Philippines: Misplaced emphasis on English

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Apr 27 12:19:25 UTC 2007
April 25th, 2007

Misplaced emphasis on English

MANILA, Philippines -- Tomorrow, a petition is going to be filed with the
Supreme Court by a group of concerned groups and individuals, among them
the most glittering names in Philippine arts and letters -- ranging from
critic Isagani R. Cruz and national artist Bienvenido Lumbera, to Romulo
Baquiran Jr. and Nicanor Tiongson, to educators Patricia Licuanan and
sociologist Randy David. The petitioners also include minors, represented
by their parents. The petition is asking the Court to issue a restraining
order to stop the President of the Philippines from further implementing
Executive Order 210, series of 2003.

Signed on May 17, 2003, the EO has as its fairly non-controversial
purpose, "Establishing the Policy to Strengthen English as a Second
Language in the Educational System." The petition says the five main
points of the EO are: (a) English should be taught as a second language at
all levels of the educational system, starting with the First Grade; (b)
English should be used as the medium of instruction for English,
Mathematics, and Science from at least the Third Grade Level; (c) English
shall be used as a primary medium of instruction in all public
institutions of learning at the secondary level; (d) As the primary medium
of instruction, the percentage of time allotment for learning areas
conducted in the English language in high school is expected to be not
less than 70 percent of the total time allotment for all learning areas;
and (e) The Filipino language shall continue to be the medium of
instruction in the learning areas of Filipino and Araling Panlipunan.

On Aug. 22, 2006, the secretary of education implemented EO 210 by
promulgating Memorandum Order No. 36, Series of 2006. The MO provides for
the following: (a) English shall be taught as a second language starting
with Grade I; (b) As provided for in the 2002 Basic Education Curriculum,
English shall be used as the medium of instruction for English,
Mathematics and Science and Health starting Grade III; and (c) The English
language shall be used as the primary medium of instruction in all public
and private schools in the secondary level, including those established as
laboratory and/or experimental schools, and vocational and technical
institutions. As the primary medium of instruction, the percentage of time
allotment for learning areas conducted in the English language should not
be less than 70 percent of the total time allotment for all learning areas
in all year levels.

Both the President's order and the subsequent Department of Education
instructions, according to the petitioners, are objectionable on many
grounds. Among the main objections is that the order is deceptive,
claiming, as policy, strengthening English as a second languagebut
actually it establishes English as the primary language of instruction
from the secondary level up. This goes against the Constitution.

Article XIV, Sec. 6, which established Filipino as the national language,
also includes the following policy: "Subject to provisions of law and as
the Congress may deem appropriate, the Government shall take steps to
initiate and sustain the use of Filipino as a medium of official
communication and as language of instruction in the educational system."
Sec. 7 of the same Article says, "For the purpose of communication and
instruction, the official languages of the Philippines are Filipino and,
until otherwise provided by law, English." Furthermore, "The regional
languages are the auxiliary official languages in the regions and shall
serve as auxiliary media of instruction therein."

Granted that the President's intentions are motivated by a concern to keep
Filipinos competitive and to make them better-educated, still, whatever
reforms she undertakes must be compatible with the Constitution. Secondly,
reforms should be reforms, not a reactionary attempt to simply decree an
English-speaking campaign. Licuanan, speaking earlier this year, explained
why the President's policy is not only unconstitutional, but
counterproductive: "The use of English as medium of instruction will not
improve the quality of English in the country nor will it present the
opportunities for intellectual and economic advancement as claimed. The
ones who benefit most from education in English are those who have high
levels of proficiency in English to start with and those who belong to
environments where English language inputs, materials and resources are
available. The overwhelming majority of Filipinos will forever struggle
with English as a foreign language and will feel alienated in the
classroom where they are required to speak in English. They are likely to
learn very little and enjoy the so-called learning process even less. They
will fail examinations and eventually drop out. The use of English as
medium of instruction in our schools may also explain the lapse into
illiteracy among school dropouts who were taught to be literate in English
through rote memorization. English, therefore, is not the solution to
poverty in the country but may actually be part of the cause of poverty."

By what means, then will a student learn best? The petitioners say, by
using languages closer to home: that is, first of all, the local language
of a child, and then, the national language of the country. As Juan Miguel
Luz wrote in this paper, "The key to better English is better
implementation; more teacher training in grammar, composition, vocabulary;
more mechanisms to expand English usage in schools such as campus
journalism, campus radio, assigned days for English and Filipino
communication and the like, more bilingual reading books and elocution
contests and spelling bees (both in English and Filipino)." The key to
better science and math skills is to teach them in the native tongues.

( )


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