BESRA: I think we still don’t get it

In UNESCO’s “Advocacy Kit for Promoting Multilingual Education: Including the Excluded“, the question was posed:  “Can quality education for all be achieved when education is packaged in a language that some learners neither speak nor understand? This is the situation faced by many children from ethnic minority groups when they enter formal school systems–the official school language is very different from the language they speak at home. Forcing children to learn in a language they do not understand creates an educational handicap that should not exist.”  The document concludes that “…understanding the true panorama of providing education in learners’ mother tongue is one of the crucial steps towards achieving quality education for all.”

It is therefore disappointing to note that, after going through the “Full Report for the Policy Recommendations for the Basic Education Sector Reform Agenda for the National Language and Literacy Learning Strategies for the Filipino and English Languages” submitted to the Department of Education on Sept. 30, 2006, there isn’t any doubt which among the 170 or so  Philippine languages BESRA is “strategizing” for under its Key Reform Thrust #3.

Of course there is widespread agreement to use the indigenous languages as medium of instruction in preschool through elementary school in the areas where they are spoken as a bridge to learning Filipino and English plus other areas of learning using either Filipino or English as medium of instruction.  But BESRA does not have any KEY REFORM THRUST to keep our non-dominant non-Tagalog languages from dying.  All this BESRA strategizing to make Filipino and English so dominant will eventually make the case for the other indigenous languages as bridges or stepping stones simply irrelevant, dead.  The socio-economic and political prowess of a dominant language as Tagalog/Filipino and English as they are now aggressively being promoted by the government to be so dominant will simply eviscerate all reasons for anyone to want to stick with any indigenous non-Tagalog language any longer.

What’s the real incentive to cultivate our own indigenous non-Tagalog languages if BESRA is there to make sure Tagalog/Filipino and English are going to be the only ones that matter ultimately and that these are the only languages every Filipino needs?  The decreasing ranks through natural causes of the elderly population who are the remaining mainstays of our indigenous languages all but insure that many of these languages will be wiped out soon.  And so does the varied cultures associated with them unless there is a conscious effort–like a BESRA type KEY REFORM THRUST– woven into a multilingual education policy designed specifically to save them, at least the ones that still manifest the dynamics of surviving.  Those languages with, say 30 or so remaining speakers will understandably be difficult to save with any type of intervention.

Those who have the power to institutionalize mother tongue-based multilingual education in our schools are urged to NOT water down the recommendations of UNESCO’s “Education in a Multilingual World”.  UNESCO’s recommendations on multilingual education are based on years of research so that to tinker with them, such as radically shortening the length of immersion of the child in his mother tongue from the ideal 6 to 8 years, would be the height of myopia.  DepEd Order No. 60 s. 2008, the first department order to recognize and recommend the use of mother tongue-based multilingual education, requires Filipino and English to be introduced in grade 1 and that renders UNESCO’s recommendations virtually ineffective.  I think we just don’t get it.

Those of us in power who make language policy, especially one through our educational system, please watch the above video and the one below and understand their implications.  If at first you don’t get the message, pretend you’re one of those who don’t speak Tagalog/Filipino.

[Click here to view the movie, “The Linguists“.]

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