Imagine being a child from an indigenous tribe going to school for the first time and finding out that the lessons there are conveyed in languages and stories that are foreign to you.

It is a challenge faced by many IP (indigenous people) students, given the lack of teachers who hail from their own tribes or are knowledgeable of their language and culture.

To help address this, specifically for the benefit of young learners from the Blaan tribe in Sarangani, PLDT wireless unit Smart Communications organized workshops for the creation of traditional and digital learning materials in the local language and incorporating local culture. One of the workshops, conducted in partnership with the PLDT-Smart Foundation, also introduced a learning method that would help IP educators effectively handle multiple grade levels at the same time.

Easier to learn

According to the Department of Education, there are 125 IP schools in Sarangani alone, catering mostly to Blaan students.

“It’s better to have stories about the children’s own community so they could relate to these. If you use stories like Rapunzel, they would not understand that. If you use local stories it would be easier for them to learn,” said IP teacher Edna Alicaba.

An elder of the Blaan tribe in Sarangani checks the accuracy of illustrations and learning content created by teachers for young Blaan learners.

She added, “It is so easy to impart knowledge if you use their language. You can’t keep speaking in English if your audience is composed of IP pupils.”

For five days in January, a team of teachers and illustrators learned scriptwriting and storyboarding so they could produce animated versions of Blaan stories and make lessons more fun and interactive. Smart will help put all the content in a mobile app especially made for Blaan learners. The plan is to include sections on Blaan prayers, songs, and greetings, on top of lessons on numbers and letters.

Digital tools

Smart is spearheading the development of learning apps in different languages because studies show that the managed use of digital tools can boost the literacy of young students and heighten their interest in learning. It is for the same reason that the company has donated mobile devices packed with learning content to underserved public schools.

“Nowadays, most of our learners are visual. When they see something, when the process of learning is interactive, it becomes easier for them to learn,” said teacher-illustrator Reynald Dapar.

A separate team of IP teachers were introduced to the Dynamic Learning Program (DLP) created by Ramon Magsaysay awardees Dr. Christopher Bernido and Dr. Ma. Victoria Carpio-Bernido. Under this method, students learn independently in classrooms 80% of the time by working on activity sheets. The remaining 20% is when the teacher checks on their progress and helps them process what they already learned on their own. Schools implementing the DLP have reported better retention and mastery of concepts among students.

Activity sheets

During the workshop organized by Smart, the IP teachers created learning activity sheets (LAS) in the Blaan language. These activity sheets also featured local cultural elements, and can be used as a template for other learning communities.

Alicaba expressed optimism that the DLP would help teachers perform their duties better. “It is very nice because when you handle three different classes with different grade levels, you can handle them at the same time via parallel classes. While the two classes are working on their activity sheets, you can focus on the remaining class.”

A Blaan student shows off her answers to a learning activity sheet written in her mother tongue.

Battle discrimination

To make sure that the use of Blaan cultural elements and language was accurate, a tribal elder was invited to validate the LAS and illustrations created by the teachers. The materials will also be tested on students before full implementation.

The elder, Fulung Siamen Tumandan, expressed his appreciation for the effort. “It is a challenge to get Blaan children to be interested in studying. Many of them reach only grade school and stop because they want to get married. But slowly, more of them now understand that studying has a purpose and will help their future.”

“Education is very important for us because it will help us battle discrimination,” he added. (Press Release)

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