPASU, TIPJONGAN, and KAYAPAN-AMIHAN organizations. They joined elders, leaders and members of the community in their organizational plans. They assisted in establishing both communal and individual farms. Lessons learned from their community work are shared and incorporated in lessons when classes resume.
While agriculture is built-in in the school’s curriculum , the food security project, the school’s outreach program to 36 lumad communities supported by New World has also been operational since 2008. Scientific Sustainable Agriculture training modules are prepared for the parents, members and leaders of the communities so that they can both assists and help each other in learning agricultural skills and knowledge during the actual application. The ultimate goal is to address food shortage through a combination of short and long term crops production.
ALCADEV has already produced five batches of graduates. They are directly linked up with their communities as community as community para -teachers, para-agriculturists , community health workers and organizers. 98 percent of the graduates are now considered resilient community development workers currently connected with the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS), Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP-NMR), Program for Mamanwa Integrated Services and Development (PMISD),KASALO Organization, and LUMAD CLANS. Graduates called themselves an ALCADEV Agricultural Extension Workers (AAEW) they formed in 2010.
The integration of sustainable agriculture in alternative education has laid the economic foundations of lumad communities under ALCADEV’s project areas. It contributed a lot to the communities’s food production and in turn, communities’s food support to ALCADEV and TRIFPSS schools is increased. It also means that peoples’ capacity to address food shortage increased.
The food security program implemented by ALCADEV supported by New World-Belgium is a great help in bridging the gaps on agricultural skills and knowledge among learners and community members. ALCADEV believed that uplifting economic conditions of lumad families will sustain alternative education in the hinterlands.
The local government officials of Lianga and Surigao del Sur, Belgian embassy representatives, different NGOs both local and international and religious groups have seen ALCADEV’s effort in empowering indigenous peoples in the province. The forging of agreements between Saint Scholasticas College Manila and ALCADEV as an adopted school has been made. But still, many concerns lies ahead for ALCADEV in order to fully operationalize its academic, socio-economic and health component in relation to the rising enrollment every year and its effect to school’s sustainability.
The education provided by ALCADEV not only improved the lives of individual learners , but also contributed to increase the capacity of communities to address the problem of poverty. ALCADEV may be young in existence, but its educational achievement was done in the context of the complexities of the current conditions of Philippine society. The eight years of ALCADEV’s existence is proof that liberating education is possible only when embraced by the people.