Peace through play in kindergartens in Maguindanao
by Alex Gregorio
The bitter conflicts brought about by these religious, ethnic and land disputes resulted in numerous bloody encounters and forced migrations in Maguindanao and in other provinces in Southern Mindanao such as Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
According to older residents, executions and the burning of homes in broad daylight were a regular sight here. The climate of brutality and fear severely affected young children, health services and learning systems.
Growing up in such an environment, the young Rahima found solace in a madrasa (a term generally referring to Muslim private schools with core emphasis on Islamic studies and Arabic literacy) established by her father. Her father’s dream, she said, was for her to eventually carry his torch by promoting the need for and importance of a permanent tahderiyyah (kindergarten) in their home village.
"Even though Martial Law was in place and there was a revolution, my father started a madrasa," recounted Ms. Usman. "I am proud and happy I have been able to continue his legacy by being a teacher today in this tahderiyyah."
Islam-focused, play-based approach
The tahderiyyah class Ms. Usman handles in this madrasa, named Madrasa Ingkong Al-Islamia (after a popular local family), has an enrolment of 29 children for this school year.
Her preschool sessions hone English and Arabic language skills, and impart the lessons and morals of the Koran in a play-based classroom setup.
The preschool is funded by tuition fees (around PhP400 per year), local government support (from the barangay/village captain), and tokens of appreciation from parents.
"Before the new [tahderiyyah] curriculum was introduced in 2007," said Ms. Usman, "my sessions were mostly chalk- and blackboard-based—mostly reading and writing. The children were visibly bored. Many of them hardly attended classes, opting to stay at home or work in the farm. Now, enrolment rates are higher and the children are livelier during sessions."
To prove her point, Ms. Usman instructed her pupils to play with colour blocks. Every now and then, she would refer excitedly to a group, showing how they worked well together, fashioned fresh shapes and patterns, and instinctively knew which colour blocks to choose and use.
In April 2007, UNICEF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed a Joint Communiqué calling for "deliberate and extraordinary efforts to provide services for children in conflict-affected communities in Mindanao".
The prospects for peace with the MILF had periods of ups and downs in the last five years, but UNICEF's resolve to engage the MILF in peace building was constant, according to a UNICEF Philippines report.
Together with the Philippine government, the Joint Communiqué launched a campaign called Days of Peace in Bangsamoro communities. The campaign initially focused on micronutrient supplements and immunisation, and the distribution of early childhood care and development materials.
After reviewing the campaign results, the partnership saw the need to introduce a new strategy to achieve a more lasting legacy for Bangsamoro communities.
Thus, an Islam-responsive kindergarten curriculum was designed and implemented in 13 pilot sites through the Talaynged Foundation and the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA), established in 2001 in accord with the humanitarian and development aspects of the Philippine government and MILF Tripoli Agreement. With the support of the Government of Australia, the program was expanded to 300 Tahderiyyah in 2010, and to 815 sites for the third phase of the project.
Achieving lasting peace through Islam-responsive early childhood education
According to a UNICEF progress report to the Government of Australia, the Tahderiyyah initiative is instrumental in building peace in Mindanao in several ways. "At the individual level, it impacts children at a time when the brain develops rapidly, habits are formed, differences are recognised, and emotional ties are built through day-to-day interactions. It teaches young children critical emotional skills that will influence their future and foster more peaceful communities."
"At the community level," the report adds, "this project is seen to reach across communal divides and allow opportunities for families and communities to appreciate and develop collective visions of the future based on children's needs. At the societal level, the project is seen to address inequity by giving the best start to young children in depressed, disadvantaged communities that have been ravaged by conflict for so long."
To date, 300 tahderiyyah are implementing the special curriculum, benefitting more than 10,000 children. The initiative has also created unintended positive outcomes, such as the partnership between the Department of Education (DepED) and the BDA. Both organisations now work together to develop and use a common curriculum in private madaris in the region.
Just last month, the Philippine government announced that the DepED is officially endorsing the tahderiyyah curriculum. "We recommend the Tahderiyyah curriculum because it is aligned with the policy of the State to make education learner-oriented and responsive to the learning needs, culture, circumstances and diversity of the learners and the community," said DepED Secretary Armin A. Luistro.
Secretary Luistro added that the implementation of the curriculum is "part of the Government's commitment to make quality education accessible to all learners in consonance with the Millennium Development Goals on achieving Education for All."