Philippines: Language Problem in Schools

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun Jun 5 15:38:49 UTC 2005

                       Language Problem in Schools
                       Patricio P. Diaz / MindaNews / 03 June 2005

                       GENERAL SANTOS CITY -- With the majority of the
House representatives endorsing, Rep.  Eduardo Gullas of Cebu filed last
week (Philippine Daily Inquirer, June 1, 2005, p. 6.) a bill to change the
present bilingual policy and require that English be the principal medium
of instruction at all levels. Education Secretary Florencio Abad
                       called for caution.

                       Under the bilingual policy, some subjects like the
social sciences are taught with textbooks in Pilipino while others like
mathematics and sciences are taught with textbooks in English.  In the
classrooms and on the school campus Pilipino and the dialects are spoken.

                       Step Backward

                       The Philippine Constitution (1987) explicitly
encourages the evolution and enrichment of Pilipino from other Filipino
dialects.  Implicitly English may be removed by law as the second official
language of communication and of instruction in the schools.  Lets look at
Article XIV, Section 6 and 7 of the Constitution:

                       Section 6 in full: The national language of the
Philippines is (P)ilipino. As it evolves, it shall be further developed
and enriched on the basis of existing Philippine and other languages.
Subject to provisions of law and as Congress may deem appropriate, the
Government shall take steps to initiate and sustain the use of (P)ilipino
as a medium of official communication and as language of instruction in
the educational system.
                       The pertinent paragraph of Section 7: For purposes
of communication and instruction, the official languages of the
Philippines are (P)ilipino and, until otherwise provided by law, English.
The second paragraph of Section 6 mandates the development of Pilipino as
the preferred, if not the sole, language of instruction in the schools.
Section 7 states that English will only be in use until otherwise provided
by law.  The Gullas bill is flawed on two counts.  First, it is a step
backward. Second, it will repeal the second paragraph of Section 6 and
amend Section 7, Paragraph One, to make English a permanent and the only
language of instruction instead of just being provisional until the law
provides otherwise.
                       Congress, as a legislative body, can repeal only
laws. Only when sitting as a constituent assembly can it amend or revise
the Constitution.

                       Abads Concern

                       Abad cautioned that:

                       1. Using English to teach all subjects in the
elementary level may not be the best way for Filipinos to learn English or
learn anything for that matter.

                       2. It is not enough to teach students to speak and
write English but they should understand what is being taught to them in

                       3. There are a number of factors affecting the
capability of students to learn using the English language:  (a) Learning
English is conducive if the family speaks English at home as well as
friends outside of the school.  (b) Teachers must be equipped with the
proper English skills.  Unfortunately, teachers themselves have difficulty
speaking fluent English.

                       4. The better approach is to let students at an
early age first learn how to read and understand what they are reading. If
they cant read, they will never be proficient in English.  Abads point is
clear. Whats the use of using English only as the medium of instruction if
the students cant understand fully whats being taught to them and if the
teachers themselves cant speak English fluently?

                       Abads concerns strike deep into the language
problem in our schools. They reveal a chaotic language policy that creates
chaos in bilingual teaching. Evidently, English is neglected; yet,
literacy of high school freshmen is measured in English reading

                       Abads approach is to teach Grade One pupils first
to read with comprehension. In what language? He did not specify. Will it
be in the dialect or in Pilipino, whichever is spoken locally, in
transition to English?  If young children are taught the phonetic
structure of their dialect or of Pilipino, they will easily learn to read
in the dialect or Pilipino. Thats how I started my language education at
home in 1931. Transition to English will be easy.  That, too, was my own

                       But transition to English, by Abads approach, if
such is his approach, will be easy only if the learning factors he
enumerated exist. In the 1930s teachers and pupils spoke English in the
classrooms, on the school grounds, and even in the streets with their

                       When Mother taught me the Caton (Alphabets) at
home, the basic approach was sound and syllable formatio the word
formation. When I went to Grade One in 1933, I encountered the same basic
approach sounds and syllables with phonetic variations -- in teaching
English and reading the Primer. In school, we had to speak English for
practice.  From Grades One to Three, we had intensive Phonics and Reading
drills with oral and reading comprehension exercises and tests. We were
not taught grammar until we were in Grade Four.

                       I dont know how pupils from Grades One to Three are
taught Pilipino or English now. But their poor proficiency indicates wrong
approach. The teachers now cant speak English fluently, as Abad said,
because of their poor foundation and the lack of practice.  Modern English
institutes in the United States, as early as the l950s, have developed the
Second Language Teaching method.  Basically, its sounds and patterns. Its
learning English by imitating the correct sounds and patterns of English
and having plenty of practice. I wonder if the public schools have adopted
this method.

                       This was developed to teach English to non-English
speaking immigrants. Without telling them to, they have to practice
speaking outside of their homes since they have to speak English in their
work places, in the markets, in the churches, and other public places.
It will be a good approach for Filipino school children.

                       Back to Gullas bill. Gullas was an educator. Did he
not realize the futility of requiring by law the use of English as the
only medium of instruction when, as tested, 98 percent of the students
cannot comprehend well what they read in English?  And neither could they
speak nor write English proficiently. And the teachers, according to Abad,
cant speak English fluently.  As an educator, Gullas knows that children
learn well in the language they are at home with. For that reason, Chinese
use Mandarin; Japan, Niponggo; Malaysia and Indonesia, their respective
Bahasa; and so do other Asian countries use their national languages in
their schools. English is specifically offered as a foreign language for
those who need to learn it.

                       If we observe our schools, public and private,
students speak, write and read English when their books and tests are in
English. In their common conversation, they use Pilipino, their dialects,
or English mixed with Pilipino and the dialect.  If we observe our
offices, we will realize that oral communication is in Pilipino, the
dialect or English mixed with Pilipino and the dialect. But written
communication is in English.  In our media, the language of radio and
television is predominantly Pilipino. The major newspapers are in English.
But many tabloids are in Pilipino or in the so-called Taglish, a
Tagalog-English concoction.

                       What do all these mean? The Gullas bill is
misplaced, going against the current. The reality in our schools, our
offices, our media, and in other sectors concerning the language preferred
should be the best guide in formulating the language policy by which to
educate our children in our schools.  The literacy problem in our schools
is basically the effect of language problem compounded by wrong or lack of
sound language policy . If the Gullas bill is enacted into law, it will
worsen the problem.

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