“Quality education for all” is not only a promised statement but an actual mandate performed by DepEd Quezon for all its stakeholders, even the furthermost communities in the corner of the province. These education services include the Indigenous Peoples Education (IPEd) program for the Ayta Community of Lopez, Quezon, through Villaespina Elementary School and SDO Quezon’s Kalilayan IP Program, both in Lopez East District.

Currently, Lopez East District caters to the basic education needs of these learners through its schools and learning centers. For this school year (SY), thirty-seven (37) Ayta children enrolled in Villaespina ES, taking the formal education curriculum. Meanwhile, fifty-six (56) Ayta youths and adults are enrolled in the Kalilayan IP Program taking the Alternative Learning System (ALS) curriculum. The Kalilayan IP Program uses the Lopez School of Aeta Community (LSAC) Building as its learning center, located at the strategic point of the village. Both education programs integrate essential Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices (IKSP) of the Ayta Community in Villaespina to contextualize their learning experiences.

Aside from the said learning institutions, Magallanes National High School also catered to Ayta children from Junior to Senior High School. Commonly, Villaespina ES IP graduates enroll in secondary education at Magallanes NHS.

To reach the school and the learning center, an individual must travel by motorcycle, jeep, or high ground clearance vehicle. The muddy terrains, slippery roads, mountainous areas, and zigzag routes made it challenging to reach the school. It is a 24km drive from the población area, which takes about 45 minutes (on a motorcycle) to 90 minutes (in a jeep) travel time. However, to reach the center of the Ayta Community in Brgy. Villa Espina, one must travel one (1) more kilometer from the school. On the other hand, if these Ayta learners continue their secondary education at Magallanes NHS, they need to take another 13 km or more to attend secondary schooling.

In contrast to the cited distance, the municipality of Lopez is 89 km away from SDO Quezon. It houses 95 barangays and is one of the largest municipalities in the fourth congressional district of the province. Hence, this setting shows the challenges every day encountered by its teachers and learners to provide quality, relevant, liberating, and meaningful educational services.

This school year marks another history in delivering basic education in the community. It opens its doors again for all learners after the 2-year modular distance learning because of the current COVID-19 pandemic. This disruption has caused another challenge to the school learning community to provide quality basic education services for its clientele, including IP learners.

In this regard, the DepEd CALABARZON’s Field Technical Assistance Division (FTAD) and DepEd Quezon’s School Governance and Operations Division (SGOD) conducted a learning visit and integrated technical assistance in the cited community on August 23, 2022. This community visit is part of the Oplan Balik Eskwela (OBE) monitoring activity of the DepEd to ensure effectiveness and efficiency in opening classes for SY 2022-2023. Due to the current class suspension issued by the Provincial Government of Quezon, the team visited the community instead of conducting formal TA activities for the teachers.

The following officials composed the TA team: [1] Andrea Mabel E. Abrencillo (EPS, FTAD); [2] Elizabeth M. De Villa (Chief, SGOD); [3] Oscar R. Duma (SEPS-SMME, SGOD); [4] Arvin P. Repaso (PDO I-DRRM, SGOD). PSDS Rejulios M. Villenes of Lopez East District and MT Loyd Gener G. Pallan of Lopez NCHS joined the TA Team from RO and SDO.

Villaespina ES is led by TIC Raquel R. Capacio. She shared the context of the school and the current challenges they experience in going back to limited face-to-face classes. She also mentioned the efforts done by the entire school community to address the literacy needs of its IP learners.

“We provide necessary interventions and learning experience contextualization to help our Ayta learners,” TIC Capacio shared. “This initiative is only at the classroom level. We also empower our cause to reach more IP learners and encourage them to enroll in Villaespina ES or LSAC.” She also mentioned that the full efforts of all teachers and the community’s outstanding support helped them manage the program. Without these supports, they will be affected by all the challenges of the current advent.

Meanwhile, Villa Espina Brgy. Captain Jayson P. Garbulo also met the DepEd Officials. He also expressed his full support for the education programs shared by the DepEd and the LGU in their barangay.

Lopez Ayta Chieftain Wildredo Mo. Oloya also welcomed the TA team. “Lagi po naming hinihikayat ang aming mga kabataan na pumasok at mag-aral,” Chieftain Oloya expressed. He also shared that he always supports the school in all initiatives to help their children and youth complete basic education.

FTAD Supervisor Abrencillo shared her delight and appreciation in meeting the Ayta children. She interviewed the parents regarding their experiences in attending classes. The supervisor conversed with the Ayta Chieftain and Barangay Captain for the program operations in their community. Abrencillo also talked with the Kalilayan IP Teacher, Mark John Parro, about serving the youth and adult learners of the community. She expressed that the learning conversations helped her realize more the importance of DepEd’s education services for all sectors of society.

PSDS Villenes also shared some of the program’s best practices to address the literacy needs of these Ayta learners. He also shared that through ALS, the learning facilitators managed to produce five (5) additional Ayta passers from the previous A&E portfolio assessment. This information is in addition to the number of Ayta learners produced in Villaespina ES. The Lopez East Supervisor also narrated the efforts carried out by SDO Quezon since 2017. The initiatives aid the services in reaching out to the Ayta learners for enrollment in any DepEd programs.

In addition, Chief De Villa, SEPS Duma, and PDO Repaso all shared their inputs to help the school head successfully deliver their education services in the context of school governance and operations. The SGOD Chief took note of all the challenges shared by the school head. SEPS Duma shared some inputs in helping the school prepare for structured programs and services to help teachers cater to the needs of the IP learners. Lastly, PDO Repaso shared some DRRM inputs to secure the health and safety of all learners in the school and learning center.

The SDO Quezon’s inputs also traced the TA details shared by its SDS Elias A. Alicaya, Jr. during the last Huntahan sa Quezon session. SDS Alicaya reminded all school leaders to address all the learning needs of all learners, including those from IP communities, as they need the Department to help them bring a bright future for them. Similarly, CID Chief Lorena S. Walangsumbat and IPEd Focal Person EPS Asuncion C. Ilao provided continuous TA and guidance to Lopez East and its IP Program to empower its education services.

Correspondingly, PSDS Villenes shared that the community is thankful for the continued support of the Local Government Unit of Lopez and its Sangguniang Bayan for the continuous assistance given to the school and learning center. Led by Mayor Rachel A. Ubana, LGU Lopez provided printing supplies, additional LSAC IM, and health and safety supplies to them. Aside from this assistance, continued health and the local government always prioritize social development services for the IP community.

Indeed, the learning visit provided a holistic reflection and experience in delivering responsive assistance to this kind of education service. To make education for all come into fruition, the collaboration of all the school community members needs to become one.

Our brothers and sisters from IP communities will not be left behind under DepEd Quezon’s education for all initiatives and services. “Sama-sama, tulong-tulong, nagkakakaisa! Para sa mga kabataang Ayta, laging may bagong pag-asa!”

Article Writers: Rejulios M. Villenes, Raquel R. Capacio, Jhovanne T. Ybañez

Photos: Rejulios M. Villenes