It takes a village: Batak students and their struggles in distance learning

Romar Miranda - The Philippine Star
It takes a village: Batak students and their struggles in distance learning
In Tanabag Elementary School, 116 IP students, mostly from the Batak community, are enrolled in school year 2021-2022.
Romar Miranda

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines — Roxanne Bagarang, a 16-year-old Grade 4 student, use to traverse four kilometers a day just to attend classes.

She is a member of the Batak community, one of the three remaining groups of indigenous people [Batak, Tagbanua, and Palaw’an] in Puerto Princesa City.

After the schools were shut in mid-March 2020, Roxanne, who lives in the Batak village in Sitio Kalakwasan in Barangay Tanabag, no longer needed to cross the Tanabag River ten times a day to go to school.

For Roxanne, it means an hour and 30 minutes of daily hike to and from school was removed off her back. The immediate shift to distance learning, however, highlighted the inequalities in access to education, which was already challenging for the Bataks even before the pandemic struck.

Poverty cycle

In the Batak community, men generally work to sustain the family's needs.

One popular source of income is by going up to the mountain for several days to gather almaciga resin or “bagtik” — an ingredient in varnish and paint — and selling it outside the village. One sack of almaciga is priced at around P2,000, which is enough to last a Batak family for the whole week. 

However, this is not a stable livelihood as it is dependent on the harvest of the resin. Gathering other natural resources from the forest, such as rattan and honey, is also considered a family business.
To make up for the income deficit, women also make handcrafts such as woven items, flower pots, or beaded necklaces and some indigenous items like baskets and necklace to sell.

Although primary education is free, the poverty incidence in IP communities remained a challenge to having access to better learning such as available materials, which was usually bridged by the modules personally prepared by the teachers.

Education is also not a priority compared to having to work for the family's daily needs. When push comes to shove, Batak parents would even require their children to skip classes and help in gathering resources to generate income.

Charlene Magbanua, a public school teacher at Tanabag Elementary School in Barangay Tanabag, Puerto Princesa City has been teaching Batak students for five years.

Teacher Charlene, although patient and understanding in the family needs of her student, expressed concern on the circumstances as a product of the poverty cycle.

“Nakaka-apekto [ito] kapag mag-absent sila, lalo na pag panahon na need nila mag-help mag-bagtik sa parents nila. May case din dati halos weeks na hindi pumapasok. Sabi ng ibang mga Batak ayaw na raw silang pagaralin at tumulong na lang sa magulang nila,” she said.

(They sometimes miss class, especially when they need to gather bagtik with their parents. There were cases where students would miss class for weeks. Some of the Batak said their parents told them to stop scholl and just help them.)

Based on the latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, the poverty threshold in Palawan province was at P6,786 in 2018. This means that a family with at least five members needed to earn that amount daily to meet both basic food and non-food needs in a month.

For many Batak families who are relying on unstable sources of income, the cycle of poverty seemed to be unending with their child’s education at the far end of the priorities in order to survive.

IP education budget

Teacher Charlene handles 26 Grade 4 students, 11 of whom are Bataks. As of February 2022, there are 72 Batak students enrolled in their school from Kindergarten to Grade 6.

Throughout the city, there are 20 elementary schools implementing the IPed program in the Schools Division of Puerto Princesa City of the Department of Education. As of 2021 data, there are about 2,020 IP students across the 75 elementary schools here.

Imelda Oblan, public schools district supervisor, said that programs were put in place to help young Batak learners, providing all printed modules and scheduled visits. But the government-led programs have been operating on a tight budget.

In 2020, the IP Education (IPed) Program of the City DepEd was only allocated around P200,000. This was increased to more than P344,000 in 2021, but was easily spent in training of the teachers alone.

"Sobrang liit lang talaga ng pondo. Nakaraan ‘yong pondo nasa P200,000 plus lang tapos napunta lang sa training. Magkano lang kasi ang binibigay na assistance kaya kung committed talaga ‘yong mga teachers nagfi-field work talaga," Oblan said.

(Funding is really low. In the past, we got more than P200,000 and all of that went to training. There isn't a lot of mioney, so it is the really committed teachers who do the field work.) 

Language barriers

For Teacher Charlene, language barrier is among the top difficulties in teaching the IPs, which affects the child’s capability to understand basic subjects like English, Math, and Science.

"Challenging sa language barrier kasi Batak sila and may mga words tayo na hindi nila naiintindihan pero same lang ‘yong method of teaching o ‘yong atake ng pagtuturo sa kanila. Although kapag nag a-activity kami, naka-depende sa capablity ng bata," Teacher Charlene said.

(The language barrier is a challenge because there are some words that they cannot udnerstand but the method of teaching is the same. Although learning activities depend on the learner's capabilities)

Oblan said this was being addressed by applying contextualized storybooks for Batak and Tagbanua learners (CONSTABATA), which translates some learning materials from English or Filipino to the IPs’ mother tongue.

"Dalawang groups lang ang sini-serve natin sa Puerto Princesa, Batak at Tagbanua. ‘Yong plan namin this 2022, lalapatan namin ‘yong book ng Tinagbanua or Binatak kung saan ito galing na community," Oblan said.

(We have only been serving two IP groups in Puerto Princesa, the Bataks and the Tagbanua. In 2022, we plan to come up with a book in Tinagbanua or Binatak) 

The language barrier, according to Teacher Charlene, is usually overcome by more and longer exposure to conversations and activities.

"May iba lang na kailangan pa rin ng technical assistance tsaka marunong na rin sila makipag cooperate at nae-enjoy na nila ‘yong mga activities sa school noong nasanay na sila." 

(There are some who also need technical assistance although they already know how to cooperate [in learning activities], and they started enjoyong the school activities when they got used to doing them.)

IPs helping other IPs

During the pre-pandemic in-person classes, learning of the struggling IP students were augmented by other differentiated instructions. When the Tanabag Elementary School shifted to distance learning, which relied heavily on modules, students were left on their own since their parents did not know the lessons enough to help them.

"Puwedeng gamitin ‘yong iba’t ibang methods pero sa ngayon wala talaga kaming ibang interaction. Nagkakaroon lang ng interaction kapag nagvi-visit si teacher. Kung si teacher ay hindi mag-penetrate doon, bahala si parent. So kung walang kakayahan si parent, male-left behind ang bata," Oblan said.

(We used to be able to use other teaching methids but right now we really have no interaction unless the teachers conducts a home visit. If the teacher does not penetrate [to that area], then it will be up to the parent. So, if the parent isn't prepared to help with lessons, the child will be left behind.)

Teacher Charlene, who schedules her visits monthly, said a neighboring Tagbanua is also helping the Batak in their modules.

"Sabi sa akin ng co-teacher ko, may isang Tagbanua na tumutulong sa mga Batak sa mga modules nila from kindergarten to high school. Kahit pag fill-up ng mga forms sa mga parents, ‘yong Tagbanua na ‘yon ang tumutulong,” Teacher Charlene said.

(A co-teacher told me that there was a Tagbanua who has been helping Batak learners with modules from kindergarten to high school. Even with helping parents fill out forms.)

As the old adage goes, "it takes a village to raise a child". In Batak, it means an entire community of people interacting with children for them to grow and learn in a safe and healthy environment.

“’Yong mga Batak eager to learn talaga ‘yan sila. Marurunong talaga yan sila, kailangan lang tutukan ‘yong iba. Since ‘yong parents ay lack of education, ‘yong strategy na ginagawa ay ‘yong mas nakakatanda nilang kapatid na high school na literate, sila ‘yong naghe-help sa paga-answer ng modules sa mga kapatid nila,” Teacher Charlene added.

(The Batak are eager to learn. And they are smart, you just need to teach them well. But since the parents lack education themselves, usually, it is an elder sibling in high school and is literate, they are the ones who will help answer the modules.)



A version of this story was originally published in Palawan News. This story was produced with the support of Oxfam Pilipinas.


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