EDUCATION PIONEER and Ramon Magsaysay awardee for Government Service in 1959, Jose Vasquez Aguilar was born on 23 March 1900 in barrio Caduhaan, Cadiz, Negros Occidental. Upon completing his secondary education in 1920, he left for the United States, where he worked his way through college. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy degree from the Denison University in Ohio in 1925.
Despite being a working student, Aguilar found time to be active in the university debating team, which competed with other colleges. In 1924, he was elected to the Tau Kappa alpha debating fraternity. Upon his return to the Philippines in 1925, he was appointed teacher of English at the Negros Occidental High School. The following year, he was promoted to academic supervisor of the division of Masbate. He transferred to Cebu in the same capacity in 1927. In the same year, he took the division superintendents examination, which he topped. He was appointed division superintendent of Camarines Norte in 1928. He subsequently served in the same capacity in the provinces of Antique, Samar, Capiz and Iloilo up to 1954.
Aguilar’s potential as an authority on education was recognized when he was asked to serve as consultant on elementary education to the joint congressional committee on education and later to the UNESCO Consultative Mission to the Philippines. In 1954, he became the country’s representative to the Republic of China and adviser to that country’s community school program. He worked for several months in the Taiwan Provincial Department of Education and the US Economic Mission on Community Schools Project in Chitung and Tungshih, where pilot projects for a new educational movement in the Republic of China were undertaken.
In April 1954, Aguilar was promoted to professor in the College of Education in the University of the Philippines. The following year, he was granted a Smith-Mundt fellowship, which allowed him to travel in the US and observe Asian study centers and applied linguistic programs. In 1956, he was designated panel member for community schools in the Social Science Research Center, which was tasked by the government to make recommendations in framing an economic program for the country. During the same year, he was named observer for UP in the Fifth Annual Assembly of World Confederations of Organizations of the Teaching Professions which was held in Manila. He also attended a workshop for teachers in community schools held in Vietnam.
In 1956, Aguilar was appointed director of the UP extension division. In 1958, he was designated head of the department of education of the university. He served as such until June 1958, when he was appointed acting dean. He became dean in October of the same year.
Early in 1959, he served as acting chairman and project director of the Community Development Research Council in the absence of its chairman. In May of the same year, he retired from the government service to become the director of the Philippine Center for Language Studies.
In recognition of his valuable contributions to Philippine education and community welfare, Aguilar received an honorary doctorate degree from the Central Philippines University in Iloilo City in 1952. He also received awards from the Philippine Tuberculosis Society in 1950, the Southern Iloilo Varsitarian in 1951, the Iloilo Press Club in 1952 and the Boy Scouts of the Philippines in 1953. In 1959, the Philippine Association of School Superintendents cited him for his “distinguished leadership,” particularly in the promotion of the community school movement in the Philippines. He was a life member of the Philippine Public School Teachers Association and was president of the Philippine Association of School Superintendents.
Among his published works were Education for the Forgotten Masses, Significance of Bilingual Education, Native Approach to Education, Influence of Language in Community Life, and Articles on the Case for the Vernacular. Aguilar wrote detailed reports on the Iloilo Experiments on the Vernacular, the Development of the Santa Barbara Community Schools Project, and a monograph entitled This is Our Community School.
His other writing discussed conceptual fallacies involving occupational education and the developing approach to occupations in the Philippines. Two of his articles, which described the community school idea and its practice, were published abroad. One, entitled Development of Community School Concept, appeared in the 52nd yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education in 1953 .The other, Community Schools of the Philippines, was published in 1957.
In 1952, Aguilar asked the Bureau of the Public Schools to evaluate the performance of his division. It cited the “high sense of educational leadership willing to submit itself to a test for a validity of its program and eager to assert itself, and its achievements, all in the interest of an adequate and satisfying school system,” adding: “There was very good evidence that the children were being educated in a life of excellent work and people seemed to be retaining better customs and usages than in the past.”
On the use of the vernacular — in this case, Hiligaynon — the report said that the students were “more dominant, extrovert, soundly mature and more interested in their schools,” and that the teachers were relieved of the “traditional drudgeries of teaching for they could speak heart to heart with adults and young.”
The bureau supported Aguilar’s project. Soon, other superintendents adopted his methods and, later, developed their own. Eventually, the bureau adopted the school-community scheme on a national scale.
In 1959, Aguilar received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service as “a fair-sighted innovator and as a dedicated educator” who had set a standard to emulate. He died on January 31, 1980.
The above was posted in ILOILO VIEWS on March 23, 2008. Following is an excerpt from Lucila V. Hosillos’ 2006 book, Interactive vernacular, national literature: Magdalena G. Jalandoni’s Juanita Cruz as constituent of Filipino national literature, re Dr. Jose V. Aguilar’s pioneering MLE experiment:
“The language issue is complicated by economic, political, and cultural factors. Central and crucial is the use of English as the medium of instruction. The pioneering experiments of Dr. Jose V. Aguilar in the 1950s in Sta. Barbara town, Iloilo Province, discovered that the use of the vernacular, Hiligaynon, in the first up to the fourth grades results in higher literacy. It is a functional literacy that can serve individuals well in life, even if they drop out after the fourth year of schooling. The same results were obtained in the replication in the town of Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya. When Dr. Aguilar passed away, Dr. Pedro Orata brought the experiment to the attention of UNESCO. It was reportedly replicated in Africa and other parts of the world with similar results. “In 1953, UNESCO insisted that the national language be used for as long as possible before moving on to the second language. It recommended the use of initial literacy in the native languages as a bridge to learning the main languages of instruction.”
Subsequent studies in linguistics, applied linguistics, sociological linguistics, and psychological linguistics by national and international experts support Dr. Aguilar’s studies. Contemporary policies and programs have modified experiments to suit local conditions and rural scenarios not only in the National Capital Region. Various presidential commissions and other policymaking bodies recommended the use of the vernaculars in basic education in varying grades and situations.
Yet President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered the use of English as the medium of instruction in all levels. The reason is that the skills in English of Filipino overseas workers are deteriorating and that workers from other countries are overtaking them in job opportunities. These workers are a big source of dollars for the country. There is apprehension that Filipinos might be replaced with workers from China, India, and other countries who are providing their people with better skills in English. If such is the reason, the president’s solution is lopsided. Special language programs, of which there are already several in the country would be more effective, cheaper, and faster as these can provide shorter intensive training and better proficiency in a few months.
Providing children basic education through the mother tongue for initial education also recognizes the reality of multicultural and diverse societies. The individual can be more aware of immediate realities and appreciate native culture and has less risk of cultural alienation upon interaction with other cultures.
Juanita Cruz as a constituent of Filipino national literature can answer the degrading and derisive remarks of advocates of English and other foreign languages and Western culture that the vernaculars are backward and not worth developing. Through Juanita Cruz, vernacular literature can come to be valued for its contributions to Philippine literature. More research and application of theories and methods suitable to vernacular literary texts can discover their qualities and values significant to Filipino national literature… From literature to life, reality, society, and history and back to literature the reader experiences literature as a reflexive refraction of life and the political, economic, social, and cultural processes of history. These historical forces also reflexively refract the fictional world of Juanita Cruz, the reading of which infuses life into these factors conversely…”