[lg policy] Philippines: Fixing education through language

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sun Aug 8 14:08:48 UTC 2010

Fixing education through language

[Following is a reprint from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, first
posted on 07/23/2010.]

By Ricardo Ma. Duran Nolasco

Dr. R. Nolasco

IN SCHOOL, speaking one’s native tongue (e.g., Cebuano, Ilocano, Bicol
or Waray) is still considered by many an obstacle to learning, instead
of an educational resource. Monetary, academic and even corporal
penalties have been imposed in the false belief that, these will
dissuade students from speaking the “dialect” in school. The times,
they are a-changing, as the song goes. President Aquino has committed
to fix 10 things in basic education and one of these would be done by
rationalizing the medium of instruction. Four others—extending basic
education from 10 to 12 years, universal pre-schooling for all, a
strong Science and Math curriculum starting at Grade 1, and “every
child a reader” by Grade 1—all depend on the use of the right
language(s) for their success.

The idea is, from pre-school to Grade 3, the child’s first language
(L1) will be used as the medium of instruction; Filipino and English
will be taught as second language (L2) subjects. From Grades 4-6 (7),
L1 will still be used, but English will increasingly become the medium
of instruction for Science and Math. For Social Studies, it will be
Filipino. In high school, English and Filipino will become the primary
mediums of instruction in those subjects, with L1 being used as an
auxiliary language.
President Aquino expressed the view that we have to learn all these
languages well: English to connect ourselves to the world, Filipino to
connect ourselves to our country, and our mother tongue to connect
ourselves to our heritage.

Legislating L1 use in the classroom may be necessary in the long term.
Among the education bills already filed at the House of
Representatives, House Bill 162, introduced by Rep. Magtanggol T.
Gunigundo I of Valenzuela City, comes closest to what President Aquino
wants in the language of instruction issue. Earlier on, in 2002,
Congress approved the Early Childhood Care and Development Act in
which the child’s L1 was legislated as the primary medium of
instruction and communication for early childhood curricula and
activities. All the international and national studies on language use
in education, including those made by Unesco, are one in saying that
children learn better and faster when their mother tongue is used as a
medium of instruction for their education. There are no empirical
studies showing that L2, as the lone medium of instruction, produces
higher learning outcomes among children.

In 2007, the Trends in Mathematics and Science Studies (TIMSS)
reiterated earlier findings that: Students who spoke the language of
test at home had higher mathematics and science achievement.
Achievement was highest among schools where the language of test was
90 percent or more in the students’ home language. These findings
squarely apply to Filipino learners who took the TIMSS tests in 1998
and 2003 in English. During those years, we were in the bottom five
among the participating countries in terms of achievement. Steve
Walter from the Summer Institute of Linguistics wanted to find out if
there was a correlation between a population’s access to L1 education
and a country’s development status. He was able to confirm that
countries whose population had access to L1 education were indeed the
most developed, while those who did not were the least developed.

Walter also modeled the career and workforce implications of L1/L2
education versus pure L2 education to a country’s population.
According to his model, when education is received in an L1/L2 setup,
out of 10,000 students, 699 can be expected to perform at academic
levels associated with researchers, scientists, doctors and other
highly trained professionals. Among those with pure L2 education, only
six will most likely reach this level; the rest turn to blue-collar
jobs (e.g., manual laborers and domestics).
The task of deploying our native languages as learning resources looks
formidable considering that the country has around 170 different
languages. The enormity of the problem is lessened somewhat by the
fact that 15 of those languages are already the language of 95 percent
of our population. The intellectualization of these languages will
come through constant use.

It is gratifying to note that in July of last year, the Department of
Education junked the old bilingual policy and, through Department
Order No. 74, institutionalized the mother tongue-based multi-lingual
education (MTBMLE) despite the pro-English bias of then President
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. A strategic plan for implementing mother
tongue-based multilingual education was also put in place. Now, we
have a 10-day short course and a longer 4-week MTBMLE training and
materials development course for teachers in the pilot programs. A
curriculum guide for language, arts and reading is currently being
tested. By 2012 MTBMLE is expected to be implemented at pre-school and
Grade 1 levels throughout the country. By then, teachers shall have
been trained and the pertinent materials shall have been made
available. In 2013, and every year thereafter, a grade level under the
new MLE curriculum will be added until the program covers the entire
elementary cycle.

We agree with President Aquino that by fixing basic education, we fix
the long-term problems of the country.

Dr. Ricardo Ma. Duran Nolasco (rnolasco_upmin at yahoo.com) is an
associate professor at the Department of Linguistics in UP Diliman. He
is the president of the 170+ Talaytayan MLE Inc., and the Foundation
for Worldwide People Power’s adviser for mother-tongue education


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