On one hand, the young school children coming from the 22 million or so Tagalogs have always had the edge for acquiring learning skills early by virtue of the Constitution, laws and orders by the government. On the other, the larger number of non-Tagalog children coming from some 19 million speakers of Cebuano, some 8 million speakers of Ilocano, some 7 million speakers of Hiligaynon, some 5 million speakers of Bicol, some 3 million speakers of Waray, some 2.5 million speakers of Kapampangan, about 1.5 million speakers of Pangasinense, and God knows who else, have not been given the proper language bridge–their mother tongue–to acquire those same learning skills. These non-Tagalog children enter school for the first time and are instructed using Filipino (which, as we know, is basically Tagalog or Tagalog-based) and English–both of which are foreign to them.
While this may not be the sole reason why our students performed relatively poorly (more like near the bottom of the barrel) in recent international academic achievement tests (e.g., Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study or TIMSS), it certainly is a huge factor. Other reasons could be weak curricula, inadequately trained teachers, and lagging content quality of textbooks.
In “The Prospects of Multilingual Education and Literacy in the Philippines“, Dr. Ricardo M. Nolasco, Acting Chair of the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, calls this situation the “basic weakness” plaguing Philippine education. “It is that many pupils do not understand what their teacher is saying and therefore they cannot follow the lesson,” Nolasco says. “Why? Because the language in school is one they can hardly speak and understand.”
It is at this juncture that DepED Order No. 60 s. 2008 basically opens the floodgates to remedy what plagues the early education of our young by encouraging “The integration into the improvement plans of schools and learning centers of projects to use the mother tongue as the language of instruction beginning Grade I (or its equivalent level in ALS [Alternative Learning System])…” The DepED Order also authorizes funds for expenditures that may be required during the planning and implementation phases of using the mother tongue as the language of instruction.
The use of the mother tongue as the initial medium of instruction to build a bridge to learning other languages and other academic areas is deemed the key to quality education according to “Education in a Multilingual World”, a UNESCO report based on extensive research on the effects of using the mother tongue as the language of instruction in the child’s early education. The report says: “There is much research which shows that students learn to read more quickly when taught in their mother tongue. Second, students who have learned to read in their mother tongue learn to read in a second language more quickly than do those who are first taught to read in the second language. Third, in terms of academic learning skills as well, students taught to read in their mother tongue acquire such skills more quickly.”
The advantages of the use of the mother tongue as medium of instruction in the multilingual education context are empirically substantiated by the Lubuagan Experiment. Because of the triumph of the multilingual education concept close to home, we expect other local language communities to follow suit especially on the heels of Republic Act No. 7160, The Local Government Code of 1991 which liberates provinces, cities, municipalities and barangay from over-dependence upon the central government by increasing their powers and share in the taxes and wealth of the nation and empowers these local political entities to look after their own good. Witness the Pangasinan mother tongue initiative (Pangasinan Provincial Resolution No. 195-2008).
We’re just beginning to see the light! We’re starting to build the infrastructure for a quality education for our young!