Sunday, January 11, 2009

Editorial: King's English (Reprint)

King’s English

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:15:00 01/11/2009

WHEN Congress resumes on Jan. 19, the House of Representatives is expected to be engulfed in a war of words—or languages—over the passage of House Bill 5619, the proposed Act Strengthening and Enhancing the Use of English as the Medium of Instruction. Authored by Cebu Rep. Eduardo Gullas, the bill seeks to junk the bilingual policy adopted by the old education department in 1974, during the Marcos era. The policy sought to make the “nation competent in the use of English and Filipino.” Gullas’ measure seeks “the reinstatement of English as medium of instruction” in Philippine basic education.

It is easy to sympathize with Gullas; apparently, there are many who are ruing the Filipinos’ loss of English proficiency and they blame this on the bilingual policy. But it is one thing to lament the loss of our English proficiency, and another to dictate that it be made the medium of instruction in our schools.

To be sure, the state should be in the business of looking for the best way to effectively transmit knowledge in its education system. But studies across the board show that the mother tongue is the best conveyor of instruction.

To some extent, the Gullas bill recognizes the above. It gives schools the option to use English, Filipino or the regional language as the teaching language from pre-school up to Grade 3. But from the intermediate grades up to high school, English will be the teaching language, except in Filipino as a course.

Just the same, the bill’s “English myopia” is hegemonic, and overlooks scientific evidence showing the mother tongue to be the best medium of instruction. For example, a study showed that non-native American children who were schooled for six years in their first language, before they were taught completely in English, scored in their Science and Mathematics—as well as English—tests higher than the average native English pupil. In contrast, non-native English students who began education completely in English learned the least English and scored lowest in their academic subjects.

All these findings should show that no science or reason propels the campaign for the reinstitution of English as instruction language in our schools—except for that uniquely Filipino science-—hiya or loss of face, the reverse of which is another uniquely Filipino science—yabang or conceit. Perhaps confronted by Melanie Marquez and other Philippine beauty queens and pretenders who, during question-and-answer portions, add to the rich vocabulary of English by their unwitting and very hilarious answers; and perhaps feeling guilty and embarrassed because their children speak their yaya’s “Barok” English, some lawmakers now like to efface the atrocious English around them, including their own, by mandating that everyone speak the King’s English. But this gesture is at best aristocratic pretension.

At the least, Gullas et al. are driven by other considerations in seeking to restore English, but these considerations hardly have anything to do with hastening learning or the absorption of lessons by our students. They may have more to do with their distaste of the Tagalog-based Filipino and their resistance to Manila imperialism. (Filipino promoters may protest that Filipino is democratic and is drawn from all the major regional languages, not just Tagalog, but they should recognize that the suspicion against it by the provinces remains widespread. In any case, even Filipino promoters quarrel among themselves on which word or coinage to incorporate in the new vocabulary, and their Babel-like quarrel may take another eon to resolve.)

Gullas et al. also want English proficiency because of the global scheme of things, such as the decided advantage of Filipino manpower abroad due to their English know-how and the relative prestige accorded to nations that speak English. But since Filipinos get the lower end of skills in global manpower, what level of English proficiency should they really have? To be sure, many Filipina maids abroad can speak English even better than their masters.

In the end, even if Filipinos had indeed reached the nadir of English proficiency, it has nothing to do with the bilingual policy or the rise of the regional languages. It has more to do with the poor system of instruction: defective textbooks, poor language instructionals, poor (or total lack of) facilities, incompetent teachers and education planners, corruption and mismanagement. We may have English as the sole medium of instruction at all levels of education, but the Filipinos will continue to speak and write the most dreadful English as long as the system of instruction keeps submitting a hideous report card.

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