Conflict-ridden areas in Mindanao, the southern part of the Philippines, have schools that
educate students who are living in a demanding environment generated by war. The
‘subaltern’ are people who are most oppressed in society; they are unable to express their
concern to those in power (Spivak, 1994). These students are the ‘subaltern’ in this context as
they are most affected during a conflict. They may have experienced the death of a loved one,
threats to life, exposure to violence, extreme poverty, interrupted schooling, and recruitment
as child-combatants. Mindanao has been undergoing armed conflict for almost 500 years.
Different affiliations with conflicting subgroups, along with influences that lead the youth to
participate in armed conflict, make peace elusive.
Schools in Mindanao have the opportunity to influence and empower these subaltern
students. However, most educational strategies in the Philippines are centralized by the
government, and schooling is shaped based on students unaffected by conflict. This condition
creates inequality, as schooling offered for these subaltern students is unreflective of their
own culture and identity. The thesis addresses a gap in previous research as it looks into the
influences of the school environment and the community towards subaltern students who
experience conflict from students’ perspectives.
Guided by the precepts of phenomenology, a post-colonial approach and Herbert
Kelman’s (2006) concept of legitimate authority, the study seeks to better understand how
schooling affects the identities and pathways in the society of the subaltern students. Using
art-based activities, focus group discussions and in-depth interviews, current secondary
students and former students who have transitioned from school to community were gathered
to participate in this study.
This study found that different factors in the school environment which pertain to
social interactions, religious doctrines, and practices either contribute to the influence on
students’ identity towards peacebuilding, insurgency, or neutral involvement with conflict.
Further, the influences from the community can either support or contradict these influences.
The study established that schools are institutions that can aid students to cope with the
demands from the conflict-ridden community. However, most schools are inadequately
equipped and informed to cater to the needs of the subaltern students.