Philippines Debate Use of Filipino as Instruction Medium

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Gloria E. Melencio, Arab News

Published — Sunday 20 August 2006

Last Update 20 August 2006 3:00 am

MANILA, 20 August 2006 — Like restive Mayon Volcano, debate on whether the Filipino language is a failed language that should be replaced again by English is threatening to explode.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has categorically instructed the Department of Education (DepEd) to return to the use of English as the medium of instruction in the Philippine schools. This has stirred adverse reactions from academicians, linguists and nationalists lambasting it as a betrayal of Filipino nationhood.

The president is alarmed with the continued decline of the English proficiency in schools that has said to have begun when the Filipino language was officially declared as the medium of teaching in 1989. “Filipinos’ fluency in the English language has fallen after it was scrapped,” Arroyo said.

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) has also begun providing free courses in English to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). Said the OWA’s former administrator Wilhelm Soriano: “Although proficiency in the English language is not the only basis for the continuous high demand for OFWs, it remains as one of the assets and as such must be preserved.’”

Alarmed at the population’s declining proficiency in English, the DepEd has restructured the curriculum this school year to give special emphasis and increased time for English. Private schools have readily obliged. They have been using the English language from way, way back anyway. But public schools have yet to comply.

The question Filipino nationalists have to confront now is: Is Filipino a failed native language?

Lack of Understanding

Ten leading institutions and organizations of academicians and linguists that count the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, the Philippine Normal University, among others, have expressed dismay over the president’s directive to replace Filipino as primary medium of instruction.

In a joint statement issued and circulated in the intellectual community, they said that the president misread the constitutional provision Article XIV, Section 6 explicitly directing “the Government ( to) 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.”

Another pitfall cited is the president’s failure to understand the scientific and modern learning principles that prove that a child learns faster in the native tongue. These learning principles have been validated in experiments and studies even before the implementation of the bilingual policy in Philippine education. The Iloilo experiment in the 1960s showed that Filipino youths learn faster and better in their native language. The EDCOM Report (1998) said: “Test results showed that the highest scores were obtained by those who studied science in their own language...like the Japanese and Korean children.”

Another point of contention is: Must English proficiency be the gauge of one’s intelligence?

Deputy Majority Leader Eduardo Gullas, a lawmaker from Cebu, contends that Filipino children failed in the recent math and science tests given by DepEd because they have poor English. He further explains: “To begin with, math and science manuals and most other books for that matter are in English, so learning becomes extremely difficult if the student has deficient English.”

Had Gullas spent some time to go over the results of the Third International math and science Survey (TIMMS), he could have advised the president that English proficiency is not the gate pass to a true-blue intellectual activity that is asked of the rigors of math and science.

Math and Sciences

TIMMS, a prestigious group of researchers and academicians coming from all parts of the world, found out that the United States, an English speaking country no doubt, miserably placed 17th in science and 28th in mathematics!

Surprisingly, the countries whose people are not English speakers and who use their native tongues as medium of instruction are in the top rung. These are Singapore, South Korea, Czech Republic, Japan, Bulgaria, Netherlands, Hungary, Austria and Belgium.

And where did the Filipino students, said to be the best English speakers in Asia, land? At the tail-end, where else?

Another thing that TIMMS expounds on is the amount of time and money spent on teaching math and science.

A country’s budget on education and the length of time spent inside the classroom are also not measures in teaching well. The study found that the Czech Republic and Korea allot a small budget for educating their children but placed considerably higher than Germany and Great Britain who are big spenders.

The number of students per class does not also matter in getting high marks, TIMSS proves.

Countries such as France, USA and Great Britain have small number of students per class but got low ranks than Singapore and Hong Kong that have the highest number of students in class in the whole of Asia.

In the Philippines, a recommendation to use Filipino as the sole medium of instruction in the primary level of education is under way. Hong Kong and China are currently implementing this effectively, UP, Ateneo, PNU and other pro-Filipino language institutional advocates contend.

“Such a system that emphasizes the role of the first language will produce students who are literate in Filipino and very ready to learn English and in English. We suggest that we invest in the training and the retraining of our teachers. Our normal schools should get a bigger budget to invigorate the teaching profession. We should earnestly develop and produce textbooks written in Filipino to support this proposed national language program. We laud the administration’s commitment to build more schools but a parallel support should be infused into the raising of the quality of education,” the joint statement further explains.

The quality of teachers teaching math, science or English should also be upgraded, the statement said.

Teachers teaching Filipino children were also urged to continuously update themselves and make the teaching profession as exciting. The educators called on the government to look into the teachers’ meager salary. Low government support discourages teachers and lowers their morale, thereby making jobs such as domestic helpers and chambermaids a come-on to them.

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