Philippines: Legislators push English as medium of instruction

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Jun 10 13:35:35 UTC 2008

Legislators push English as medium of instruction

By Jesus F. Llanto

Despite a number of studies confirming that learning is faster using
the native language, government officials are still pushing for the
adoption of English as a medium on instruction (MOI) in Philippine
schools. A check on the bills filed in the 14th Congress shows that
there are three bills—House Bills 230, 305, 406—seeking for either the
re-instatement or enhancement of the use of English as a medium of
instruction. The three bills propose the use of English, Filipino or
the regional languages as MOI in all subjects from pre-school to Grade
II. They prescribe the use of English for all academic subjects from
Grade III up to the secondary level. Proponents of these bills claim
that the decline in the English proficiency of the Filipinos and the
deterioration of the quality of the education have eroded the
competitiveness of the Filipinos.

Rep. Eduardo Gullas, author of HB 305, said in the bill's explanatory
note that the proposed legislation aims to correct the defects of the
current Bilingual Education Program (BEP) of the Department of the
Education, which was introduced in 1974. The BEP mandated the teaching
not only of Filipino as a subject in all levels but also the use of
Filipino as MOI in Social Studies, Character Education, Values
Education, Physical Education, Industrial Arts and Home Economics.
Gullas said learning of the English language suffered a setback when
the BEP was introduced in 1974. "The use of Filipino as a medium of
instruction in the subjects mentioned earlier has limited the exposure
of the learner to English, and since exposure is basic to language
learning, mastery of the language is not attained."

The policy, Gullas said, results in language interference since
targeting the learning of English and Filipino is difficult especially
in the lower grades.


Reps. Raul del Mar and Luis Villafuerte—authors of HB 446 and 230,
respectively—believe that their proposed legislation will raise the
level of English language proficiency and will help the Filipinos
remain competitive.

Del Mar, whose bill also proposes the use of English as the language
of assessment in the government examinations and entrance tests in
public schools, colleges and universities, said "The accepted view is
that without English language proficiency, it is difficult for a
Filipino to get jobs anywhere in this country and anywhere in the
world. The key to better jobs here or overseas is English,"

Sub-standard English

Businessmen have been complaining of college graduates who are not
proficient in English. In 2006, the European Chamber of Commerce
estimated that 75 percent of the around 400,000 college graduates have
substandard English skills.

Jayjay Viray, general manager of jobhunting website, said
most of their clients complained of applicants who lack good
communication skills and have trouble expressing themselves in
English. She added that most vacancies in the marketing and business
sector require applicants to speak in English.

"When you are looking for a job you are actually selling yourself,"
Viray told "Even if you have the skills and
you do not know how to communicate with your prospective employers,
they'll never know your abilities. In most cases, it's the initial
conversation with them [prospective employers] that matters."

The growing business process outsourcing (BPO) industry in the country
is one of the sectors that have difficulty in filling up positions due
to low recruitment yield and lack of applicants fluent in English. A
2007 study by the Business Process Association of the Philippines
(BPAP) and showed that 46 percent of the
companies surveyed found only 6 to 20 percents of applicants

"If we continue with what we are having this moment, we might not have
enough workers to meet future demand," said Jamea Garcia, executive
director for talent of BPAP. BPAP estimates that the outsourcing
industry will provide 1 million jobs by 2010.

Here comes EO 210

This growth in the information and technology sector is one of the
reasons cited by government in justifying the need to improve English
proficiency. In 2003,

President Arroyo signed Executive Order No. 210, which strengthens use
of the English language as a second language in the educational

"There is a need to develop the aptitude, competence and proficiency
of our students in the English language to maintain and improve their
competitive edge in emerging and fast-growing local and international
industries, particularly in the area of information and communications
technology," the order reads.

According to the order, English should be taught as a second language
starting with Grade 1 and should be taught as the medium of
instruction for English, Mathematics and Science from at least Grade
3. Filipino language will be used as MOI for Filipino and Araling

It also mandates the use of English as the primary medium of
instruction in all public and private secondary schools. The
percentage of time allotment for learning areas conducted in English
language, the law said, should not be less than 70 percent of the
total time allotment for all learning areas in the secondary level.

However, EO 210 and its implementing rules and regulation were
questioned last year by a group of professors and language experts.
The professors and language experts filed a petition with the Supreme
Court challenging the orders.

"While the title of the EO purports to strengthen the use of English
as a second language, analyses of the contents show that the EO
actually strengthens English as the medium of instruction," the
petition said.

Petitioners argued that the (1) EO subverts the present status of
Filipino in non-Tagalog areas, and violates the constitutional
injunction that the regional language shall serve as auxiliary media
of instruction, (2) violates the constitutional duty to initiate and
sustain the use of Filipino language in the educational system and (3)
"undermines the letter and spirit of the Constitution on the national

'Mother tongue is best'

Language experts also criticized the EO 210 and the pending bills
because they go against the findings of previous studies that learning
is faster when the mother tongue is used as medium of instruction,
particularly during the child's early years in school.

A World Bank-funded study in 1994 by Nadine Dutcher and G. Richard
Tucker concludes that individuals easily develop cognitive skills and
master content material when they are taught in a familiar language.
The study also found out developing the child's cognitive skills
through the first language is more effective than exposure to the
second language.

Similarly, the 1991 Congressional Report of the Congressional
Commission on Education recommended the use of the vernacular and
Filipino as the medium of instruction for basic education.

In a CEO forum on English last year, Patricia B. Licuanan, president
of Miriam College, said empirical evidence has shown the damaging
effects of English on Filipino student learning since the 1925, when
the Monroe Survey Commission found out that foreign language handicap
was the greatest problem of the Philippine educational system. Back
then, the American colonial government prescribed the use of English
as medium of instruction.

"When English is used, students do not learn well, and at times do not
learn at all," Licuanan said. "Using English as medium of instruction
in some subject areas [Math and Science] prevents students from
learning as much as they could in their mother tongue."

Ricardo Ma. Nolasco, chair of the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, said
the basic weakness in Philippine education is the fact that many
students do not understand their teacher and cannot follow the lesson
because "the language in school is one they can hardly speak or

Nolasco told us that what the country need is a law mandating the use
of the children's first language from pre-school to Grade 6 and adopt
the bilingual system in high school. He added that this would allow
learners to develop cognitive and linguistic skills in their mother
tongue, build solid foundation for learning other subjects and
eventually transfer skills and knowledge to the prescribed languages.

National Artist for Literature and UP College of Arts and Letters Dean
Virgilio Almario said in an interview that the use of Filipino
language is not tantamount to the decline in English proficiency.

"Even if all classes will be conducted in Filipino, English will not
die because it will remain to be a necessity," said Almario, who is
among those who filed the petition challenging EO 210.

Train the teachers

Almario added that in order to improve the English proficiency of
students, there is a need to re-train the teachers because most of
them are also not proficient in English.

Results of self-assessment test conducted by the DEPED in 2004 showed
that one out of five public high school teachers is proficient in the
English language. Even Deped Secretary Jesli Lapuz himself told us
that he hears stories of students complaining that their teacher is
not good in English.

Carleen Sedilla, a former public high school English teacher in
Caloocan and now the principal of Caloocan City Science High School,
said the situation is aggravated by students' limited exposure to the
language. "Before, they can learn English by watching cartoons and TV
shows. Now, everything is in Filipino."

"Do you expect them to learn if they have limited exposure to the
English language and if their teachers do not speak good English?" she

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