Philippines: Mother-tongue education is way to go

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat Nov 1 14:25:12 UTC 2008

Mother-tongue education is way to go

By Isabel Pefianco Martin
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:53:00 11/01/2008

At a recent policy research forum hosted by SEAMEO Innotech, language
education specialists from the Department of Education, the National
Economic and Development Authority, Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino
[Commission on Filipino Language], Summer Institute of Linguistics,
and others from educational and non-government institutions, including
the Linguistic Society of the Philippines, gathered to discuss
"Language of Learning: Models and Best Practices." It became crystal
clear to all present that mother-tongue education should be the way to
go so that basic education in the Philippines would truly move

The reasons behind promoting mother-tongue education do not seem to be
evident to many educators and lawmakers in this country, even if the
concept is almost axiomatic to the rest of the world. How else do we
explain the fact that there are 205 co-authors of House Bill 305,
which seeks to make English the sole medium of instruction in
Philippine schools?

In the Philippines, mother-tongue education is already being practiced
with success. The Lubuagan First Language Experiment, conducted by the
Summer Institute of Linguistics in close collaboration with the
Department of Education, revealed that students taught in their native
language performed much better in Math, Science, English, and Filipino
achievement tests. In fact today, first-language teaching in Lubuagan
is no longer experimental. It was so successful that the community
decided to adopt it as the norm.

The Lubuagan experience proves that mastery of content is best
achieved through mother tongue-based teaching. Mother-tongue education
allows students to bridge from their first languages to the second
languages, including the two official languages, Filipino and English.

Mother-tongue education does not have to be implemented in formal
school settings alone. This is evident in the basic literacy
experience of the Pulangiyen tribal community of Bukidnon. At the
Policy Research Forum hosted by SEAMEO Innotech, Fr. Pedro Walpole,
S.J. presented an approach that combined culture-based education and
the basic education curriculum of the Department of Education,
necessarily founded on mother-tongue education. This ultimately
deepened the schoolchildren's ownership of their culture. Father
Walpole estimates that there are about 300 informal educational
activities throughout Mindanao that are similar to the mother-tongue
basic literacy efforts in Pulangiyen, Bukidnon. Unfortunately, these
informal settings continue to elude the Department of Education's

The idea of mother-tongue education in the Philippines is certainly
not new. The 1948-1954 Iloilo Experiment in Education Through the
Vernacular has already shown the benefits of teaching in the first
language. The 1991 Congressional Commission on Education included the
use of home languages in its policy recommendations. Similar
recommendations were made in the 1998 Philippine Education Sector
Study of the ADB and World Bank, the report of the 2000 Presidential
Commission on Educational Reform, and the National Learning Strategy
of the 2008 Department of Education Basic Education Sector Reform

Despite the popularity of HB Bill 305, An Act to Strengthen and
Enhance the Use of English as the Medium of Instruction in Philippine
Schools, within the seemingly uninformed confines of the Philippine
legislature, mother-tongue education continues to gain advocates among
language professionals, teachers, and parents.

The Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino was the first to issue a statement
endorsing mother-tongue education by supporting House Bill 3719, also
known as the Multilingual Education and Literacy Act, authored by Rep.
Magtanggol Gunigundo of Valenzuela City.

The Philippine Business for Education, one of the largest associations
of businessmen in the country, adopted the UNESCO position that the
mother tongue is essential for literacy in any setting. In May 2008,
delegates to the Nakem Conference held at St. Mary's University in
Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, passed a resolution supporting HB 3719.

In September, the Linguistic Society of the Philippines, one of the
oldest and most prestigious associations of language researchers in
the country, gave its full support for the Gunigundo bill.

The National Economic and Development Authority, through Director
General Ralph Recto, cited the harmony of HB 3719 with the goals of
the Philippine Education for All (EFA) 2015 Plan and the Updated
Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan (MTPDP) 2004-2010.

Even parents are supportive of mother-tongue education. Some
Parents-Teachers and Community Associations (PTCA) have already issued
statements of support for HB 3719, among them, the PTCA of Marikina
City and Rizal province, as well as the Public School District
Supervisors Association of Marikina City. As of this writing, I have
already received pledges from stakeholders in Cebu, Bicol, and

Why must we insist on mother-tongue education? Dr. Aurelio Agcaoili,
convener of the Nakem Conferences, sums it up eloquently: "HB 3719 is
a bold admission of a very simple but emancipatory principle of
education: that each educand learns better and more productively if he
learns what he is supposed to learn in his own language, and thus, in
accord with the tools of his own culture."

Isabel Pefianco Martin is the immediate past president of the
Linguistic Society of the Philippines. She is an associate professor
and coordinator for research at the School of Humanities, Ateneo de
Manila University. For comments, please email linguisticsoc at
or visit

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