[The following is a revision of Dr. Ricardo Nolasco’s MLE Primer which was earlier published before DepEd No. 74 s.2009. Ched Arzadon has invited us to submit comments/feedback hereto until August 26, 2010. — JP]
21 Reasons Why Children Learn Better While Using Their Mother Tongue
(August 2010 Version)
A Primer on Mother Tongue-based Multilingual Education (MTBMLE) and Other Issues on Language and Learning in the Philippines
RICARDO MA. DURAN NOLASCO, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Linguistics,
University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City.
1. What is mother tongue-based multilingual education or MTBMLE?
MTBMLE is the use of more than two languages for literacy and instruction. It starts from where the learners are and from what they already know. This means learning to speak, read, write and think in their first language or L1 (Cebuano, Tagalog, Ilocano, Waray etc.) and also teaching mathematics, science, health and social studies in the L1.
2. When will children start learning Filipino and English?
As they develop a strong foundation in their L1, children are gradually introduced to their second language(s) or L2s (Filipino and English) first orally, then in the written form. With adequate L2 instruction, cognitive skills and subject content acquired in the L1 can now transfer to the L2.
3. Does MTBMLE only involve changing the medium of instruction (MOI) and translating materials into the local languages?
Apart from programming the use of several languages, MTBMLE also involves: (a) the development of good curricula (i.e. cognitively demanding); (b) the training of good teachers in the required languages for content and methodology; (c) the production of good teaching materials (i.e., error-free and culturally relevant); (d) the empowerment of the community (i.e. school-based management). MTBMLE will not work when one simply changes the language by translating existing materials.
4. What kind of learners does MTBMLE intend to produce?
MTBMLE aims to produce learners who are:
- Multi-literate—they can read and write competently in the local language, in the national language, and in English.
- Multi-lingual— they can use these languages in various situations;
- Multi-cultural—they can live and work harmoniously with people of cultural backgrounds different from their own.
5. What specific weaknesses in the Philippine educational system does MTBLE seek to address?
MTBMLE seeks to address the high functional illiteracy and low learning outcomes of Filipinos where language plays a significant factor. According to a 2003 functional literacy survey, 1 out of 3 Filipinos, between 10-64 years old, could not understand what they were reading. As one educator, Professor Josefina Cortes, has observed, we have become “a nation of fifth graders.”
6. Why use the mother tongue or the L1 in school?
One’s own language enables a child to express him/herself easily, as there is no fear of making mistakes. They can immediately use the L1 to construct and explain their world, articulate their thoughts and add new concepts to what they already know. Because the students can now express themselves, their teachers can more accurately assess what has been learned and identify the areas where they need help. The community through the local writers and artists can also make their own culturally relevant materials.
7. But our children already know their language.
What our children know is the conversational language or the everyday variety used for daily interaction. Success in school depends on the academic and intellectualized language needed to discuss more abstract concepts. This takes 4 to 7 years to master.
8. Why use the national language or Filipino in school?
The Philippines is a multilingual and multicultural nation with some 170 languages. A national language is a powerful resource for inter-ethnic dialogue, political unity, and national identity.
9. What is the stand of our education authorities and the new administration of President Aquino regarding MTBMLE?
On July 14, 2009, the Department of Education through Department Order No. 74 changed its fundamental education policy from the old “bilingual” set-up (of using two L2s) to an MTBMLE one. President Noynoy Aquino has wisely included the rationalization of the medium of instruction in his ten-point agenda for education. According to him, we should learn English to connect ourselves to the world, Filipino to connect ourselves to our country and our mother tongue to connect ourselves to our heritage.
10. Will the use of the local and regional languages be detrimental to building one nation?
No, it won’t. On the contrary, it is the suppression of local languages that may lead to violent conflicts, disunity, and dissension. This is what happened to the former East Pakistan whose rulers wanted Urdu to be the sole and exclusive official language. As a result, the people of East Pakistan who spoke Bangla fought a war of liberation and formed a separate Bangladeshi state.
11. Why use a language of wider communication like English in school?
Languages of wider communication like English should be part of the multilingual curriculum of a country. The graduates of this system should find relevance within and beyond their ethnic and national boundaries. Most world knowledge is accessible in English, and so, knowledge of English is certainly useful. It is not true, however, that students will not learn science and mathematics if they do not know English. The ideas of science are not bound by one language and one culture.
12. Will using the mother tongue as MOI hinder the learning of an L2 like English?
No. Many studies indicate that students first taught to read in their L1, and then later in an L2, outperform those taught to read exclusively in an L2. In the Philippines, the Lubuagan Kalinga First experiment showed the L1 experimental classes scoring nearly 80% in the Grade 1, 2 and 3 tests compared to just over 50% scores by the L2 control classes.
13. Will increasing the time for English or making it the exclusive medium of instruction improve our English?
No. This popular belief is increasingly being proven untrue. Large scale research during the last 30 years has provided compelling evidence that the critical variable in L2 development in children is not the amount of exposure, but the timing and the manner of exposure. The 11-year Thomas and Collier’s US study showed that non-native English learners who were schooled under an all-English curriculum scored lowest (between the 11th and 22nd percentile rank) in the national tests. English learners who were given L1 support for 6 years scored the highest (between the 53rd and 70th percentile ranks) which were well above the national norm for their native English speaking peers.
14. What is the best way to attain proficiency in English?
For non-native speakers of English, like most of us, the best way is to teach it as an L2 and to teach it well. This depends on the proficiency of teachers, the availability of adequate models of the language in the learner’s social environment, and sufficient materials. Simply increasing the time for English will not work. Bringing back the Thomasites or their methods won’t do either. Education then was only for a few with 1 out of 4 pupils reaching beyond Grade 4.
15. Are local languages capable of being used as languages of instruction?
Definitely, yes. Beginning 1957, the local languages became the medium of instruction in Grades 1 and 2. This vernacular education policy was abruptly abolished in 1974, when the bilingual education policy was imposed by the Marcos government. In 1999, the Department of Education started the Lingua Franca program. There was also the First Language Component Bridging Program of Nueva Vizcaya State University.
The late Rolando Tinio once spoke of a basic fear among us that our languages are undeveloped for use by “various” thinkers. He reminded us that the advanced state of the English language was reached through the efforts of its users. We can only intellectualize our languages by using them.
16. Why not use an early exit program where the L1 is used from pre-school up to Grade 3 and English is used as the exclusive medium of instruction thereafter?
This is what proponents of the “English-only bill” in the House of Representatives, notably Representatives Gullas and Villafuerte, appear to be pushing for. They are now agreeable to using the L1 and Filipino as MOI up to grade 3 but only optionally. Thereafter, they maintain that education should be all in English.
Early-exit programs can help but may not be enough. The international experience on the use of L1 and L2 in education, especially in Africa, reveals that children need at least 12 years to learn their L1. It also takes six to eight years of strong L2 teaching before this can be successfully used as a medium of instruction. Lastly, the premature use of L2 can lead to low achievement in literacy, science and math.
17. Don’t we need more English for the country’s economic development?
Steve Walter of the Summer Institute of Linguistics has shown convincingly that countries whose population have access to L1 education are the most developed while those countries whose people are denied L1 education are the least developed. This correlation sadly applies to the Philippines. A mismatch now exists between industry and our educational system. According to former Education Undersecretary Miguel Luz, the consensus among employers is that our high school graduates are weak in their ability to communicate, to think logically, and to solve problems, making it hard to employ them. These abilities are best developed and acquired early in life through the L1.
18. What is a better alternative to the English-only Bill?
A better alternative is House Bill No. 162, filed by Representative Magtanggol Gunigundo I of Valenzuela City. The Bill, also known as the Multilingual Education and Literacy Bill or the Gunigundo Bill, promotes the primary use of the L1 in the elementary grades. It also advocates the strong teaching of English and Filipino as separate subjects before these languages become primary media of instructionin high school. It also provides that students should be tested in the language they were taught.
19. Is it costly to practice MTBMLE?
An L2-based education produces more drop-outs, repeaters and failures than an L1-based one. If we consider the money wasted on these, studies show that L2-based systems are more costly than L1-based systems.
20. What do Philippine stakeholders say about MTBMLE?
- The National Economic Development Authority (NEDA): “From the economic and financial vantage points, we believe that adopting this education policy (MTBMLE), in the final analysis, is cost-effective…”
- The Philippine Business for Education (PBED): “English and Filipino are languages `foreign’ to most children and legislating either as medium of instruction will do more harm to an already ailing system of education.”
- The Department of Foreign Affairs and UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines: “Multilingualism is the order of things in the UN and in the world. UNESCO supports mother tongue instruction as a means of improving educational quality by building upon the knowledge and experience of the learners and teachers.”
- The Linguistic Society of the Philippines (LSP): “(T)he use of the mother tongue is the best option for literacy and education in multi-lingual societies such as the Philippines.
21. Can we now implement MTBMLE?
At present, DepEd is implementing MTBMLE in more than 100 pioneer schools throughout the country. Mentors are being trained in L1 curriculum development and instructional methods. Teaching and reading materials are now being made in the local languages. By 2012, we expect to have enough trained teachers and developed materials for MTBMLE to be mainstreamed at Kindergarten and Grade 1 levels in every region. In 2013, and every year thereafter, a new grade level under the MTBMLE curriculum will be added until the new program covers the entire elementary cycle.