Taking flight with multilingual education

Eishrine Mei M. Amante

By Danielle Anne M. Tadena and Eishrine Mei M. Amante
Philippine Daily Inquirer, August 26, 2011

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The education reform landscape is now being reshaped quietly—but inexorably—by thousands of highly motivated young men and women who have decided to “pay it forward.” They come from different colleges and universities all over the country, and they have been using their academic training, innate talent, creativity and seemingly boundless energy to help our school communities attain international achievement levels. Danielle Tadena and Eishrine Mei Amante, both undergraduate linguistics students from UP Diliman, are two very good examples of today’s education reform advocates.

We are members of UP Layap, a student-led organization based in UP Diliman that promotes original research and documentation on Philippine languages and fosters interaction between different academic fields. The organization brings together members from varied disciplines such as linguistics, psychology, Filipino, Philippine Studies, anthropology and engineering and from diverse language groups such as Ilokano, Cebuano, Waray, Tagalog, and Bikol. The word “layap” means to take flight.

This August, in celebration of language month, we embarked on three interrelated activities to highlight our advocacy for a multilingual and culturally relevant Philippine education system.

Kwentong Bulilit 2011 is a children’s short story writing competition endorsed by the Department of Education for elementary students from Grades 4 to 6 (Category A) and high school students from 1st year to 4th year (Category B). To make the stories more meaningful, we asked the participants to write about their own personal experiences.

In Category A, Christian Felix Manzano of Sta. Lucia, Ilocos Sur, won first place for his “Ti Baut Ket Maysa A Pammaneknek Ti Panagayat” (Ang Palo ay Tanda ng Pagmamahal). Lyanne Pineda of Cabanatuan City placed second for her “Sa Libis ng Nayon.” The story of Bea Angela Laya of Cabanatuan City, “Si Dino at Ang Diwata,” grabbed the third spot.

For Category B, Ma. Jasmine Carmellie Pama of Iloilo won first place for her story “Ubra ni Nanay” (Trabaho ni Nanay) about a 5-year-old child who constantly wonders what his mother’s job really is. Second placer Monica Mae Chen of Manila wrote “Ang Paglalakbay ni Makoy.” Brigette Campo won third place for “Ang Ibon at Ang Mahiwagang Bulaklak.”

The winning pieces will be published in Pambata Magazine, an educational comics and magazine for children.

Meanwhile, we also volunteered to work as transcribers for the Philippine Language Database project of the Digital Signal Processing Laboratory at the UP Electrical and Electronics Engineering Institute. The project aims to create a database—also called “corpora”—of 10 of the biggest languages in the Philippines, which include Tagalog, Cebuano, Iloko, Hiligaynon, Waray-Waray, Kapampangan, Chavacano/Spanish creole, Bicol, and a code-mixed language of Filipino and English. Dr. Rowena Guevara, the project leader, says that these language databases are meant not only to preserve the important heritage of our country but also to develop speech-based software applications, such as computer-assisted learning; distance learning; automatic speech recognition; machine translation and corpus-based educational materials for mother-tongue instruction.

Last Aug. 22 we hosted a dialogue between UP educators and students and a nine-member delegation from the Timor Leste Ministry of Education led by Director General Domingos Maia. (The Timor Leste delegation is currently on a 10-day study tour to exchange ideas with our country’s education stakeholders.) UP vice president Maragtas Amante and professor Antoinette Bass-Hernandez of the Office of International Linkages officially welcomed the delegation.

Maia and national education advisor Augustinho Caet revealed that two urgent education issues that the Timor Leste government needs to address immediately are that roughly 40 percent of the population lack basic literacy skills and they have too few teachers. Maia said that Timor Leste is a small country of about one million people. It was a former Portuguese colony before the Indonesians took over and they had to go to war for their independence. Much of their education materials are still in Bahasa because Indonesian teachers controlled the education system and materials back then. There were no reading materials in Tetum, the national lingua franca and in the other 15 native languages. Caet said that this led them to adopt Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education as a fundamental education policy with the hope that this will lead to proficiency in the official languages. Caet added that their visit here was precisely to learn from our experience on pursuing MTBMLE as a policy.

Prior to UP Layap’s acquiring official recognition as a university-wide organization, our members were already conducting several activities in pursuit of language equality and cultural pluralism. Undergraduate students under the linguistics and the computer engineering programs presented scholarly papers in numerous conferences and forums such as the National Natural Language Processing Research Symposium (De La Salle University Taft), the 1st Philippine MTBMLE Conference Workshop (Cagayan de Oro), Pagpabaskog Han Minat-an nga Pinulungan: A Colloquium on the Waray Language and the 2011 Kabikolan Conference on Language and Education. We also served as secretariat to the 1st Philippine Conference on the Baybayin Stones of Ticao, Masbate.

Danielle Anne M. Tadena (leeanne_0611@yahoo.com) is director of UP Layap while Eishrine Mei M. Amante (chhak_kai@yahoo.com) is a board member.

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