(Davao City, May 14, 2015) – On 22 May 2015, the Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU), in partnership with the Department of Education (DepEd), will inaugurate a pilot project that implements a culturally sensitive Senior High School (SHS) for T’boli students in Lake Sebu, Surallah, South Cotabato. As a developmental and experimental project that will formally open in June of this incoming School Year (SY, 2015-2016), it will have a one year head start from all the other education providers of SHS covered under the new K-12 educational reform law. The rest of the SHS implementers all over the country will formally open theirs in June of SY 2016.

As an educational enterprise, this joint project of DepEd and ADDU exemplifies a public-private partnership that seeks to address the important aspect of an inclusive education, specifically one that empowers indigenous peoples (IPs) and other vulnerable communities. The fruition of this project, therefore, is considered a labor of love for it sealed the strong commitment of the two entities (both as a government agency and as a private educational institution, respectively) in championing the cause for change and educational reform.

But the third and important party to this partnership is the T’boli community itself. All throughout the preparation of this project, the T’bolis in Lake Sebu asserted their rights as an empowered community by demonstrating cohesive leadership and participatory dialogue.

This SHS is the first of its kind in the whole Philippines, for it is crafted according to the needs and aspirations of the indigenous peoples (IPs), with a curriculum that is not only anchored on the educational framework of the K-12 law, but one that is strongly grounded in the culture, history, arts, and heritage of the T’boli tribe. The implementation of this project is the fruit of the collaborative efforts between ADDU president Fr. Joel E. Tabora, SJ and DepEd Secretary Bro. Armin Luistro, whose partnership and leadership broke new grounds when they decided to address the IPs’ assertion for an inclusive education in the light of the K-12 educational reform.

Both DepEd and ADDU, through its School of Education (SOE) and the Department of Anthropology, laid the groundwork of its public-private partnership for over a year. The crafting of this special SHS program (i.e., Indigenous Peoples Education Project) is a by-product of a process of collaborative work that included the conduct of an ethnographic research by latter’s Department of Anthropology. On 13 September 2014, ADDU was granted by the T’boli a Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) for the conduct of the study—the T’boli Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices (IKSP). The result of such study was then used by ADDU’s SOE in creating a curriculum that is sensitive to the contextual way of life, the environment, and the common aspirations of the T’boli tribe. The said curriculum was presented to an important gathering of T’boli tribal leaders, parents, students, teachers and other stakeholders on 17-18 April 2015 at Punta Isla Lake Resort in Lake Sebu.

This special inauguration of the T’boli SHS in Lake Sebu will be attended by the leadership of ADDU, DepEd and the T’bolis.