The Story of the Philippine Arts & Social Studies in the Ontario Curriculum (PASSOC)

Community News & Features Mar 23, 2018 at 5:05 pm

PASSOC-curriculum-guideBy Rachel Evangeline Chiong

Effective since the launch on March 8, teachers in the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) can now integrate Filipino art, culture, and social issues in their classrooms through the Philippine Arts & Social Studies in the Ontario Curriculum (PASSOC). Targeted for Grade 8 Geography, Grade 6 Social Studies, and Grade 6-8 Dance, it focuses on the experience of Filipinos, the fourth largest visible minority in the nation and number one source of immigrants. Yet there are still looming questions about how the project started, who made this possible, and what exactly the curriculum is about, all of which can be answered at a prelude in York University.

The project spun out of 2010’s Filipino Youth Transitions in Canada (FYTIC) research from the York Centre for Asian Research, in partnership with community and youth groups. When the results linked school achievement with role-models and self-esteem among other heaping factors, Philip Kelly, from YorkU’s Department of Geography and principal investigator of FYTIC, brought the results to the TCDSB, an institution that housed schools with up to 90% of the students being Filipino.


Front, from left: Professor Philip Kelly, Geography, LAPS, Jennilee Santican, (St Maria Goretti); Michelle Aglipay, (St Brigid); Patt Olivieri, (Curriculum Leadership & Innovation, TCDSB); Professor Ethel Tungohan, Political Science and Social Science, LAPS. Back, from left: Marissa Largo, (Mary Ward); Jodelyn Huang (TCDSB Community Relations Officer); Merle Gonsalvez, (St Ursula); Christella Duplessis-Sutherland (St Timothy); Professor Patrick Alcedo, Dance, AMPD Fredeliza de Jesus, (St Paul)

With the financial support of York University and the TCDSB, a team formulated in the background of flourishing activity. TCDSB’s Jodelyn Huang became the liaison between the school board and the York University team. Within that team, Kelly was joined by his colleagues, Patrick Alcedo, from the Department of Dance, and Ethel Tungohan, from the Departments of Politics and Social Science. Soon six teachers from the TCDSB transformed the research into materials that would fit the TCDSB’s teaching schematics. As for the project lead, Marissa Largo fit in seamlessly with a foot in academics as a PhD in the OISE’s Department of Social Justice Education and in education as a teacher at Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School. Her Filipino-Canadian experiences fueled the passion in her role as consultant, coordinator, and overall designer of the logo and website.

What resulted from this multi-skilled collaboration wasn’t just Filipino-focused lesson plans, activities, and handouts, but material solid to the core. “It’s good education”, Largo repeated in an interview over speaker-phone. “It’s not just Filipino curriculum, it’s GOOD education.” For starters, it both affirms and celebrates the Filipino experience while maintaining critical discussion. Kelly cites a lesson in the Grade 8 Geography where students read about the 2013 anti-corruption protests in Manila against the Priority Development Assistance Fund. Students learn about activism in both the Philippines and Canada, an age-appropriate case study into the complexities of living as a nation.

Yet education is “more than just reading and writing,” Largo continued. “It is sensory.”

PASSOC is endowed with a myriad of engaging materials from artists in the community. Grade 8 Geography uses media, such as Alex Humilde’s 2015 documentary “Balikbayans” and the song “Balikbayan” by Casey Mecija, lead vocalist of Canadian-indie band Ohbijou. In Grade 6-8 Dance, Alcedo focused on cariñosa, binatbatan, and tinikling which are from different regions of the Philippines, and curated step-by-step Youtube tutorials students could replay at home. The milk carton jeepney is the Grade 6 Social Studies’ cumulative project and a personal favorite of Kelly and Huang. It is Largo’s brain-child, carefully designed and made to reflect the student’s role-models and influences. A prototype she created is displayed proudly on the PASSOC website, testament to how the material broadens its engagement to students who excel and learn through different senses.

Marissa Lagro

Marissa Largo

Finally, as Huang worded, it was about time for material to “expand knowledge about Global citizenship with critical analysis of history”. Youtube celebrity, Mikey Bustos, who is one of PASSOC’s selected Role Models, commented how the lack of Filipino representation caused him to be embarrassed of his own culture as a child and lead to “even wanting to be white like everyone else.” Eurocentric curriculum is an overarching issue that can manifest itself in details as normalized as worksheets. Kelly recalls how children in Grade 3 would learn about the Medieval times as if every nation in that era mirrored the same European lifestyle. Beyond history, Largo commented that in fact, rather than just the colonial culture that is prioritized in schools, many cultures from indigenous peoples and immigrants had contributed to the Canada we see today.

The project’s sincerity came from working within the perspective of the students. Huang, Kelly, and Largo were asked how they would have felt if a project similar to PASSOC was implemented back when they were students. Huang would have been “empathetic of our experiences and more knowledgeable about our community’s contributions to the world”. Kelly, who grew up in a British community, mused how his mind would have been thrown wide open from learning about other societies on their own terms. Largo exclaimed through the phone, “I would have loved that!”. To see her life reflected and reinforced in class would have been a dream come true. This reflected the project’s personal tone, one that had reached beyond professional and academic interest to a deep, introspective understanding of growing up.

While wrapping up the interview with Kelly, I glanced at the PASSOC logo and asked him a question that had lingered since the beginning of this story. “The acronym PASSOC…is that…?” He smiled in return and assured me that yes, it was intentional. The Tagalog word ‘pasok’ can mean ‘to enter’ but through Filipino wit and charm has also come to mean ‘going to school’. And with this sentiment, educators, academics, artists, parents, Filipino-Canadians, and every in-between hold their breath in excitement for our students entering school, and for ourselves, entering a future brimming with possibilities.

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