(From SpringerLink/International Review of Education, Volume 1 / 1955 – Volume 57 / 2011)
Abstract In the modern era, the prevailing model of public education has been that of “one size fits all”, with private schooling being a small but notable exception. Language (of instruction) was generally viewed as a minor variable readily overcome by standard classroom instruction. As researchers have sharpened their focus on the reasons for educational failure, language has begun to emerge as a significant variable in producing gains in educational efficiency. This paper reports the intermediate result of a controlled study in a very rural area of a developing country designed to examine the effect of language of instruction on educational outcomes. In the experimental schools, children are taught to read first in the local language (via the local language) and are taught other key subjects via the local language as well. English is taught as a subject. Teachers in the control or standard schools continue the standard national practice of teaching all subjects in either English or Filipino, neither of which is spoken by children when they begin school. Year-end standardised testing was done in all subjects throughout grades one to three as a means of comparing the two programme methodologies.
Keywords Philippines _ Language policies _ Lubuagan mother tongue-based multilingual education programme _ Lilubuagen _ Filipino _ English _ Evaluation of educational outcomes primary 1 to 3
The role of language of instruction (LOI) in the educational process has been long debated (Baker 1996; Fishman et al. 1996; Dutcher 2004; Skutnabb-Kangas 2000) with no clear consensus in sight – at least not in terms of practice. Even the massive and compelling evidence supplied by the work of Wayne P. Thomas and Virginia Collier (1997, 2002) has failed to deter those convinced that language of instruction is not a salient issue in education – or at least not in terms of the quality of educational outcomes. In the most extreme contrast, their research showed non-English-speaking children who received no instructional support in their first language finishing school, on average, at the 11th percentile while those who received a full six years of instructional support in their first language finished as a group at the 70th percentile. In career terms, this is the difference between being a day labourer and having access to a broad range of professional opportunities in industry, science and education.
The research done by Thomas and Collier was carried out entirely in the United States, leading many to question whether the differentials they observed might extend to education systems and processes in developing countries. This paper reports preliminary results of a longitudinal study being carried out in one such country – the Philippines – designed to test whether the “language of instruction” effect would hold there as well.
Philippine language policy
During the Spanish colonial period, Spanish was the primary language of instruction and the public use of vernaculars in any domain was forbidden. In 1898, when the Americans became colonisers, English became the language of education (Act No. 74, 21 January 1901, Philippine Commission 1901) and Philippine languages were not permitted in the schools (Sibayan 1985). While President McKinley recommended the use of local languages in the classroom, a massive influx of American teachers effectively resulted in a monolingual English-based education system (Gonzalez 2001, p. 4).
The 1935 Philippine Constitution (article 13, section 2; Philippine Constitution 1935) referred to plans for ‘‘the development and adoption of a common language based on one of the existing native languages’’. Commonwealth Act No. 570 (Commonwealth 1940) declared Tagalog as the basis of the national language, along with English. In 1959, Education Secretary Jose´ Romero issued a Department Order stating that the national language would be called Pilipino to distinguish it from its Tagalog base and to give it a national identity. The 1973 Constitution (Philippine Constitution 1973) designated Pilipino as the new national language and as an official language, along with Spanish and English. The 1987, post-People Power I Constitution (Philippine Constitution 1987) declared Filipino (now spelled with an F) as the national language as well as one of the official languages along with English. Spanish was dropped as an official language. The 1987 Constitution (in force as of 1994) also stipulated the creation of a new language body, Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino (Commission of the Filipino Language) for the development and intellectualisation of Filipino. Three Constitutions (1935, 1973 and 1987) have therefore decreed that the national language is Filipino; however, there seems a clear intent that English should remain as an official language.
Language-in-education policy in the Philippines
The revised language policy of 1987 (Quisumbing 1987) prescribes the use of English for teaching maths, science and English while Filipino is prescribed for teaching all other subjects. However, observation shows that teachers typically begin teaching in the required language (either English or Filipino) and repeat the same content in the local language to ensure student comprehension of the curriculum content. Or teachers may codeswitch within the same statement (Gonzalez 1998; Young 2002). In practice, this means that local languages are used to explain the curriculum content to students rather than using those languages specifically as the media of instruction and teaching English and Filipino as subjects. In 2004, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo instituted a return to English as the primary medium of instruction in an effort to enhance the competitive edge of Filipinos in the international labour market (DepEd 2003).
With over 160 living languages, multilingualism is common in the Philippines and multilingual education has often been a controversial topic of conversation. Over the last several decades multiple studies, including PCSPE (1970), World Bank (1988), EDCOM (1991), PESS (1998), PCER (2000) and BESRA (2006), have recommended the use of the vernacular in the early years of education [Brigham and Castillo (1999)].
In an attempt to implement a mother tongue-based national educational programme bridging learners from their first language to the languages of education, Filipino and English, Andrew Gonzalez, Secretary of the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS) instituted DECS Memo No. 144 s. 1999 (DECS 1999) to develop foundational literacy skills (Cruz 2004). This programme was expanded with the inclusion of more schools and more languages by DECS Undersecretary for Programs and Projects, Isagani Cruz (DECS Memo No. 243 s. 2000, DECS 2000). This resulted in the expansion of the 1974 Bilingual Education Policy to a ‘‘still-unnamed and unacknowledged Multilingual Education Policy’’ (Cruz 2004). The Basic Education Curriculum (DECS, changed to DepEd in 2001, Order No. 43s 2002, DepEd 2002) as implemented by Secretary Raul Roco maintained a focus on the central role of language in education and retains the multilingual policy begun in the expansion of the Regional Lingua Franca Program. The most recent and probably strongest statement is DepEd Order No. 74 2009 (DepEd 2009), Institutionalizing Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MLE). At the time of writing it is the intent of the Department of Education to implement fully a strong MLE programme beginning in each learner’s first language and bridging them to Filipino and English.
The Lubuagan multilingual education programme
The Lubuagan Kalinga Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MLE) Program is a response to the late Secretary Andrew Gonzalez’ call for piloting innovative approaches to literacy and education in minority language communities. The municipality of Lubuagan lies in the province of Kalinga in the Cordillera Mountains of the northern Philippines with a population of around 12,000. Lubuagan and its barrios host one school district with 13 elementary schools. There are two private high schools and one public high school. Lubuagan is a monolingual, almost homogenous community in which those who move to the area for business purposes or through marriage learn and use the local language, Lilubuagen [Lubuagan is the spelling of the town, Lubuagen are the people and Lilubuagen is the name of the language.] Ilocano, the regional language of wider communication, is primarily used when one travels outside Lubuagan. Consequently, the children in Lubuagan typically begin school speaking Lilubuagen but no other language (Dekker and Young 2005).
Lilubuagen is being used in all domains except in the church. Children growing up in Lubuagan speak Lilubuagen solely until they attend school and begin learning the languages of education, Filipino and English. Those Lubuagens who have completed their education are quite proud of their ability to speak English. Most Lubuagens desire that their children learn English in order go out of the area to find work. English is seen as providing the best access to a better life, while Filipino enables communication with the prominent group but provides less opportunity for work and is therefore seen as being less important. Knowledge of Ilocano is expected because of the necessity of doing business in the provincial capital.
The Lubuagan MLE programme teaches the Filipino and English languages through the mother tongue rather than through immersion in these two languages. Using the learners’ first language to teach them Filipino and English provides the comprehensible input necessary for learning second languages (Krashen 1991, 2000). After oral proficiency is developed in Filipino and English, literacy in these second languages is introduced, bridging from literacy in the first language.
Additionally the programme does not change any of the standard governmental competencies for all subjects. Rather the focus is on using the first language as the medium of instruction to ensure comprehension of curriculum content for mastery. Reading and writing are taught first in the learners’ mother tongue. Basic fluency in reading is developed in the first language first, while Filipino and English language lessons develop oral communication skills before reading in those languages is introduced. Teachers had to learn to read and write their own language first before they were competent to teach first language literacy. This was done in a series of writer’s workshops where teachers were bridged from reading and writing the national language to their own language. Because their own language has only recently been standardised to written form, spelling is often difficult. This will change as more and more print literature is made available in the language and people become accustomed to seeing their language in written form.
In the traditional classroom, curriculum content is taught through Filipino for social studies and Filipino language and English for maths, science and English. This creates a scenario in which young learners must learn a language at the same time they are learning new concepts taught in that language.
The Lubuagan MLE programme incorporates cultural content in order to optimise learning of the curriculum content (Dekker and Dumatog 2004). This is done by beginning each lesson with what is familiar to the learner, related to his or her everyday experiences, and building on that to introduce the new content. All beginners’ reading material consists of stories familiar in content to the learner so that the focus is on the process of reading rather than distracting him or her with new situations and unfamiliar people and places. Teachers incorporate oral literature, local history, local arts, craft and music in the curriculum as well to support the learners’ home culture. This strategy provides a link between what the learner knows, his or her first language and culture, and the unknown, or what they need to learn – Filipino, English and the curriculum content.
Beyond the more local concerns about educational efficiency and culture preservation lies a broader national debate about educational policy and strategy. Will the country achieve its Millennium Development Goals (MDG) in education? Does the country have in place appropriate educational strategies for the 21st century? What language or languages should be used for instructional purposes to achieve national goals for educational development? Dalisay Maligalig and Jose Ramon Albert (2008, p. 23) report data suggesting that the country has actually regressed slightly during the last 15 years on several key indicators of the MDG in education. In a national case study prepared for the Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report, Rhona Caoli-Rodriguez (2007) similarly reports that national initiatives (such as decentralisation) undertaken as part of the EFA initiative show little evidence of having raised key educational indicators in the Philippines. Ricardo Nolasco (2008) suggests that national educational policy with respect to language(s) of instruction additionally constrains educational effectiveness for many Philippine children, especially those living in rural areas and in regions of the country where neither English nor Filipino – the official languages of instruction – is widely known.
Brief history of the Lubuagan experimental project
Before the Lubuagan MLE programme was implemented, a Steering Committee was established by the community to discuss language and education issues. After meeting monthly for 18 months, the steering committee recommended implementing the programme as a pilot project for evaluation. Originally the Lubuagan programme was called the First Language Component-Bridging Program (FLC-BP) and based on the Tuwali FLC-BP developed by Lou Hohulin of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL). Dr. Gloria Baguingan of Nueva Vizcaya State University (NVSU) provided the first two training events in Lubuagan in 1998, each covering 3 days. Several Lubuagan teachers also took courses at NVSU during three summers. Subsequently the author (Diane Dekker) took primary responsibility for the development of the programme.
Experimental implementation in grade one began at St. Teresita’s School during the 1999–2000 school year. The programme was not continued at St. Teresita’s after 2000. In 2000 several teachers in the public school system began implementing the programme in grade one. Each summer teacher training workshops focused on curriculum adaptation for incorporating local culture and materials production. A variety of materials have been developed, including both monolingual and trilingual story books, big books, charted stories, a first language primer and translated textbooks for maths and social studies, grade one. Other teaching and learning materials include a cultural calendar and multilingual maths calendar.
Initially, the teaching of all subjects except Filipino and English was done in the mother tongue. At a later point teaching Filipino and English through the mother tongue as language of instruction was implemented. This method has proved effective for strengthening the acquisition of those languages among Lubuagan students.
By 2005, when the longitudinal study was launched, there were nine teachers in three schools using the MLE methodology in the primary grades. In 2006 the Division Superintendent commended the Lubuagan teachers for raising overall achievement throughout the Lubuagan district.
The research questions
The Lubuagan MLE programme was launched on the general premise that use of the mother tongue would result in improved educational outcomes. But not all stakeholders valued equally the various outcomes which could be emphasised and measured. Accordingly, the design which guided the research being reported here has sought to attend to those outcomes deemed important to the broadest range of stakeholders.
Parents tend to measure educational effectiveness in terms of whether or not their children are/will be able to get a “good job” in the “outside world”. Most typically this means to them that their children must gain adequate proficiency in the “language of jobs”. The fear that their children will be stymied in their mastery of the “language of jobs” is the primary reason parents give for insisting that their children be educated only in this language. In the case of the Philippines, the language(s) of jobs are English and Filipino. Therefore, our first research question was:
Does participation in a programme in which there is heavy usage of the first language (L1) as a language of instruction compromise the development of proficiency in L2 (the language of jobs)?
Educators want to see their children do well on tests comparing their children to those from other schools. The usual assumption is that since such testing is normally done in L2, children will better master curricular content (and thus do better on standardised tests) if instructed entirely by means of this language. Hence our second research question was:
Does participation in a programme in which there is heavy usage of the first language as a language of instruction compromise mastery of overall curricular content?
National policy-makers think in terms of a skilled workforce and competitive status relative to neighbouring countries. Measures of particular concern at this level include tests of ability in maths and science. This suggests an obvious additional research question:
Does participation in a programme in which there is heavy usage of the first language as a language of instruction compromise the development of proficiency in such key areas as maths, science and reading?
The major schools in the Lubuagan area agreed to be divided into two groups – one in which the local language is used as a language of instruction (the experimental group) and one in which the prevailing national model of providing instruction in English and Filipino is used (the control group). The largest school participates in both models with one section of each grade in the experimental group and one section of each grade in the control group. Assignment to one of the two sections is random with the exception of occasional specific requests from parents. The result of this arrangement is three ‘‘schools’’ or classes in the control group and three in the experimental group.
For assessment purposes, tests were developed in the following content areas: reading, maths, Filipino, English and social studies (Makabayan — the Tagalog term for social studies.). The language of the test followed the scheme used in instruction (Table 1).
The tests were constructed by the research team (the authors plus two highly experienced local teachers) using the national curriculum statement of learning outcomes for each grade. The team first extracted lists of learning outcomes in each content area and then constructed test items designed to measure mastery of each learning outcome. The tests were first prepared in English (reading, maths and English) or Filipino (Filipino and social studies). Each test item on each test was individually reviewed by the entire team together to ensure clarity, aptness and appropriateness. Then, as needed, the tests were rendered in Lilubuagen and again checked for clarity and aptness as expressed in Lilubuagen.
Most test items used a multiple choice format to reduce ambiguity in scoring. The set of tests included multiple examples of how to use the multiple choice format in test-taking. This format was additionally explained by the test administrators several times as they administered the tests to ensure that children understood the format.
Test administration and scoring
Instructions on how to take the test were given to all children in both groups in Lilubuagen so that all children heard the same explanations and had the same training in test-taking. Two test administrators – both native speakers of Lilubuagen and speakers of both English and Filipino as second languages – administered all the tests to ensure parity of administration.
All tests were presented in written form with each child having a personal copy of each test. In grades one and two, each test item in each test was read to the children by the test administrator (for both controls and experimentals) to compensate for limited or unpredictable levels of reading skill among this group. No further explanation or hint was given about the test item. The test administrators did not read the list of possible answers leaving this task to the test-taker. Grade three children were responsible for the entire test with the test administrator simply proctoring the test.
After the tests were administered, they were scored locally, with the scoring spotchecked by one of the authors who speaks Lilubuagen. This spot-checking identified two items on the maths test for one grade which were inconsistently scored, so these two items were discarded from all tests for that grade for both control and experimental groups before analysis.
Table 2 summarises the overall results of the testing by grade and experimental grouping. The score reported in the ‘‘Mean’’ column is the average raw score for all students tested on all tests for that grade. The score in the ‘‘Percentage’’ column is simply the mean score converted to a percentage based on the total number of test items in all tests combined.
Several points stand out in Table 2. First, the (percentage) scores across grades are quite uniform suggesting appropriate scaling of the test items in the test instruments. Secondly, the Experimental group consistently scored 21 to 22 percentage points higher than the Control group. And third, the level of statistical significance (of the difference) is high. Table 2 Combined test scores (all five tests administered) for all three grades
Since the test instruments were designed as criterion-referenced tests, the data suggest that children in the control schools are consistently mastering only a little over 50 per cent of the content while those in the experimental schools are consistently mastering 75 to 80 per cent of the curricular content.
Comparisons by major content areas
Maths and reading
Reading and maths are normally considered the most fundamental of the basic skills to be taught and mastered in early basic education. Therefore, performance in these areas is of critical interest to all stakeholders in basic education as students will not be capable of working successfully at the higher grades if they do not master these skills. Table 3 presents the results of testing done in maths and reading.
The results for reading and maths mimic the overall scores quite closely. Apart from grade two, maths is the subject for which there is the greatest difference between control and experimental groups with a 27–33 per cent differential. The differential in reading is relatively constant at 23–24 percentage points. Looking at the experimental schools, we note a very slight tendency for the reading scores to be improving through the three grades along with a slight tendency for the maths scores to be decreasing. It will take more years of testing to determine whether this is a genuine trend or a statistical accident.
Second language acquisition
One of the most persistent objections to the use of mother-tongue instruction is the assertion – or the assumption – that when children are being taught by means of their first language, valuable time is being lost in learning the second language which is commonly the language of higher education, commercial activity and the political world. In most Philippine schools, two second languages are being taught – Filipino and English – making ‘‘the language issue’’ even more critical in terms of policy. Table 4 compares the performance of control and experimental groups of children on tests of their ability in these two languages.
Table 4 provides clear evidence that the use of the primary language as a language of instruction is not compromising children in learning the second language. Contrary to popular belief, the children who are receiving most or all of their instruction via English did consistently worse on a test of knowledge of English than did the experimental children. Furthermore, the difference was even greater in grade three than in grade one though there is not sufficient evidence to claim that the differential has been increasing through the grades. The same advantage exists for learning Filipino, though the difference is much less pronounced between the two programmes (the result in grade two is probably a chance anomaly).
Performance by programme and school
If/when an educational intervention has systematic impact and the intervention has been introduced at the level of full classes or schools, we can expect to see evidence of this impact in a comparison of experimental and non-experimental (or control) schools. Table 5 presents the relevant data for the schools tested as part of the Lubuagan assessment.
The data in Table 5 are clearly suggestive but not totally unambiguous. Two of the three experimental schools consistently ranked at the top in all three grades. Similarly, the bottom two positions were consistently occupied by control schools whose level of performance tended to be approximately half that of the top experimental schools.
Are the results in Table 5 due to the effects of the intervention or the product of significant differences in quality of instruction in the schools involved? From the researchers’ first-hand knowledge of the schools, we know that there is significant variation in the quality of instruction and adherence to the intervention in at least one of the schools. At the same time, data from similar research in Cameroon (Walter 2011) provide strong evidence that the intervention (use of L1 as a medium of instruction) accounts for much of the increased performance. In the Cameroonian study all 12 experimental schools outscored all 12 control schools although the differential was minimal between the weakest of the experimental schools and the strongest of the control schools.
Discussion of findings
The test results for 2008 show a consistent advantage for children in the experimental programme (MLE) across all three grades and all subjects in the curriculum, although the advantage varies considerably from grade to grade and subject to subject. How compelling is the advantage? (How strong the effect?) Statistically, the advantage is large (t = 7.08; P.000 for Grade 3). In distributional terms, the advantage is 1.1 standard deviation, a very large differential for an educational innovation. In terms of relative gains in educational efficiency (measured solely by means of test scores), the gain is approximately 40 per cent with the largest gains being seen in the most core subjects (48.3 per cent for reading in grade three; 53.9 per cent in grade three maths; 67.8 per cent in grade one maths). These findings thus provide strong initial evidence that the use of local languages for instructional purposes, instead of compromising, actually enhances mastery of curricular content including in the more critical areas of maths and science (second and third research hypotheses).
Even in English, where the expectation is that children in schools receiving all of their instruction in English would do well, children in the experimental programme registered a 44.4 per cent advantage in performance. In fact, children in Grade 3 appear to be ‘‘pulling away’’ from their peers in the English-medium schools since the gain in Grade 1 was 37.2 per cent and in Grade 2 it was 13.1 per cent. Again, we find that the early use of L1 as a language of instruction has not compromised the development of proficiency in English, but rather appears to provide positive support for the development of such proficiency (first research hypothesis).
The MLE programme currently provides only three years of instructional support in the first language. While the data from the recent testing certainly provide strong evidence of the ability of MLE to produce significant gains in educational efficiency, students will need to be tracked for several more years to determine whether the effect is lasting and, if so, how strong it might be. The research (and theorising) done by Thomas and Collier (1997) suggests that the impact will persist but will be less than if mother tongue support were being provided for at least six years.
Possible sources of confounding
For a number of reasons, we also need to exercise some caution in our interpretation of these results. First, the sample size is small in this programme. At present, the programme in Lubuagan includes three control schools and three experimental schools. In a programme of this size, a good year or a bad year by a single school can significantly affect outcomes.
Second, we must note that variation in teacher quality can significantly affect findings. Other research (Walter and Davis 2006) has shown that it is quite common to encounter very large variations in teacher quality from one school to another. In combination with a limited sample, this situation can produce considerable confounding in experimental results.
Third, informal inquiry has established that teachers vary in their use of language in the classroom. If one teacher does a lot of code-switching (between English and Lilubuagen) in an MLE classroom while another carefully follows prescribed practice (for language use), then the impact of this experimental variable becomes more difficult to assess.
The testing done in 2008 found an approximate gain of 40 per cent in educational outcomes (test scores). Several major questions present themselves in response to this finding. How significant is this level of improvement? How does this finding compare to gains (or losses) in similar programmes in similar countries? Will this gain persist? Are further gains possible with additional tweaks to the existing educational system?
In a similar study being carried out in Cameroon, Walter and Trammell (2008) found average gains of over 200 per cent for grade one children being instructed in the local language. In 2009 the reported gains were approximately 125 per cent for grade one and 60 per cent for grade two. Gains were the greatest in reading and maths and less in mastery of the second language (the language of instruction in the control schools).
In Jacob Cohen’s classic work on power and effect size in statistical analysis, an effect size of 0.8 is considered to be large (Cohen 1988). The effect sizes observed in the Lubuagan programme range from 1.31 to 1.61, indicating very large effect sizes for the mother tongue innovation.
A striking feature of the Lubuagan research data is the variation in teacher quality. The students of high-performing teachers outscored those of low performing teachers by as much as 70 per cent (within each of the instructional models). In the Cameroonian research (Walter and Trammell 2008), the differences were even greater – as much as 100 per cent – again with similar levels of variation observed within instructional models. Comparable results were found in research done in Eritrea (Walter and Davis 2005).
A tentative emerging hypothesis is that the greatest effect size for L1 instruction in the early grades is to be realised in those contexts in which the existing quality of educational delivery is the weakest. Only further and broader research will confirm or disconfirm this hypothesis and the larger ones which motivated the Lubuagan experiment in education.
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Walter, S. L., & Davis, P. (2005). Eritrea national reading survey—September 2002. Dallas, TX: SIL International.
Walter, S. L., & Trammell, K. R. (2008). Mother tongue education in Kom (Cameroon)—a first report. Research report presented to the Ministry of Education in Cameroon.
World Bank. (1988). Education in Sub-Saharan Africa: Policies for adjustment, revitalization and expansion. A World Bank Policy Study. Retrieved October 10, 2011 from http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=ED312205&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=ED312205.
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Stephen L. Walter is Associate Professor and chair of the Language Development Department of the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics in Dallas, TX. In addition, he is an International Literacy and Education consultant for SIL International. His current research interests are primarily focused on multilingual education in developing countries. His most recent publication is: The language of instruction issue: framing an empirical perspective, in Spolsky and Hult, (eds). The Handbook of Educational Linguistics.
Diane Dekker is currently an MTBMLE Consultant for SIL International in the Philippines. Her interest in language and education issues led her to begin research in 1988 on mother tongue-based multilingual education among the Lubuagan people in the Philippines. Her most recent publication is Current Issues in Language Planning 6(2) (2005). Her collaborative research with Steve Walter was presented to the Philippine Congressional Hearing on Education in 2008.