PEACETALK: Basic understanding and commentary on education in the Bangsamoro

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 15 Sept) — Education is the most important institution because it develops all other institutions for effective functioning of a society. Social scientists regard education as a mirror of society because its level of quality portrays and dictates social conditions or status.  In a global setting, advanced countries and first world economies in the West, Europe and Asia are home to top universities and schools. In contrast, poor provinces in the Philippines are home to poor performing tertiary institutions and schools. Unfortunately, majority of the areas in the Bangsamoro belong to this category.  With the legislation and soon-to-be ratification of RA 11054 or the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, how relevant is it to improve the education system in the Bangsamoro?

Complete and Integrated System of Quality Education

Among the 55 powers granted to the Bangsamoro Government is “education and skills training.” What is this education that the Bangsamoro Government is given full authority? Article IX (Basic Rights), Sec. 16 of the organic law states: “It shall be a top priority of the Bangsamoro Government to establish, maintain, and support a complete and integrated system of quality education, which shall be a subsystem of the national education system.” According to a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), the three sectors of education such as basic, higher and technical-vocational including madrasah and indigenous people education are all integrated under and managed by one ministry of education.

Based on my participation with consultation workshops organized by the Committee on Education of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), it was emphasized that the future Bangsamoro government will only have one ministry on education to manage all education sectors.  This can be done through developing “an educational framework relevant and responsive to the needs, ideals, and aspirations of the Bangsamoro people” which is at the same time in conformity with the “minimum standards set by the National Government.” For example, with the K to12 curriculum being prescribed by the national government to the basic education sector, the Bangsamoro government is mandated to provide a quality K to12 education contextualized to the “needs, ideals, and aspirations” of the Bangsamoro people to live a good life in this world and in the day hereafter. The quality management of different education sectors under one ministry will be more realistic with a genuine fiscal autonomy granted to the Bangsamoro government. Thus, we expect the education in the Bangsamoro to become competitive and be listed among the top performing education sectors in the country.

What will happen to the education sector in the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao once RA 11054 is ratified by the people on January 21, 2019 as scheduled by Commission on Election (Comelec)? Will there be an automatic overhaul of the existing system?  The current education system will still operate until such time that the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), which will serve as transition government for three years upon its establishment, passes the Bangsamoro Education Code (as one of the primary legislations of BTA) that will govern education in the Bangsamoro.  Moreover, all school personnel, particularly teachers and school administrators will continue to serve unhampered and the personnel in the education sector in ARMM regional office shall be absorbed and transferred to the Bangsamoro government pursuant to Article XVI, Sec. 10, Par. 3 of the organic law.

Peace Education 

Along with providing complete and integrated quality system of education, the Bangsamoro government is mandated to “institutionalize peace education in all levels of education.” Although there are standing policies of the national government with respect to this matter, its implementation was not given due attention.  With the establishment of the Bangsamoro government as an offshoot of long and winding journey to peace, it is expected that peace education in the Bangsamoro will now find its worth, value, recognition, and integration across all levels of education.

Bangsamoro Government and Other Educational Institutions

Article IX, Sec. 16 also provides that any educational institution (school, college or university) in the Bangsamoro “shall be deemed integral components of educational system of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region and shall be governed by their respective charter.”  Both public and private institutions of learning in all levels are part of Bangsamoro educational system and so they have to support and contribute in the achievement of vision, mission and goals of Bangsamoro education along with their respective mandates. State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) as well as Mindanao State University (MSU) System within the Bangsamoro shall continue to be governed by their respective charters with participation of “chairperson of appropriate committee in the Parliament” as additional member of Board of Trustees or Regents of state colleges and universities.

To ensure that private educational institutions subscribe to and meet the standards set by the national government and Bangsamoro government, the organic law mandates the Bangsamoro government to supervise and regulate private schools both sectarian (religious) and non-sectarian in all levels. This is a critical role to guarantee that all private schools will deliver quality services to their students and stakeholders. Along this line, the organic law recognizes the right of private education sector to have three representatives in the deliberation of government agencies in all matters affecting the welfare of private schools. 

In the case of religious schools, the organic law promotes the rights of these schools to propagate their own beliefs and protects them from any form of discrimination on account of their religious beliefs. However, these schools shall uphold the rights of their students to exercise their own beliefs and values as guaranteed by the Constitution and provisions of this organic law.

Strengthening of Madaris Education

Despite its pre-colonial existence, madrasah (singular of madaris) education is still underdeveloped and has even failed to attract majority of Muslim families across all social classes for the education of their children. While madaris education in our Asian neighbors like Indonesia and Singapore are competitive both locally and internationally, the Philippine madaris are still lagging behind other education sectors.

There are three types of madrasah in the Philippines: traditional, integrated/private, and madrasah in public schools. Traditional madrasah, numbering to more than a thousand, is a religious school in which its curriculum is focused mainly on religious science and Arabic language and majority of this type is not registered with the government. Integrated or private madrasah, numbering more than a hundred, offers standard curriculum such as religious subjects (Qur-an, Hadith, Seerah, Fiqh and Aqeedah), Arabic language, and subjects prescribed by the Department of Education (DepEd) (English, Math, Science, Filipino and others) for its recognition. The madrasah in public schools offers limited courses on Arabic Language and Islamic Values Education (ALIVE) to Muslim learners.

There have been intervention efforts by the Philippine government to improve the madrasah education but these are not gaining popular support.  For example, the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) failed to get the full participation or cooperation of majority of traditional madaris.  In addition, DepEd has been undertaking reforms for private madaris since 2004 but it is still struggling to attract more madaris to participate in these reforms. As observed by many madrasah administrators, the absence of comprehensive reforms and top Muslim executive in the DepEd Central Office in managing these reforms is contributing significantly to poor impact of this government initiative.  In the case of ALIVE program, this does not totally address the quest for a balanced education as ALIVE subjects are perceived “second class” and usually scheduled when students’ interest in learning is low.

To address the century-old problem on the madrasah education in the country, the Bangsamoro government is mandated to “establish, maintain and supervise” madaris education. Aside from the basic and higher education system, there shall be a so-called madrasah system to be “established, maintained and supervised” by the government.  For madaris teachers in public schools, there shall be a standard for their qualification, appointment and promotions to be promulgated by the Civil Service Commission (CSC).  In the present set-up, the madaris teachers or ALIVE teachers have to possess the same eligibility requirement as other regular teachers in order to be given permanent teacher position.

To address the needs of Muslim learners for a balanced education in public elementary and high school levels, the organic law also mandates the integration of Islamic and Arabic Studies in the curriculum.  This integration is expected to address many issues confronting ALIVE program being treated as “second class.” In the current Muslim Education Program of DepEd, ALIVE is only offered in elementary level and there is no such program in high school. It is now interesting to see how the private madaris will position themselves when Islamic and Arabic Studies will be well-entrenched in public schools.

In pursuit of an improved madaris, the Bangsamoro parliament is mandated to enact legislation to develop and strengthen madaris educational system. Presently, there is scarcity of literature and studies pertaining to traditional madrasah system in the country. On the part of private madaris, available studies and literature are focused on curriculum.

Vocational, technical, non-formal and special education

Article IX, Sec. 17 of the organic law mandates the Bangsamoro government to provide vocational, technical, non-formal and special education to address the needs of poor, illiterate, out-of-school youth, persons with disabilities, disadvantaged and senior citizens in support to the human resource needs of the Bangsamoro government consistent with the minimum standard of the national government. This provides opportunity for marginalized sectors to acquire relevant education and become beneficial or useful in their community. In an Islamic point of view, seeking knowledge is mandatory to every individual, regardless of one’s status, until his last breath and the Bangsamoro government shall provide venues to fulfil this individual obligation.

Tribal University System

In response to higher education needs of the non-Moro indigenous peoples, the Bangsamoro government is mandated to establish a tribal university system. Although RA 9054 (Expanded ARMM Law) provides the same provision, more than a decade after its enactment, it has remained only on paper.  Even RA 8371 (Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act) didn’t envision the establishment of tribal university. This university is expected to provide programs that preserve and promote the culture and tradition of indigenous people.  In addition, a law shall be passed by the parliament for the creation of indigenous people educational system to become part of Bangsamoro education system.

However, with the power to legislate on education, the Bangsamoro government can also establish, maintain, and sustain an envisioned University of Bangsamoro (UB) as another higher education system that will provide various programs especially on science and technology (which are still lacking even in MSU) that are needed in the development of Bangsamoro. As a system, it will have campuses in every province of the Bangamoro. For example, current universities and colleges in the Bangsamoro have limited offering in the field of engineering. In medicine, we only have School of Medicine in MSU-Marawi, which is housed at MSU-IIT in Iligan City, but slots are very limited. We have a lot of Bangsamoro students who have potentials to pursue Doctor of Medicine program but their economic condition will not warrant them to go to a medical school.  With the envisioned UB that will offer medical program, the Bangsamoro can produce more physicians to attend to medical needs of Bangsamoro people especially in remote areas.

Physical Education, Sports Development and Bangsamoro Sports Commission

In recognition of the importance of physical development of the youth, physical education program shall become part of Bangsamoro education system. Along this line, the education system shall support sports programs and competitions in regional, national, and international arena. To drive the schools to this end, a sports commission shall be established as lead agency to manage and champion physical education programs and projects. I can imagine that our potential athletes will bring the banner of the Bangsamoro and the Philippines in international competitions like Asian Games, World Olympics and the like. 

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. PeaceTalk is open to anyone who wishes to share his/her thoughts on peace in Mindanao. Ombra A. Imam holds a doctorate degree in educational management from the Notre Dame University and is currently an Assistant Professor II at Cotabato City State Polytechnic College.  He is the president of the National Association for Bangsamoro Education, Inc., a group of Muslim private schools and madaris in Mindanao. He has been trained on school management in the US, Australia, and Singapore. He has published researches in peer-reviewed and indexed international journals. His research interests include madrasah education, pre-service education, extension program, employability skills, and reading comprehension. You can send your comments at [email protected])

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