DepED ORDER: Use mother tongue to improve learning

Bisaya Agosto 12, 2009

The use of the mother tongue as primary medium of instruction from pre-school up to at least grade three is now a Department of Education policy, Secretary Jesli A. Lapus announced last July 14.

DEP-ED Order No. 74, series of 2009, nullifies the 35-year old bilingual directive laid down in the 1970s on English and Filipino as the only languages of instruction. Neither English nor Filipino is the first language (L1) of most Filipinos.

The historic policy widely referred to as mother tongue-based multilingual education (MLE) aims to improve learning outcomes and promote Education for All (EFA), Lapus said.

Citing findings from international and local research, he stated that:

  • Learners acquire reading skills more easily in their first language (L1) than in a second language (L2);
  • Pupils who start to speak, read and write in their L1 learn an L2, like English, more quickly than those exclusively taught in an L2.
  • Learners develop cognitive, linguistic and academic competencies much faster in their L1 than in an L2.

Under the new order, Filipino and English will be taught as separate subjects in the early grades and will be used as media of instruction when students are "ready". This means, when they have gained sufficient proficiency in the two L2s, as determined by DEP-ED. English and Filipino will remain the primary languages of teaching in high school, with the mother tongue as auxiliary and supplementary medium.

Lapus clarified that MLE will only be implemented at the level of the school, division and region after meeting certain conditions. These include: the establishment of a working orthography or spelling system; the formation of a technical working group to oversee the program; the development, production and distribution of culturally relevant but inexpensive L1 materials; in-service MLE training of teachers; the use of L1 for testing; and maximum participation and support from the LGU, parents and community under the concept of school-based management. The new policy also extends to the alternative learning systems and the madaris schools.

Philippine education stakeholders and linguistic experts have been clamoring for a change in the language-in-education policy. They have identified the disparity in the home and school languages as a major factor in the worsening functional literacy levels, high drop-out rates, and low learning outcomes among Filipino pupils.

Dr. Ricardo Ma. Nolasco of the UP Department of Linguistics noted that two out of three Filipinos, between the ages 10-64, do not understand what they are reading, based on the 2003 FLEMMS survey. According to the 2008-2009 results of the national career assessment examination (NCAE), the reading comprehension and verbal abilities of 4th year high school students are at a low 49.1 and 43.0 respectively for the public schools, and 57.9 and 52.1 for the private schools.

Representative Magtanggol T. Gunigundo I of the second district of Valenzuela praised Lapus for finally looking at the linguistic research and not relying on the anecdotal evidence. According to the Valenzuela solon, the new policy protects the Filipino children’s right to be educated in their own language, and at the same time builds a strong foundation for learning English and Filipino as languages of wider communication. He also urged his colleagues in Congress to set aside a portion of their countryside development fund for teacher training and graded materials development in the L1.

Mel Awid of the Translation Association of the Philippines expressed her organization’s willingness to provide DEP-ED with the necessary language and literacy expertise for preparing big and small books in the local languages. She also said that the responsibility of developing L1 materials should primarily rest on the language communities themselves.

NAKEM International, an association of Ilocano educators and writers, through its president Aurelio Agcaoili, lauded the new policy as ushering a new period of linguistic and cultural justice in the Philippines.

Ateneo de Davao University professor and Palanca awardee Macario Tiu disagreed that the new language in education policy should stop at grade three and maintained that it should proceed all the way up to college. "All the advanced countries in the world teach their students in their own languages," Tiu added.

Dr. Paraluman Giron, CALABARZON DEP-ED regional director allayed the fears of parents that the new directive will negatively affect the learning outcomes of their children. She recounted MIMAROPA"s successful experience in using MLE in mathematics education under the "Double Exposure in Mathematics."

The change in language-in-education policy in the Philippines comes in the heels of Malaysia’s reversal of its English-only policy in teaching mathematics and science. Deputy premier Muhyiddin Yassin said that the government is convinced that science and math need to be taught in a language that will be easily understood by students, which is Bahasa Malaysia in national schools, Mandarin in Chinese schools and Tamil in Tamil schools.
There are around 170 languages in the Philippines, the top 12 of which are spoken as L1s by 95% of the populace.

(The 170+ Talaytayan MLE consortium is an alliance of education stakeholders from the University of the Philippines, Philippine Normal University, Mariano Marcos State University, Ateneo de Davao University and other teaching institutions, and includes non-government organizations, like Save the Children, NAKEM International, DILA Philippines and the Translators Association of the Philippines. It is headed by Dr. Ricardo Ma. Nolasco of the UP Department of Linguistics and may be contacted at 926-9887 or at rnolasco_upmin@yahoo.com)

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