Mother Tongue-Based Multi-Lingual Education in Philippine Schools

Source: Save The Children, Philippines


Scenario: A Waray-speaking couple from Samar decided to relocate in Cebu for job opportunities. Tagging along with them is their first-grader girl. Deficient of finances, they decided to enroll the kid in a public school. It so happened that the Philippine Department of Education (DepEd) has introduced the Mother Tongue-Based Multi-Lingual Education (MTB-MLE) program. This is a program that uses your mother tongue (language at home) as a medium of instruction inside the classroom. Will the girl be given special attention knowing that she speaks Waray and be separated from the rest of her Cebuano-speaking classmates? If the language at home will be the medium of instruction from Kinder to Grade 3, how will this affect a multi-language group?

According to DepEd, 12 major Philippine languages will be introduced beginning this school year 2012-2013 to improve literacy and instruction: Tagalog, Kapampangan, Pangasinense, Iloko, Bikol, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Waray, Tausug, Maguindanaoan, Maranao, and Chabacano. The objectives of the program include:

l. language development which establishes a strong education for success in school and for lifelong learning;

2. cognitive development which focuses on Higher Order Thinking Skills competencies in each of the learning areas; and

3. academic development which prepares the learner to acquire mastery of language and culture.

4. socio-cultural awareness which enhances the pride of the learner’s heritage.

The program hopes that by using the mother tongue (first language or L1) as a medium of instruction inside the classroom in the early grades, it will hasten the basic communication skills of the students. When students develop fluency in speaking, reading and writing in the first language, the L1 can then be utilized as a bridge or transitional to learning the second (L2) and third (L3) languages (e.g. Filipino and English). The introduction of languages in this method will give students confidence in learning academic concepts.

From DepEd Order No. 74, 3c: “In terms of cognitive development, and its effects in other academic areas, pupils taught to read and write in their first language acquire [educational] competencies more quickly.” Director Yolanda Quijano of DepEd’s Bureau of Elementary Education stressed in a press release, “[These] studies proved that learners who begin in their first language have more efficient cognitive development and are better prepared for more cognitively demanding subject matter. In other words, a learner tends to be smarter if he starts his education using the mother tongue.”

How will DepEd implement the program? Below, I tabulated a progression plan for teaching and using the three languages (mother-tongue, English, Filipino) based on how I understood the program.

Basically, the program starts with pupils learning their lessons through the use of their mother-tongue — first orally and then in written form. It finishes with kids being fluent in (or at least learning fast) English and Filipino when they finish grade 6.

Will this kind of plan succeed? I believe so, if planned properly. Even UNESCO endorses the use of Mother Tongue Multilingual Education and highlights the important features of the process:

1. Education begins with what the learners already know, building on the language and culture, knowledge and experience that they bring with them when they start school;

2. Learners gradually gain confidence in using the new (official) language, before it becomes the only language for teaching academic subjects; and

3. Learners achieve grade level competence in each subject because teachers use their home language, along with the official school language, to help them understand the academic concepts.

Also, MTB-MLE has long been used by other developing countries. Here are benchmark studies from UNESCO:

1. Modiano’s (1973) study in the Chiapas highlands of Mexico found that indigenous children efficiently transferred literacy skills from the L1 to the L2 and out-performed monolingual Spanish speakers.

2. The Six-Year Yoruba Medium Primary Project (Fafunwa et al. 1975; Akinnaso 1993; see Adegbiya 2003 for other references) demonstrated unequivocally that a full six-year primary education in the mother tongue with the L2 taught as a subject was not only viable but gave better results than all-English schooling. It also suggested that teachers should be allowed to specialize in L2 instruction.

3. The Rivers Readers Project, also in Nigeria, showed how mother tongue materials of reasonable quality could be developed even where resources were scarce and even for previously undeveloped languages with small numbers of speakers (Williamson, 1976). Communities themselves provided competent native speakers and funds for language development, producing over forty publications in fifteen languages.

4. Large-scale research on Filipino-English bilingual schooling in the Philippines (Gonzalez & Sibayan, 1988) found a positive relationship between achievement in the two languages, and found that low student performance overall was not an effect of bilingual education but of other factors, especially the low quality of teacher training (see also Dutcher 1995).

If the program works in other developing countries, I believe, it should also work in the Philippines. But this isn’t easy. Getting to the goal takes a lot of groundwork. Look at the figure below. For the program to achieve long-term success, DepEd must go through each and every step.

It looks like DepEd has already done the necessary research and already raised awareness about the program through its Region, Division, District, and School Heads, as well as through Local Government Units (LGUs). But what about the rest of the steps? Do we have enough teaching and learning materials ready that are built specifically for a particular language? Next, have we trained enough teachers and staff to efficiently implement the program? Most importantly, do we have the funding and full support from the government to sustain this effort?

Now, let me go back to the challenge I mentioned in the first paragraph.

– How will the program resolve classrooms with multiple home languages spoken by pupils?

– What is the solution when teachers that are available to teach do not even speak the pupils’ mother-tongue?

– Should we place books and reading materials written in different home languages in each classroom?

While I support mother tongue-based education, I think DepEd must spend some more time to resolve some lingering questions and prepare the materials needed to facilitate effective classroom interaction with this new approach to basic education. Success stories in Papua New Guinea (Klaus 2003), and the Rivers Readers project in Nigeria (Williamson 1985) should become inspirations for the Philippines.

More time is also needed for human resource development. To remedy this situation, the case of the bilingual intercultural education in Bolivia must be looked into (refer to ETARE 1993, Albó & Anaya 2003).

Are you one with the DepEd in the implementation of the Mother Tongue-Based Multi-Lingual Education (MTB-MLE) program this coming school year? Leave some comments below.

References:
Adegbija, E. (2003) Central language issues in literacy and basic education: Three mother tongue education experiments in Nigeria. In Ouane, A. (ed), 167-182.

Akinnaso, F. (1993) Policy and experiment in mother tongue literacy in Nigeria. International Review of Education 43:1.

Albó, X. & Anaya, A. (2003) Niños Alegres, Libres, Expresivos: La Audacia de la Educación Intercultural Bilingüe en Bolivia. [Children Who Are Happy, Free, Expressive: The Audacity of Bilingual Intercultural Education in Bolivia.] La Paz: UNICEF.

Dutcher, N. (1995) The Use of First and Second Languages in Education. A Review of International Experience. Pacific Island Discussion Paper Series No.1. Washington DC: World Bank.

ETARE (1993) Propuesta de la Reforma Educativa. [Proposal for the Educational Reform.] Cuadernos de la Reforma Educativa. La Paz: Equipo Técnico de Apoyo a la Reforma Educativa.

Fafunwa, A., Macauley, J. & Soyinka, J. (eds) (1989) Education in Mother Tongue. The Ife Primary Education Research Project (1970-1978). Ibadan: University Press.

Gonzalez, A. & Sibayan, B. (1988) Evaluating bilingual education in the Philippines (1974-1985). Manila: Linguistic Society of the Philippines.

Klaus, D. (2003) The use of indigenous languages in early basic education in Papua New Guinea: A model for elsewhere? Language and Education 17: 2, 105-111.

Modiano, N. (1973) Indian Education in the Chiapas Highlands. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Williamson, K. (1976) The Rivers Readers Project in Nigeria. In Bamgbose, A. (ed) Mother-Tongue Education: The West African Experience. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Williamson, K. (1985) West African Languages in Education. Wein: Afro-Pub.

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