By Philip Tubeza
Reprinted from the Philippine Daily Inquirer
Posted date: June 22, 2010
MANILA, Philippines—To be globally competitive, Filipinos must learn first in their local dialect.
City dwellers may cringe upon hearing the accent of people from the provinces, but experts say that one of the keys to a good education is teaching students early on in their mother tongue, or dialect, instead of in English or in Filipino.
Dina S. Ocampo, an education professor at the University of the Philippines, said that numerous international studies had shown that using Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE)—or teaching young students in their dialect—actually improved their ability to learn English, Filipino, and other subjects later on.
“They learn best when the language used for learning is something they used. The analogy here is like a pyramid. You need a strong foundation to learn new things. It’s like you use your old strengths to learn subsequent things,” Ocampo said in an interview.
“To be globally competitive, you must go local. They say that in business. Why can’t we do it in learning? We must start from local.”
The Department of Education (DepEd) in July last year “institutionalized” MTB-MLE as a “fundamental educational policy and program … in the whole stretch of formal education, including preschool and in the Alternative Learning System (for out-of-school youth).”
At present, 104 schools are implementing MTB-MLE in the country’s 16 regions, according to the DepEd. Eight major languages as mother tongue are being used for instruction there: Tagalog, Ilokano, Pangasinense, Kapampangan, Bikolano, Waray, Cebuano and Hiligaynon.
While the MTB-MLE effectively replaced the country’s 37-year-old bilingual language policy, which recognized a student’s mother tongue only as auxiliary language, more initiatives have still to be done, including disabusing people of the popular belief that teaching young students English will help them learn it better.
“That thinking that ‘If you start early, you’ll learn it better’ is really wrong when it comes to language, particularly reading and writing, because there are no foundational skills,” Ocampo said.
No foundation skills
“It’s not true that adults will not learn a new language as well as children. There’s a lot of research that says that that is not true because adults actually have this good language foundation,” she added.
Ocampo also said that another strand of research “particular to reading” showed that “if you want to teach a child reading in a second language,” it is best to “use his literacy in his first language as basis.”
She added that children also form well their thinking skills—like critical thinking, drawing conclusions, making comparisons, understanding cause and effect, and sequencing—“in the language that they know.”
Learn first language well
“When we were talking to parents, they wanted their children to learn English because it is viewed as the language of social mobility. What many don’t understand is to get to English, you first need to know very well and read in your first language so that you can learn your English better,” Ocampo said.
Yolanda Quijano, director of the DepEd’s Bureau of Elementary Education, said that the use of mother tongue in learning allowed students “to learn, read and write more quickly” and that students learn a second and a third language more quickly when learning is first conducted in their first language.
She said both international studies (Thomas and Collier) and local studies (The Lubuagan Project) “clearly showed the benefits to children who are educated under an MTB-MLE method and pedagogy.”
“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,” Quijano said.
DepEd officials said it was this “overwhelming evidence” which showed that the use of mother tongue in early education developed “better and faster learners” that convinced the department to institutionalize MTB-MLE.
“Our goal here is to develop lifelong learners who are proficient in the use of their first language, the national language and other languages,” said Education Secretary Mona Valisno.
“With more than 150 dialects or first language spoken by learners all over the country, we really welcome nongovernment organizations who want to pitch in to make education truly inclusive, especially in multilingual education,” she added.
According to Valisno, the use of mother tongue from preschool to Grade 3 has been called a “bridge program” because the mother tongue or first language of the learner was being used as “a bridge to learn a second or third language, like Filipino or English.”
Educators believe that if a child cannot fully express himself, he is inhibited to ask more why’s and tend to just keep quiet or just agree with what the teacher says, Valisno added.
Quijano said the DepEd continued to invest in training teachers in mother tongue-based multilingual education and had already trained an “initial 53 teachers in Grades 1, 2 and 3.”
The teachers who were selected based on their proficiency in their students’ mother tongue, Filipino and English came from Luzon and the Visayas, she added.
13 textbooks in dialects
Quijano also said that DepEd had partnered with the Summer Institute of Linguistics, Teacher Education Institutions, the NGO Talaytayan Inc., and the Translators Association of the Philippines for “a stronger institutional support” in implementing MTB-MLE.
Ocampo said that to help children from Grades 1 to 3 learn in their mother tongue, the government needed to render only 13 textbooks in these dialects.
She added that scientific terms difficult to translate could be imported from English until Filipino language experts could agree on their local equivalent.
“For me, it is OK to retain the English term like say, the parallelogram. I have no issue with that. My issue is for the child to learn,” she said.
Ocampo said that to see where the bilingual policy in teaching has led the country, one only had to look at those teachers unable to speak good English.
“They came from that bilingual education policy. The teachers, who they’re now saying have Grade II proficiency in English, they came from that.”