Education in the Badjao community and how it has progressed in line with UN Sustainable Development Goals

Posted on Posted in Contributors, Participant News, Silver Contributor, Stories

Name:Leonie O’ Donnell
Location: Badjao
Aiming for: Silver Award

The UN believe that obtaining a quality education is the foundation to improving people’s lives and sustainable development. While major progress has been made towards increasing access to education at all levels and increasing enrolment rates in schools particularly for women and girls, bolder efforts are needed to make even greater strides for achieving universal education goals.
During my time with the Badjao community in July 2017, a fellow volunteer and I sat with two teachers at the Nano Nagle Childcare and Learning Centre, Annie and Edwina, and learnt how education has progressed within the tribe since Sr. Evelyn Flanagan of the Presentation Sisters, and Fr. Frankie Connon first introduced it in 1997. When they came across the Tribe, almost by accident, they began to set to work on what the Tribe needed. The Chieftain at the time requested that they help to bring formal education to the Tribe, educate his people, understanding the importance of education in breaking the cycle of poverty. Certainly, access to education has grown impressively within the community for both girls and boys during this time. Such strides have not been made without overcoming challenges, and undoubtedly, there are more obstacles to overcome in order to meet the universal education goals.
The Badjao are a sea nomadic tribe, with their traditional housing being that of a wooden structure suspended above the shoreline on wooden stilts, missing even the most basic amenities. The Badjao community are a sea-nomadic tribe who traditionally make their living by fishing and deep-sea diving for pearls. Their traditional housing is that of a wooden structure suspended above the shoreline on stilts. They have great craftsmanship, building their own houses, boats and making clothes, jewellery, etc. The Badjao have an extremely rich culture, with their own language, rituals, and beliefs. They are considered a peaceful tribe and consider themselves a non-aggressive tribe. Unfortunately, the Badjao people are also amongst the most marginalised in Filipino society, and are not recognised as being Filipino on their death certs. They face challenges everyday, none more so than gaining the acceptance of the wider Filipino community.Their first school was no different.
Annie and Edwina came to work as teachers to the Badjao community in 2003, teaching a small number of students in a designated wooden building hut. At the time, they lacked the necessary basic teaching materials and resources. B; ecause the formal classroom structure was so new to the children and community, teaching materials and resources were scarce, discipline proved an issue in the beginning, and the lack of the Cebuano language within the community poised further obstacles, with their own Badjao language being the primary language in use. the students lacked discipline, language and suitable clothing; and classes would often be empty, as students would go out fishing during times of high tide etc. instead. Work was seen as more important than education, as in the short term it provided more to them in the way of income than education did, and so it was difficult to find parents willing to commit their children to a school programme and classes would often be empty, as students would go out fishing during times of high tide etc. As an incentive to attract more students, the teachers, with the help of the Presentation Sisters, offered food such as rice and milk for each day they were present in class, an incentive that is still in place for the Montessori students today.
Education started to grow in the community and a second hut was acquired as a classroom. Unfortunately, in 2005 a fire devastated the community, destroying both schools along with the materials they had built up over the years. The teachers and Sisters found it important to continue educating the Badjao and so set up a tent-school on a busy slip road. As this was only a temporary structure, the teachers were forced to carry everything on their back each morning, and would have to move everything aside whenever a car passed throughout the day. This situation continued for almost two years. During this time, Sr. Evelyn lobbied for a large tranche of sea to be reclaimed and by 2008 a concrete school, funded by Irish donations which were raised primarily through the Presentation Sisters, was built. This is the Nano Nagle Childcare and Learning Centre, which is now at the heart of the community.
The Centre now educates six different Montessori groups each day where students are prepared for entering elementary school. They learn basic literacy and numeracy as well as how to use chairs,lights, fans and other amenities that a large amount would not have in their own homes. The centre also accommodates two adult development groups where the adult members of the tribe have the opportunity to learn literacy, maths, geography etc. The Centre also provides tutorials for both elementary and high school students, as well as workshops and activities. They provide classes to the students’ parents on human rights and life skills. The Sisters and teachers have also set up
Community Leaders and a Youth Council in the community and provide training for them. They have also accepted a group of Irish volunteers from SERVE each summer to provide workshops to the high school students and conduct other capacity building exercises with the adults and students of the Tribe, a programme I was fortunate enough to be involved in.
Increasing numbers of Badjao students are completing high school each year. The Badjao have seen fourteen students graduate from third-level education since education has been introduced. Two of these, who qualified as teachers, now work in the Nano Nagle Centre, giving classes to fellow members of their Tribe. These success stories highlight the importance placed on education in the Badjao today and act as a motivating factor for the younger members of the tribe who can see just how far an education can take them.
Despite such great strides in the education of the Badjao people, there is still a long way to go. There is still a large numberamount of children and adults not taking part in education programmes, due to factors such as tradition and the expense, and there is a greater incentive within the tribe to send girls to school while boys are sent to work on the boats with their fathers. Somewhat contrastingly to the wider world, incentives need to be put in place to keep boys in full-time education, along with the girls. There is still an unjustified stigma associated with the Badjao people also which causes them to be discriminated against in school and the employment market. The Cebuano Badjao population originally came from Mindanao, leaving to escape ongoing conflict on the island around the 1960’s. Extreme poverty forced many of them to resort to begging as a means of survival, and so the impression of them as beggars was formed in people’s’ mind, an impression that has had a lasting effect, despite the low levels now depending on begging as a means of income. They are considered citizens of the lowest class, and are not recognised as being Filipino on their death certificates. They faced much conflict with their Cebuano neighbours in the past, however, through community organising initiatives relations have improved. . In different parts of Mindanao their situation is a picture of complete neglect that has driven whole families to flock to the big cities of Metro Manila, Cebu and Davao to beg in the streets. They are often ostracised by society, labelled as beggars, unsanitary and of ‘no value’. However, the stereotypeThis needs to be addressed by the government and education authorities, with more pressure being put on leaders to provide an ‘inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning’ in their districts.