|By Butch Hernandez
Philippine Daily Inquirer, Posted date: November 20, 2010
THE ABOVE quote comes from Dr. Yolanda Quijano, the Department of Education’s undersecretary for programs. We were discussing Department Order 74, which seeks to make mother tongue-based Multilingual Education (MLE) a standard teaching practice throughout the public education system. Undersecretary Quijano revealed that by February 2011, the DepEd shall have completed the fourth and final phase of its training of National Trainors for MLE. These trainors would then be deployed to every administrative region, where they are tasked with transferring MLE teaching techniques and strategies to their regional counterparts.
In today’s world, reading fluently and writing equally well in English are key competencies that learners need to succeed in school and later on in life, as they pursue their chosen careers. That’s because English has become the language of wide usage in the 21st century. International businesses and global markets communicate in English as a matter of course. So does the global academic community. The standard interface of many web-based applications is in English; but the Internet being what it is, a number of websites do provide the user with other language options.
Quijano and MLE advocates like Greg and Diane Dekker of the Summer Institute of Linguistics and Ched Arzadon of MLE Philippines all assert that the best way to attaining “fluent reader” level in English is if the child is first taught to read in the language that he speaks at home.
www.readinga-z.com, an online reading resource center, defines “‘fluent reader’ as one who has successfully moved from ‘learning to read’ to ‘reading to learn.’ Reading is automatic and is done with expression and proper pauses, (and the fluent reader’s) energy is devoted to understanding, and (he has) good command and use of the various comprehension strategies.
“(Fluent readers) read a wide range of text types and do so independently. They will continue to refine and develop their reading skills as they encounter more difficult reading materials. But for the most part, they are capable of improving their reading skills and selection of materials independently through increased practice.”
Dr. Rose Villaneza, the DepEd’s point person for MLE, says that once the young learner has learned to read in his first language or L1, his ability to acquire second-language skills (L2) increases exponentially.
This phenomenon is best illustrated by Jim Cummins’ Dual Iceberg Theory. Cummins says that you could look at L1 and L2 as the tip of two icebergs. They are visibly different but underneath the surface, the two icebergs are fused such that the two languages do not function separately. Both languages operate through the same central processing system. Cummins calls this the “common underlying proficiency.”
The Collier and Thomas (2000) research proves this beyond doubt. Drawing data from 2 million student records from 1982 to 1999 involving more than 150 home languages, Collier and Thomas determined that “the amount of formal schooling in students’ home language was the strongest indicator of success in English.”
In promulgating DO 74 so that MLE practice becomes a key teaching strategy, the DepEd is on the right track. Dr. Virginia Rojas, an internationally recognized expert in second language proficiency among school populations, claims that the possibilities for schools to create links between curriculum subjects will be enhanced when mother tongue provision is integrated into the curriculum.
However, DO 74 was issued just last year so the entire DepEd effort is still at the early stages of development. Quijano says that there are about 100 schools right now spread out in various DepEd schools divisions that can be considered “MLE-capable.” She and Villaneza however believe that the situation will greatly improve sooner rather than later.
In fact, Quijano said that a comprehensive six-point strategic plan has already been drawn up to guide the DepEd in its drive to institutionalize MLE. The plan’s success indicators are in the areas of social preparation, in-service training of teachers and managers, materials development, pre-service teacher education and policy and resource mobilization and an assessment, monitoring and evaluation component.
We will discuss the MLE strategic plan in greater detail in our subsequent write-ups. For now, what matters is that in the midst of all the operational difficulties it faces, the DepEd still finds the time and the will to implement DO 74. Of course, the DepEd knows that it cannot go it alone. Quijano says they welcome any help that the private sector can extend in this regard.
Well, the Foundation for Worldwide People Power/170+ Talaytayan education alliance has good news for the undersecretary. We are now primed to train teachers and school heads in the art and practice of MLE where it matters most—at the school community and district level.
When MLE finally becomes one of the building blocks of early schooling, at the very least we can envision graduates who are genuinely proficient in at least three languages: their local one, Filipino and English. At best, we will see new generations of Filipinos who treasure their heritage and are fully capable of succeeding in an exceedingly global economy.
Butch Hernandez (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive director of the Foundation for Worldwide People Power.