(Second in a series)
With a lapel microphone, Marilou Lucas acted more like a variety show host than a Grade 1 teacher as she led her pupils in playing musical native games like “Chimpoy Champoy” (similar to “Jack en Poy”) or singing the popular child’s refrain in Filipino, “Leron, Leron Sinta.”
The classroom was turned into a setting for singing, dancing, playing games, exploring the arts and telling stories in the mother tongue with the implementation of the K-to-12 (Kindergarten to Grade 12) curriculum last year, Lucas said, describing how she handled her Grade 1 class at Krus Na Ligas Elementary School in Quezon City.
A Grade 1 teacher for 16 years, Lucas observed that pupils were more enthusiastic using Tagalog and the learner-centered approach.
“The children were so engrossed that they didn’t want to go home because they were enjoying the activities,” she said. “They were excited to attend classes. For example, if you tell them that we’ll have painting tomorrow, they’ll tell the teacher, let’s have painting today.”
“The pilot year of K to 12 was not perfect,” she conceded. “We will try to address those imperfections. As we go on, we will try to make it perfect.”
Interviews conducted by the Inquirer with teachers and parents in general showed children were enthusiastic in embracing the use of Filipino, at least in Metro Manila.
Aside from establishing a “universal kindergarten” and adding Grades 11 and 12 (senior high school) to basic education, the newly enacted Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013, or the K to 12 Act, mandates the use of mother tongue-based multilingual education.
The program embracing the global 12-year education cycle was rolled out in Grades 1 and 7 in public schools across the country last year, leaving Angola and Djibouti as the only holdouts of the 10-year cycle the Philippines had followed since the Commonwealth era.
Last month, President Aquino signed into law the legislation covering the program.
Based on a Department of Education (DepED) order, the mother tongue (MT), or vernacular in the region, should be taught as a subject from Grades 1 to 3 and used as a medium of instruction from kindergarten to the first three years of grade school.
In Grade 1, subjects in the native language include Math, Araling Panlipunan (AP), Music, Arts, Physical Education and Health (Mapeh) and Edukasyon sa Pagpapakatao (Values Education).
Bahasa Sug, Bikol, Cebuano, Chabacano, Hiligaynon, Iloko, Kapampangan, Maguindanaoan, Maranao, Pangasinense, Tagalog and Waray-Waray were the 12 languages introduced last year.
Citing local and international studies, the DepEd has said that “the use of the learner’s mother tongue or the language used at home is the most effective medium of learning.”
Teaching new skills in an unfamiliar language is a “double burden” for children, because they are “learning both the language and the content all at the same time,” said Mercedes Arzadon, a professor at the University of the Philippines’ College of Education.
The 2002 Basic Education Curriculum (BEC) followed the bilingual system, or the use of English and Filipino, before the DepEd last year initiated the program to employ local languages as medium of instruction from Grades 1 to 3.
“A new kid in school would not have any problem if any of the two languages is what he uses at home,” Arzadon said in an e-mail interview. “Maybe they know a little English or Filipino, but it is not the language they are most familiar with.”
Around 75 percent of Filipino children speak their native languages, like Kankanaey or Bikol, she said.
Children need to feel secure and comfortable in school because they are faced with new learning tasks, like raising their hands to be allowed to speak, counting and participating in class discussion, she said.
“If you want children to learn such skills and be able to be functional immediately you use the language they know well,” said Arzadon, an advocate of the mother tongue system of instruction.
“What happened then was that everything became a language subject, including Math and Science,” she said of the old system. “No wonder it became rote learning, the teacher asked the class to mimic her and memorize stuff without understanding it at all,” she explained.
Nenita Reyes, another teacher at Krus na Ligas, explained that with the new system, children learned through activities.
“In the old curriculum, children just sat and listened. But now, they are the ones discussing the subject,” Reyes said.
First graders were not hesitant to grab the class microphone and even raced for the opportunity to speak, she recalled. At Krus na Ligas Elementary School, teachers used lapel microphones to be heard by their nearly 60 students. Each class had a microphone. Teachers were equipped with lapel microphones.
Natividad Nacino, the principal, said using the native language as the medium of instruction “erases the notion that being good at English makes you brilliant.”
“If you speak English well, you must do better using your own language,” she said.
Using the language that children speak at home lessens the “pressure” of being in school, said Joey Ann Tenorio, a Grade 1 teacher at Hen. Pio del Pilar Elementary School.
Because her pupils at the public school in Makati City have been accustomed to speaking in class, they remain confident even when they are required to recite in English, Tenorio said.
“Their oral skills have been developed during the first and second grading period using the mother tongue,” she said.
When the English subject was introduced in the third grading period, they were still able to express their thoughts and were not afraid of making mistakes, Tenorio said.
But some of the public school teachers wondered why the Filipino subject and mother tongue had to be taught as separate subjects when Tagalog, spoken in Metro Manila, is the base of Filipino, the national language.
The school’s principal, Imelda Caravaca-Ferrer, said the teachers told her that the materials in the two subjects were the same.
Beth Madlangbayan, a Grade 1 teacher, said Filipino was more on the parts of speech while the mother tongue focused on reading traditional stories. “Topics in MT and Filipino are basically the same,” she said.
“In my opinion, MT is more applicable in regions with a different mother tongue like Waray-Waray or Bisaya,” she said, suggesting that teaching MT and Filipino as one subject could lengthen the time for discussions.
Madlangbayan said that in the old curriculum, first graders were expected to read and write in English before they started Grade 2. But in K to 12, the children only need to be fluent in the local language.
The time allotment for subjects in the elementary level had been reduced to 30 to 50 minutes from the 40 to 90 minutes in the old curriculum. The recommended time in class for Grade 1 is four hours in the first semester and four hours and 30 minutes in the second semester.
At Krus na Ligas, teacher Lucas said the allotted time was not enough to allow all her 58 pupils to recite or discuss their artworks or assignments so they often extended the class or continued the next day.
“Each student should be given a chance to recite,” she said, pointing out that Grade 1 in the K to 12 program was aimed at improving oral communication skills.
Reading and writing are not yet a priority at this grade level.
Reyes said there were only few writing exercises. Most of the time, they worked in groups, sang Filipino songs and played games. “It’s like kindergarten but more advanced,” she added.
Regina Palma, a mother, said the pacing seemed a bit slow for her son, Javen Yestin, who was one of the top pupils in Grade 1 in Krus na Ligas.
Lucas responded to Palma in a group interview with the Inquirer that the program’s philosophy was “slowly but surely.”
“Pupils are able to master the lessons because you build a strong foundation and add to their previous knowledge,” she said.
But teacher Nenita Reyes said: “If you feel your students are intelligent, then give them additional activities. We should learn to go outside the box. You should not limit yourself to what is prescribed by K to 12.”
At the Makati school, the teachers incorporated lessons from the old curriculum to advance the discussion, especially for pupils in the first section, or advance class, who could easily master the topics.
Principal Ferrer said: “In speaking, the skills are being repeated, it has no variety. Students have prior knowledge. The teachers deviated and started complementing using the usual way of teaching because it’s more organized.”
Madlangbayan said there were some topics that were no longer taught in Grade 1 which she deemed important, such as the Philippine national symbols, natural resources of the country, traits of a Filipino and rights of a child.
As early as first grade, she said these should be taught “to instill a sense of pride and nationalism.”
The K to 12 Araling Panlipunan is centered on self, family and community. It is “good, but it needs to be developed,” she added.
Pilot year a struggle
The teachers were optimistic about the new curriculum but admitted that its first year was a struggle because the instructional materials came late and they were only given a weeklong mass training.
But before the start of classes, they were given a Teacher’s Guide and Learner’s Guide, which contained topics and suggested activities for every lesson. The guides had portions in another language so they had to be translated.
“We were not really prepared. We didn’t know what to do. We struggled,” Tenorio said.
Because the materials came late, the teachers had a hard time translating mathematical terms into Tagalog.
Madlangbayan recalled there were times when Grade 1 teachers would debate on the proper translations.
Pupils also found Math difficult because they were more familiar with the English numbers, she said. They often mispronounced the numbers but by counting regularly in class, they managed to memorize them and solve mathematical problems, she added.
On the other hand, Lucas said music and art were the favorite subjects of most pupils because they got introduced to Philippine games, like “sungka” and “chimpoy champoy,” and old songs, like “Ugoy sa Duyan.”
But music was challenging for teachers who were not used to teaching rhythm, tempo and dynamics.
“Music was discussed briefly during the seminar. If you’re an ordinary person, you wouldn’t immediately know the high and low notes. I even drew a ladder to guide them,” Lucas said.
Tales from treasure chest
For the subject mother tongue, the DepEd suggested a list of stories to be read in class.
Most stories were “pulled out from a treasure chest” and not readily available in bookstores, like “Si Gong, Galuglong,” so the teachers had to improvise and create their own books, Lucas said. The constant need to produce materials “sharpened my imagination,” she said.
The teachers either drew the characters or downloaded pictures from the Internet, she said.
Teacher Joey Ann Tenorio said almost every night last year, she stayed up until 11 p.m. to make visual aids for her class the next day.
With the Grade 1 materials now in their hands and with their experiences last year, the teachers hoped this school year would be better.
Arzadon and other educators asked the Senate in an open letter in January to extend the use of the mother tongue as medium of instruction to Grade 6 and as a subject beyond Grade 3.
“I believe that there should not be a law prescribing teachers how to teach. Teachers should be given the freedom to introduce changes when a child is ready,” she said in her e-mail to the Inquirer.
“It should not be seen as a mere bridge to master Filipino or English. If I fell in love with my language, say Ibanag, and I want to continue using it and maybe grow up to be a radio commentator in Ibanag or a novelist in Ibanag, then I should be given the chance to use Ibanag as long as I want to.”