Friday, February 27, 2009

English vs Mother Tongue? - Reprint

Which is the best medium of instruction for Filipino students? Heads butt at the Lower House to prove which bill can help solve the growing illiteracy problem…

“WE have become a nation of fifth graders!” remarked Josefina Cortes, dean of the University of the East (UE) Graduate School and former UE president. The sad results of a literacy survey conducted in 2003 further validate her assumption.

Of the 57.59 million Filipinos aged 10 to 64 years old chosen as respondents for the Functional Literacy, Education and Mass Media Survey (FLEMMS), 5.24 million Filipino could not read and write, while 7.83 million could not read, write and compute. Worse, the same survey finds that 18.37 million Filipinos could not read, write, compute and comprehend!

The survey also reveals that the illiteracy rate among the poor is even more alarming, with one out of two people (46%) not being able to understand what they read.

In an effort to address this, some solons have consolidated their pertinent bills to maximize the use of English in schools and be able to produce more globally competitive graduates.

House Bill 5619 (Consolidated English-Only Bill by Cebu Reps. Eduardo Gullas and Raul Del Mar and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte) aims to strengthen and enhance the use of English as the Medium of Intruction (MOI) from the elementary to tertiary levels. Currently on its third and final reading, the bill seems set to be approved with some 202 of the 238 members of the House backing it up.

However, Valenzuela Rep. Magtanggol Gunigundo claims his Multilingual Education (MLE) and Literacy Bill (House Bill no. 3719) is the better alternative to the English Bill. Strongly supported by the academe, government and private organizations and linguistic experts from the University of the Philippines and the Linguistic Society of the Philippines, Gunigundo vows to stop the passage of the English Bill by seeking to convince other solons of the more beneficial merits of the MLE.

Under the English Bill, English, Filipino or the regional/native language may be used as the teaching language in all subjects from preschool to Grade 3. But from Grades 4 to 6, all levels in high school and college, English shall be promoted as the “language of interaction’’ in schools, as well as the “language of assessment’’ in all government examinations, all entrance tests in public schools as well as state universities and colleges. If enacted, the Bill is said to supersede Department of Education (Deped) Order No. 25’s Bilingual Teaching Policy.

Under the MLE bill, students in the pre-school up to Grade 6 will be taught in their first language or L1. This includes the teaching of subjects like math, science, health and social studies. As they develop a strong foundation in their L1, the students will be gradually introduced to the official languages Filipino and English orally and then in the written form. English and Filipino, meanwhile, will be taught strongly as separate subjects.

A press release from Gullas’ office reasoned out that students skills in the English language have weakened with the more prominent use of Taglish (a blend of English and the local dialect). “Mounting global unemployment due to the worsening economic slump has merely underscored the need for our human resources to be proficient in English – the world’s lingua franca – in order to stay highly competitive in the job markets here and abroad,” Gullas said in the press statement.

Students and Campuses Bulletin would have wanted to hear more and straight from Gullas, also an educator, but we were given the round around by his staff and the solon himself.

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MLE ADVOCATES Valenzuela Rep. Magtanggol Gunigundo and UP Professor Ricardo Nolasco say the mother tongue-based education will revolutionize the thinking/reasoning skills of many Filipinos. (Photos by POL BRIANA, JR.)

Gunigundo downplays Gullas’ reason that using English as a medium of instruction improves English proficiency as “mere popular belief.’’

“How can you defend on anecdotal gut feel when there is empirical data culled by linguistic experts not only in Philippines but also in the US, Europe and Africa, that show this is the way to do it. If you really want the Philippines to have a high functional literacy, let’s use the regional languages, the mother tongue of the children in giving them the education that they need. No amount of textbooks, classrooms, teacher training and computers will lift the quality of education if you’re using the wrong language,” Gunigundo explains.

Dr. Ricardo Ma. Nolasco, associate professor, UP Department of Linguistics, has long been a proponent of the MLE campaign, even teaming up with Gunigundo in pushing for this bill in Congress.

“The issue of language in education in the Philippines is a learning issue and a very urgent one. Filipino children are not learning because they cannot understand what the teacher is saying. The language in school is not THEIR language. We are pushing for the use of the mother tongue in the elementary grades in order to develop the child’s cognitive skills and to provide a solid foundation towards learning in Filipino and English in the higher grades,” stresses Nolasco who is also a board member of the Linguistic Society of the Philippines and the adviser for multilingual education initiatives of the Foundation for Worldwide People Power Inc.

There are currently over 150 dialects aside from the Filipino language that are being used as the first language of many young Filipino children. Studies also reveal that it normally takes 12 years for a child to have a strong foundation in his first language that will facilitate the acquisition of a second, third and fourth language.

“That is what we want. We want our country to deliver quality education to the Filipino youth and the best way to do this is by using the first language of the child. Why are we demoting the regional languages? Are we saying the regional languages are inferior to Filipino and to English? That only English is the language known in this world that can deliver knowledge in math and science? That’s not correct. Our language is a living lingua franca, its not a puristic Filipino that were talking about. Its universal and embraces so many words including Chinese and Spanish.”

Moreover, he says being proficient in English is not a sign of a well-educated person.

“Even former US president George Bush committed a lot of grammatical syntactical mistakes during his presidency, and he’s a native English speaker. Kung English lang talaga ang way to go up for social nobility, eh di dapat ang mga Americano ang no. 1 sa lahat,” he adds.

Nolasco adds that this innovative approach to learning will produce multi-literate, multi-lingual and multi-cultural learners who can interact harmoniously with people of various cultural backgrounds.

Through MLE, Nolasco points out that children will be more encouraged to take an active part in the learning process because they understand what is being discussed and what is being asked of them. By using their own language, they will be able to articulate their thoughts and express themselves better.

Moreover, Nolasco says MLE will also empower the teachers as they become fluent and adept in the local language, as well as the parents who will be more involved in the education of their children because they all speak the same language. MLE, thus, brings the school and its programs closer to the community.

While many can’t seem to see the point in still learning in the language they already know, Nolasco clarified that what they may refer to is the conversational or everyday language used for daily interaction. This conversational language, he explains, is quite different from the academic and intellectualized language needed to discuss more abstract subjects.

“According to studies, it takes one to three years to learn conversational language but four to seven years to master the academic language under well resourced conditions. It also takes time to develop higher order thinking (HOT) skills and this depends largely on cognitively demanding curricula especially from Grade 4 onwards,” he says.

According to him, the use of MLE is also expected to spur the second language industry, decentralize graft and corruption in the making of materials and teaching of methodology and will ultimately, revolutionize the thinking of many Filipinos whose reasoning skills will be further developed.

Nolasco says they were able to discuss their concerns with Rep. Gullas’ group but “they don’t want to listen. Puro rank and file arguments saying we should be globally competitive, rising demand for call centers, etc.”

He reiterates that they are also for global competitiveness but the issue here is how Filipinos can achieve that.

“The ability to communicate, the reasoning skills and problem solving. Kung hindi mo alam pano mag solve mga bagay bagay bakit kita iiemploy. Ke marunong ka mag English or Filipino, dapat yung abilidad mo andun na in the first place. The call centers have their own training programs ang kelangan nila mga tao na trainable at marunong sumunod sa instructons. Kahit magaling ka mag-English pero hindi ka marunong umintindi hindi rin puede yun,” he says.

Gunigundo adds that English, as it is, is already harder to understand with the nuances in grammar rules, among others. If it is going to be used as MOI the students, particularly the children of farmers and fishermen will even have a harder time learning in school.

“Eh yun lang regular at irregular verbs ang hirap intindihin nun. Imagine you will give him all of that, hindi niya maabsorb lahat yan kawawa ang batang Pilipino. Hindi niya kaya. And I don’t want to see my children ending up being fined for speaking in Filipino in their class. That is a violation of child rights under the Child Youth and Welfare Code of the UN Convention,” he concludes. (Other information sourced from a primer dubbed “The 21 Reasons why Filipino children learn better while using their Mother Tongue” by Ricardo Ma. Duran Nolasco, Ph.D.)


Brian Barker said...

I believe that the rights of minority languages need defending.

The promulgation of English as the world's "lingua franca" is unethical and linguistically undemocratic. I say this as a native English speaker!

Unethical because communication should be for all and not only for an educational or political elite. That is how English is used internationally at the moment.

Undemocratic because minority languages are under attack worldwide due to the encroachment of majority ethnic languages. Even Mandarin Chinese is attempting to dominate as well. The long-term solution must be found and a non-national language, which places all ethnic languages on an equal footing is essential.

An interesting video can be seen at http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8837438938991452670
A glimpse of Esperanto can be seen at http://www.lernu.net

I hope you do not mind me sending this information

Brian Barker

Brian Barker said...

I live in London and if anyone says to me “everyone speaks English” my answer is “Listen and look around you”. If people in London do not speak English then the whole question of a global language is completely open.

The promulgation of English as the world’s “lingua franca” is impractical and linguistically undemocratic. I say this as a native English speaker!

Impractical because communication should be for all and not only for an educational or political elite. That is how English is used internationally at the moment.

Undemocratic because minority languages are under attack worldwide due to the encroachment of majority ethnic languages. Even Mandarin Chinese is attempting to dominate as well. The long-term solution must be found and a non-national language, which places all ethnic languages on an equal footing is essential.

An interesting video can be seen at http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=_YHALnLV9XU Professor Piron was a former translator with the United Nations

A glimpse of Esperanto can be seen at http://www.lernu.net