Commentary

K-12, MTB-MLE and FSL: education game-changers

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I CANNOT understand why the Department of Education in its media releases about the K-12 bill exclusively harps on the end goal of adding a couple of years to basic education.  As I have always held, it is the NEW curriculum with mastery thereof as its focus that makes K-12 a compelling necessity for our country.

These changes in curricular content and focus emanate from the bill’s intention to do away with the bilingual policy and to affirm mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTB-MLE).  The bill provides that for kindergarten and from Grades 1-3, the regional or native language of the learners shall be used for instruction, teaching materials and testing.  From Grades 4-6, there shall be a language transition plan so that Filipino and English are gradually introduced until these languages can become the primary modes of instruction in high school.

The transition plan addresses a critical flaw in DepEd Order No. 16, which limits L1 use up to Grade 3 only.  Research has shown that “short exit” schemes lead to the same disastrous academic results as complete immersion in a second language (L2) that learners cannot speak.

The other laudable provisions of the bill are:

1. The science subject will now be introduced in Grade 1, instead of in Grade 3.  This subject will also be taught in the L1 of the learners, and not in English.  In the past, some people had this silly notion that by integrating science into the language subject, pupils will learn English. A legacy of the old bilingual policy, this idea has been repeatedly disproven by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study that found students had higher achievement when the home language and language of testing were one and the same.

2. The basic curriculum shall be adapted locally to the language and culture of Filipino learners, including community values, to aid teachers in planning their lessons.  This principle hews closely to DepEd’s newly formulated policy framework for indigenous peoples which integrates indigenous knowledge systems and practices in all learning areas and processes.

3. The production and development of locally produced teaching materials shall be encouraged and approval of these materials shall devolve to the regional and division education units. Big books, primers and other teaching aids in the local languages are continuously being developed by teachers, but production is hampered by the long and tedious process of evaluation and approval from imperial Manila.

4. Finally, Filipino Sign Language (FSL) is now recognized as the learning medium in educating the deaf. This proposal actually reiterates a DepEd Special Education (SPED) policy way back in 1997.  If finally carried out in practice, this will make education in our country inclusive to a sizable community whose learning rights have long been trampled upon by the dominant hearing population.

Meanwhile, there is another measure, sponsored by Rep. Antonio Tinio, which proposes to declare FSL as the national language of the Filipino deaf and to mandate its use in schools, the courts, broadcast media, government offices and the workplace.  To support the bill’s passage and counteract proponents of Signing Exact English (SEE), the Philippine Federation of the Deaf is organizing a march-rally on Nov. 5 at 8:30 a.m. from the Philcoa area to the Batasan complex.

In a letter to the House committee on social services, Education Secretary Armin Luistro stated that although DepEd was supportive of FSL, he was asking for two things: that FSL be clearly defined, and that “the period of initial and full implementation of FSL in deaf education” be delineated.

He said most of the DepEd teachers of deaf children were trained using American Sign Language (ASL), and the period of transition would allow DepEd “to retrain and retool its teachers in FSL, revisit and reproduce its learning materials, and develop FSL curriculum according to each area or region.”

The DepEd stand has been denounced by the Philippine Deaf Resource Center (PDRC) as reflective of the serious blind-spot and attitudinal resistance afflicting the agency. The PDRC points out that FSL has been documented linguistically for a decade and that it is the decision-making bureaucrats that need to be retrained and retooled with the existing research on deaf education. The PDRC also suggests an affirmative action mechanism whereby deaf teacher education graduates can enter into the public school system without passing the LET.

As Diane Dekker of SIL said, it takes time for teachers and administrators alike to imbibe a totally new approach to education, like MTB-MLE and FSL. Here is the one major weakness of the K-12 program that critics have pointed out, and which I am in complete agreement with. DepEd should have factored in enough time for some kind of refinement process, say three years, before it can build enough capacity and resources to fully implement its flagship programs.  The provision for such a period of preparation and the roadmap to get to where we are going should have been expressly written into the K-12 bill.

Ricardo Ma. Duran Nolasco, PhD (rnolasco_upmin@yahoo.com), is an associate professor in linguistics at the University of the Philippines in Diliman.

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