Growing up in Tocucan

Written by Kate Chollipas Botengan on .

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            Born to a school teacher in the barrio of Tocucan, Bontoc, Mountain Province, teaching in the elementary school owned by the Episcopal Church, had its advantages as well as its disadvantages. I learned early the meaning of signs telling me to be “quiet;” learned to be independent early on; and, got to listen to all the lessons taught to the other children, from grammar to history to arithmetic. This was because at 3 years old, I was allowed to play at the back of the room behind the rows of desk while my mother taught. Age 4 saw me promoted to Grade 1.

  The school was a one-room school house where Row 1 was for Grade 1; Row 2 was for Grade II; and, Row 3 was for Grade III.  In current language, this is what is called the multi-grade classroom. One teacher handles all the required subjects for the 3 grades, going from row to row to supervise assigned work. Classes started promptly at 8:00am until dismissal for lunch at 11:30am. Afternoon classes resume at 1:00pm and dismissal at 5:00pm. Woe unto those who come in late – more practice!

            All academic work had to be done in school. There was no such thing as assignment as there was no electricity in the barrio and the children do not have books to study from. Teacher’s books and knowledge were the only resources! Memory work, therefore, was important, especially in arithmetic when we learned by heart the multiplication table up to 100; word meanings and spelling followed suit. Clear legible capital and small letters in writing were required, otherwise more time was spent on practice writing on banana leaves. Of course, everyone did their best so as to be promoted to write on paper with real pencils, which were often broken down to have enough to go around. The pencils were part of a gift box at Christmas time, regularly sent by a pen pal of Mom in the USA, with inclusions of candies and chocolates for special treat, on top of good-smelling second-hand clothes from “Mellika”! 

            Writing exercises were done first on the whitish underside of banana leaves with sharpened pieces of sticks cut the length of a regular pencil. When the writing is considered by Teacher to be passable, the students “graduate” to writing the alphabet and paragraphs on scrap bond papers salvaged by Mom from the Governor’s Office where Dad worked as the Administrator. The bond papers had writings only on one side, marked over clearly with the sign “For Official Use Only.” The clean side, of course, served as writing paper for all the pupils until we finished Grade III. For quite a while, I grew up believing that all writing papers have writings on one side with the mark “For Official Use Only”! It was a shock to discover later as a pupil in town that papers may be lined or plain without writings on the other side, including that “For Official Use only” stamped mark!

            Continuing my elementary school education as a Grade IV at age 8 years at the All Saints Mission Elementary School in the poblacion of Bontoc, was a frightening experience at first. My intensive barrio education from my Mother proved me in good stead as I struggled with adjustment to life in school and in the dormitory away from home in the barrio. Being the youngest (8 Years) in the class was no help at all. Being able, however, was a boon. Bontoc was such a “big” place to me. The classrooms also threatened because there were no other grades to share it with! They had their own classroom – all the way up to Grade VII! I also had to wear rubber shoes or floppies, which I never had to do in the barrio!  

High School in Bontoc was just as challenging.  As usual, the barrio kids were sort of “prejudiced” against by the people from town. Excellence in performance, however, was the great equalizer! Those who were or who could speak “Ilocano” sort of ruled the roost – a great challenge in the classroom to those of us from the barrio!     

The saying that education opens doors for those who would rise to the challenge finds applicability to many coming from the Mountain Provinces (now the Cordillera Administrative Region or CAR).  Since its inception, the government scholarship for the cultural minorities in the Philippines had helped many of the Igorots finish a college education, many joining the ranks of national leaders. I was able to finish my Bachelor in Business Administration in 1964 from the University of the East in Manila with a scholarship from the then Commission on National Integration. Going on to graduate school sort of followed in sequence: MA in Higher and Adult Education and a Professional Diploma in Curriculum Development from the Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City in 1969; and, a PhD in Educational Management from the Centro Escolar University, Manila in 1974.

            Return to the Philippines in June 1969 was to a waiting job with the Joint Council of the Episcopal Church and the Philippine Independent Church as a lay College Worker. My one-year stint afforded me travel to many parts of the Philippines, including the Mt. Province. But academe beckoned and I transferred to teach in the Trinity College of Quezon City, now Trinity University of Asia. There, I had the pleasure of being an Instructor to many of the young people coming to Manila for a college education, particularly in Nursing and Theological Education at the St. Andrew’s Seminary. I now find the joy of meeting them as equals – professionals in their own right!

            Unbeknownst to me, the future held the opportunity of serving the whole country, not only within the Episcopal Church and the Igorots coming to Trinity College. I was privileged to have been appointed, despite lack of a political back-up, first by President Fidel Ramos in 1994 as one of the first five (5) Commissioners on Higher Education to the newly-created Commission on Higher Education (CHED), to pay more attention to the quality of higher education offered by institutions of higher education (more than 1000 colleges and universities) in the Philippines. President Ramos asked my nominators, the educators from the Coordinating Council of Philippine Private Education Association (COCOPPEA), who I was because, of course, he did not know me!  He signed my appointment nevertheless! He told me in a meeting after his presidency that he was glad he appointed me!

President Estrada reappointed me for a second term which I served until 2000, the end of my 2-term tenure as a Commissioner, as provided by law.   A Commissioner enjoys the rank of an Under-Secretary, with all pertinent responsibilities and privileges.

Return to the private academic sector was my choice. Consultancy to several schools followed my stepping down from CHED until the Lyceum of the Philippines University invited me to join their ranks, first as a Dean of the College of Arts, Sciences, and Education (2003-2004);  Vice-President for Academic Affairs (2005-2008); and Executive Consultant for International Affairs (2008-2010) while based in the USA.

In conclusion, my barrio education for my first 3 grades in a one-room school house, under the stern tutelage of my Mom, prepared me to face the challenges of schooling in Manila (1960-1964) where prejudice against the Igorots was rife. This challenged most of us to overcome this “ridiculing” attitude by our school peers through hard work and competitive excellence in and out of the classroom. I daresay my story is repeated among many Igorot young people, from my time to now.

Yes, the Igorot in each one of us has prevailed, and will continue to do so!” Sika ay tumotongtso, i-laem ta in-khag-khawis kami am-In, ulay ento  wad-ayan mi. Siya tsi.”   (You who are above us, ensure that we are good, no matter where we are. Good day.)                                     

  [Kate  Chollipas Botengan, 28 October 2010]

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