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Languages and inclusive education

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Languages and inclusive education

I was one of two plenary speakers at the 2nd Philippine Conference Workshop on Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTBMLE) in Iloilo City which started last Feb. 16 and ends today. The other speaker was the esteemed Dr. Kimmo Kosonen of Payap University, whose incisive thoughts on education I will comment on later.

Before that gathering, I presented my critique of the K+12 program that the government is implementing in June 2012. While I do recognize that our 10-year education cycle is one of the shortest in the world, I question the rationale that our education authorities have been feeding the public for extending the education cycle by two years.

Decongesting the curriculum and altering its content to suit the needs of business will not be enough to sway public opinion to support such an extension. The shift in the medium of instruction and philosophy of the first language (L1) of the learners provides a more compelling driver to make K+12 worthwhile.

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Based on the change in the philosophy of learning, I called for the complete overhaul of the reading-based second language bias of the current curriculum by moving away from judging children’s achievement on the basis of acquisition of English and Filipino, and underscoring the goal of basic education as learning to read, speak, write and think on academic topics in the L1. This also means purging the curriculum of foreign stereotypes and examples (e.g., zebra, little red riding hood) and replacing them with the indigenous and culturally appropriate knowledge of our language communities.

Of course, there is a need to learn a language of wider communication like English, in addition to the home language, but never at its expense.

The likelihood of dropping out of school increases when children are forced to learn in the language they cannot understand. Full literacy does not accrue to children if they do not know the language of literacy well. A clear picture of what they have learned cannot be gained if school assessments are conducted in a language they are not familiar with.

While research continues to pile up in favor of mother tongue-based instruction, the number of primary aged children who have minimal or no access to L1 education continues to grow. Today, the estimates stand at 2.4 billion, or roughly 40 percent of the world’s population.

On the other hand, Kosonen’s revelation that although language myths (e.g., “the more dominant language, the better,” “the earlier, the better”) continue to abound, the policy climate in Southeast Asia regarding non-dominant languages (NDL) is improving.

Kosonen classified the NDL policy in these countries into: (a) no explicit policy or practice (Brunei, Laos, Burma [Myanmar] and Singapore); (b) enabling policy, little implementation (Indonesia, Malaysia, Timor Leste and Vietnam); (c) some policy support and some action (Cambodia and Thailand); and (d) strong policy support and some action (the Philippines).

His description of the Philippine situation may have been brought about by the fact that in 2009, our country institutionalized L1 use in formal and non-formal education, even if this is up to Grade 3 only. This is what is called a short-exit program in contrast to the long-exit program I am proposing.

Kosonen likewise made the following observations: (a) “Education for All” goals in Asian countries will not be met without massive expansion of quality MLE; (b) The biggest challenge is a misunderstanding of L1 learning and the lack of political will for strong L1-based education; and (c) there is an ideal approach to L1-based MLE which consists of progression and bridging between languages in the long term, and the lifelong learning of the L1.

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Throughout the conference, I could sense a profound change in the attitudes of educators toward L1 use in education. It appears to me that the issue to them is increasingly becoming a question of “how” to implement MLE, compared to the “why” of three years ago.

One truly memorable moment in the conference is the pasidungog given by West Visayas State University to Dr. Jose V. Aguilar, who is considered the father of vernacular education in the Philippines. In 1948, Aguilar carried out the experimental use of Hiligaynon as medium of instruction in Sta. Barbara schools and proved the superiority of the L1 in teaching children. As she received the posthumous award, Aguilar’s daughter Mila said:

“The best way to honor Jose V. Aguilar would be to increase once again the number of hours for teaching in our elementary and high schools, with the commensurate number of subjects to ensure the best learning for our intelligent race, because as all theories of education will tell you, learning takes time and is cumulative. A very good way of honoring Jose V. Aguilar would be to do as you are doing now, re-institutionalizing MTBMLE. The best way to honor Jose V. Aguilar would be to honor education.”

Magtanggol T. Gunigundo I is the congressman of the second district of Valenzuela City.

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TAGS: education, featured column, K+12, languages, literacy, opinion
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