Mother Language Instruction: Up To Grade 3 Is Good But Up To Grade 6 Is Best

By Jes B. Tirol

Dr. Jes B. Tirol

Reprinted from The Bohol Chronicle, Dec. 4, 2011 


Department of Education (DepEd) Order No. 74 mandates that the medium of instruction from Preschool to Grade 3 should be the mother language of the child. English and Filipino will be studied as a subject in class. At Grade 4, the medium of instruction will be mixed depending upon the subject fitted for the mother language, English, or Filipino.

After Grade 4, the main medium of instruction will be English or Filipino but the mother language, in our case, Binisayâ will still be used and studied as a support or auxiliary medium of instruction.


Numerous experiments and researches in the Philippines and throughout the world reveal overwhelmingly that mastering first the mother language or L1 is very advantageous for learning a second language (L2) or a third language (L3).

Children in the Philippines and Bohol learn first their mother language at home. Ordinary logic will tell us that using the mother language in basic education will facilitate the education and learning of a child.

However, the present situation in the Philippines is to start using English and Filipino from Preschool or Grade 1. This is very disadvantageous to a child who is not an English or Tagalog speaker at home. The non-English and non-Tagalog speakers will have difficulty. He does not know the lessons and he does not know the language used by the teacher. This will discourage the child to stay in school and tends to dropout.

The most authoritative experiment in the Philippines is the Libuagan, Mountain Province experiment. Before the use of the mother language called Libuagin, the dropout rate was about 50%. The learning level of the pupils was very low. When Libuagin was used as the medium of instruction the dropout rate became almost zero and the children topped the whole region in the achievement tests including the subjects in English and Filipino.

DepEd Secretary’s Presentation

DepEd Order No. 74 stops the use of the mother language at Grade 3. However, during the First Visayan Language Congress in Region 7, held on April 14-15, 2011 at Ecotech Pavilion, Cebu City, DepEd Secretary Armin Luistro cited as a reference in his speech-lecture the Thomas and Collier Study (1997).

Thomas and Collier Study

The study was conducted by Wayne Thomas and Virginia Collier in 1997 and continued for 11 years. The researchers tracked 42,000 children in the US who entered school without knowledge in English. These children had been placed into one of several programs which varied in English language instruction.

To the surprise of many educators and parents, the children who received all of their education in English (similar to our case in the Philippines), learned the least amount of English and scored the lowest on national academic achievement tests. This group finished 11th and 22nd percentile rank. When converted to the standard Normal Curve Equivalent (NCE), these pupils were only in the 24% and 34% percent in the whole student population of the U.S.A. They were also the most likely to drop out of school.

Those who were schooled for three (3) years in the mother language scored between the 24th and 31th percentile in national tests. It is higher than those taught using the traditional English as Second Language (ESL) or all English instruction that scored only 11th percentile.

This result is already good enough if we compare only to others who are non-English speakers. If we will apply it to the Philippines the difference of 13% (24-11) is already significant. Maybe it is the reason why DepEd opted for 3 years schooling in the mother language.

Don’t Stop at Grade 3, Aim for Grade 6

The same Thomas and Collier study reveals that children who were schooled for 6 years in their mother language while studying English as a subject, scored between 53rd and 70th percentile rank. It is higher than the native English speakers that were used as the standard at 50%.

Another study, the Six-Year Yoruba Medium Primary Project, conducted in Nigeria, Africa demonstrated unequivocally that a full six-year primary education in the mother tongue with L2 (second language) taught as a subject was not only viable but gave better results than all-English schooling. This study is included in a UNESCO report in 2004.

So why not aim at beating the native English speakers? Why stop at Grade 3 when stopping at Grade 6 is much better? Imagine a 70th percentile rank compared to the 50th rank of native English speakers?

If you desire that one day your child will go to the United States you must support the Grade 6 level of mother tongue instruction. Your child will not only beat the Americans in their language but also very fluent in his Binisayâ. Tagbilaran City Mayor, Dan Lim, supports this idea.

2 thoughts on “Mother Language Instruction: Up To Grade 3 Is Good But Up To Grade 6 Is Best

  1. Déjà vu! In fact, during the deliberations that led to DepEd 74, one participant suggested that L1 be the MOI from kinder to the end of grade school with L2 (English and Filipino) being gradually introduced as language subjects/courses, say from Fourth Grade to the end of grade school to establish the “bridging” effect of MLE. It was even suggested that while Filipino and English become the MOI in high school, the mother tongue should be taught as a language course instead of it being used for scaffolding purposes only. L1 as a three one-hour-a-week language course should explore the grammar and literature of the language — this would give students the opportunity to establish/soak in the cultural identification with their respective mother tongues.

    Dr. Tirol, I share in your MLE enthusiasm…

  2. Can I ask a question? Are the tachers and the learners ready for this program? can the learners learn better from his/her native language?

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