K+12 & MTB-MLE: Make haste, lay waste

Ricardo Nolasco

By Ricardo Ma. D. Nolasco
Philippine Daily Inquirer, March 17, 2012

People in the know are flabbergasted by the headlong rush of the Department of Education to implement mother tongue-based education in ALL public schools in the coming school year.

First of all, the new curricula for kindergarten and Grade 1—which integrate the learners’ first language (or L1) as subject and medium of instruction—have yet to be finalized and pretested by planners. Teachers are being herded by the hundreds into weeklong camps only to be trained haphazardly by instructors who are mostly unfamiliar with MTBMLE (Mother Tongue-Based Multi-Lingual Education) concepts. Materials in the local languages are being produced, graded according to levels of difficulty and evaluated for quality, again without benefit of pretesting. No systematic assessment and evaluation of the programs in the so-called 921 MTBMLE pioneer schools have been undertaken.

DepEd is risking far too much in this haphazard approach to implementing MTBMLE. Teachers are not being given enough time to learn their own L1, particularly for literacy, much less learn how to teach in the L1. Teachers who think that they are implementing MLE may not be doing much different from what they did previously. They need to be retrained entirely, and that takes time.

Materials preparation requires a minimum of one year and should be developed with the community, not just with DepEd teachers. If they do not have sufficient materials, they will not be able to implement well and will not achieve the desired outcomes.

One plausible reason for the grueling schedule that DepEd has imposed on itself in implementing L1-based instruction nationwide may be the desire of the Aquino administration to demonstrate tangible change within its short political term of office.

Helen Pinnock of Save the Children, UK explains: “For governments which are likely only to be in power for one or two terms, arguments about the long-term efficiency savings which [MTBMLE] can produce through reduced dropout and repetition may not be particularly relevant. Similarly, recent evidence that children need at least six years of good quality [MTBMLE] before they can use second language for academic learning is not going to be palatable to government leaders faced with such short time scales for action. Even where all the factors work in support of [MTBMLE], this crucial factor of government’s need to demonstrate change and achievement in education in a short political term of office may lead to focus on early exit [MTBMLE], which transfers learners from mother tongue instruction to the second language within three or four years.”

Where should advocacy for MTBMLE focus on? Pinnock suggests that education stakeholders invest in the following areas of research and campaigning:

1. Make country- and region-specific data on dropout, retention and exam performance/learning outcomes available to incoming governments and the public media before new education reforms are launched. Such data must be credibly linked to language of instruction and highlight failures of monolingual approaches.

2. Produce country-specific projections of likely quality improvements within five years of adopting quality MTBMLE based on existing pilots and experience from other countries. Highlight cost savings to the education system as a result of these benefits.

3. Make individual stories of children affected by a range of language-of-instruction issues available in the media to influence parents’ awareness.

4. Emphasize that setting ambitious targets for second- or third-language competency at later stages of education (e.g. at Grades 6, 10, 12), rather than at early grades, would better promote effective language learning.

5. Produce/make available international case studies on language and education factors in ethnic conflict, fragility and secession.

6. Engage with private education sectors through conferences, lobbying and capacity building on best practice and evidence for MTBMLE in producing stronger second-language learning.

7. Work with state and private schools to set up more MTBMLE pilot schools in a range of settings.

8. Collaborate with ministries of education to produce, pilot and disseminate clear, practical local policy guidance on implementing MTBMLE for education officials in remote areas.

Meanwhile, education stakeholders in the Philippines are answering the clamor for more rigorous training courses on planning for strong and sustainable mother language-based instruction.

SIL-International, 170+ Talaytayan MLE Inc. and St. Louis University (SLU)-Baguio City are organizing the 2012 Training-Workshop on Bridging between Languages in Mother-Language-Based Education to be held on May 14-26, at SLU in Baguio.

The resource speakers are Dr. Susan Malone and Dr. Dennis Malone of SIL, with DepEd officials and professors from UP, PNU, ADMU and SLU. One goal of the course is to leave elementary teachers and administrators with a firm grasp of how to implement MTBMLE in kindergarten and in the early grades under the new K-12 curriculum. For tertiary educators, the added objective is to help them design their teacher training programs according to principles of L1-based instruction. For more information, contact Prof. Jane K. Lartec at enaj2911@yahoo.com or 09192470035 or Ms Lucy Cruz through 09163944870 or lucycruz618@yahoo.com.

Dr. Nolasco (rnolasco_upmin@yahoo.com) is an associate professor in linguistics at UP Diliman.

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