Philippines: Language experts, educators nix House bill for all-English teaching

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Fri Jan 16 14:32:13 UTC 2009

 Language experts, educators nix House bill for all-English teaching

*By JESUS F. LLANTO,* | 01/16/2009 12:05 AM

The proposal to adopt English as the primary medium of instruction (MOI)
from Grade IV to high school appears to be gaining support in the House of
Representatives. Language experts and educators however are pushing for a
multi-lingual education (MLE) policy that puts emphasis on the use of
child's first language as language of teaching.

Language experts said Thursday in a forum at the University of the
Philippines in Quezon City that instead of adopting English as the teaching
language from Grade IV to the secondary level, Philippine schools should use
the language first learned by a child (L1) as MOI from pre-school to Grade 6
because it facilitates the child's learning. "One's own language enables a
child to express himself or herself easily, as there is no fear of making
mistakes," said Ricardo Nolasco, a linguistic professor at UP and head of
the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino.

Nolasco said that MLE encourages active participation by children in the
learning process because they can easily comprehend what is being discussed
by their teachers. "They can immediately use L1 to construct and explain
their world, articulate their thoughts and add new concepts to what they
already know," Nolasco said adding that MLE would yield better results than
instituting English as MOI.

*English bill gaining support in Congress*

The issue of the medium of instruction was revived recently after proponents
of adopting English as MOI in the House of Representatives claimed last
December that they have the numbers to pass the House Bill 5619 or "An Act
to Strengthen and Enhance the Use of English as Medium of Instruction in
Philippine Schools." Cebu 1st district Rep. Eduardo Gullas, author of HB
5619, told in an interview last week that about
213 legislators have agreed to co-author the bill.

"It's as good as approved," Gullas told us.  HB 5619 prescribes the use of
English, Filipino or the regional/native language from pre-school to Grade 3
and the use of English as the teaching language in all academic subjects
from grades 4 to 6, and in all levels of high school.

*'Use first language'*

Language experts opposing Gullas bill said that a number of studies have
confirmed that learning is faster when children are taught in the language
they are familiar with. A 1994 World Bank-funded study 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.
Developing the child's cognitive skills through the first language, the
study also found out, is more effective than exposure to the second

A pilot study of the Summer Institute of Linguistics-Philippines in
Lubuagan, Kalinga showed that children taught in their first language are
learning more from their educational experience than those who are primarily
being taught in English and Filipino. Stephen Walker, a literacy and
education consultant for Africa, Asia, and Central and South America, said
that imposing English only as MOI can "probably cause distraction in the
learning process." "Based on what I have seen in other countries, this would
result in decline in educational performance," Walker told

*'Go multi-lingual'*

Language experts said that MLE proposed by Valenzuela City Rep. Magtanggol
Gunigundo through HB 3719 is a better alternative to the English bill. Among
the salient points of HB 3719 are as follows:

   - Use of child's first language as the primary medium of instruction in
   all subjects from pre-school up to the end of the child's elementary
   - Teaching of the first language, English and Filipino as separate
   subjects at the elementary level
   - Introduction of English and Filipino as MOI in some parts of the
   - Use of English and Filipino as MOI in the secondary level and the use
   of first language as auxiliary medium

"The first language of the child policy in the long run is cost effective as
it will efface dropout rates and improve functional literacy that will equip
every Filipino with the ability to read, write, think, listen, speak, and
compute," Gunigundo said. The use of the first language or mother tongue in
instruction, Gunigundo said in his bill, affirms the value of the child and
his cultural heritage enabling the child to develop skills needed to excel
in academic subjects and in acquisition of Filipino and English as second

"English and Filipino are second languages to most Filipinos," Nolasco said
referring to a huge segment of the population that uses Cebuano, Ilocano and
other languages as their first language. Nolasco said that non-native
Tagalog speakers will not have a hard time learning Filipino and English if
they already mastered their native or first language. "They already have a
foundation." Meanwhile, the all-English bill, Gunigundo said, advocates the
use of the child's first language for the first three levels in the
elementary and prescribes the use of English as "exclusive medium of
instruction" from Grade 4 to high school. "The bill assumes that the child
learner has acquired English proficiency in three years that places him in
educational parity with native English speakers of same age," Gunigundo
said. .

*'Legislating is not enough'*

Language experts and even advocates of multi-lingual education system and,
however, agree that passing a law prescribing the MOI is not enough to solve
the declining English proficiency and the ills of the Philippine educational
system. "Legislation will have little effect on what teacher and students
do," said Allan Bernardo, a professor from De La Salle University. Peter
Perfecto of the Philippine Business for Education said that if the country
wants to solve the declining English proficiency, it should develop more
competent English teachers and provide support to them. Nolasco said that
the country needs not just competent teachers but also good teaching

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