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In 2012, the education reform community made a couple of decisive steps in its drive toward quality education for all learners. First, the K to 12 Basic Education Cycle will now be powered by a full-blown enabling law. Equally important, through the same law, the bilingual education policy is now replaced by Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTBMLE).

These are welcome developments indeed even if last year, the public conversation on K to 12 mostly revolved around the economic and logistical implications that the added two years will bring. Many parents have voiced the apprehension that even if public education is free and compulsory, getting their children to school still entails expenses. At the same time, a number of education stakeholders were worried that the Department of Education might not be able to adequately respond to the added structural stress that the bureaucracy would face, given its endemic lack of resources, national budget priorities notwithstanding.

The K to 12 Law precisely opens up more access to funding and resources for both DepEd and the Commission on Higher Education. In fact, the K to 12 Law can actually pave the way for more investments in education from both the public and private sectors. As early as 2011, the Senate Economic Planning Office pointed out in its policy brief that “ultimately, the government’s ability to secure resources to implement the K to 12 program and at the same time address the unresolved shortages in educational inputs will determine the country’s quality of education in the future. As wisely stated in the Philippine EFA plan, ‘Good education is expensive but lack of education costs many times more.”’

However, we must point out that world-class competency is the overall reform agenda. Therefore, what makes K to 12 a critical piece of reform is not the added two years but the 12-year curriculum that all learners will go through. In a previous commentary, Dr. Ricky Nolasco said as much when he emphasized that “it is the NEW curriculum with mastery thereof as its focus that makes K to 12 a compelling necessity for our country.”

Mastering prescribed competencies is a dimension of quality that is explicitly stated by all education systems. To succeed in this goal, studies show that the learner has to be able to really read—with maximum comprehension—by the third grade. By affirming MTBMLE as a national education policy, the K to 12 Law actually makes going to school enjoyable for our young learners because they will now be able to interact with their teachers and their classmates in a language that they all understand. More interestingly, MTBMLE significantly improves the young learner’s language acquisition skills. In practical terms, this means that with a well-considered MTBMLE program, our young learners can actually learn to speak and read much better in English or in any other language of wider usage, such as German and Spanish or Niponggo and Cantonese.

Clearly, there are major challenges ahead. Developing a coherent 12-year curriculum that builds competencies as the learner progresses through the years is one. This kind of curriculum development process really takes time, but it is something that must be undertaken with complete resolve. DepEd has made meaningful strides in this regard. Education Secretary Armin Luistro has been indefatigable in mobilizing the academe and education stakeholders. We must continue to support him in whatever way we can.

Advocating MTBMLE is another major challenge, but this one needs a more devolved, community-driven approach. There is no one-size-fits-all solution because we are a culturally diverse people. The Eggie Apostol Foundation offers a People Power solution: organize and convene workshops in local languages through partnerships with the academe, linguistics societies, and DepEd.

Here’s what we mean. In February, St. Louis University, the University of Southern Mindanao, the Nueva Vizcaya State University, SIL Philippines, DepEd, and the Eggie Apostol Foundation will hold the “Panangisuro” at Quezon Elementary School in Baguio City and the “Pagtudlo” at the University of Southern Mindanao in Kabacan, North Cotabato.

Panangisuro is a series of parallel workshops to develop learning materials in the language arts, math and Araling Panlipunan. There will be lectures clarifying the philosophy, concepts and methodologies in MTBMLE instruction, but most of the time will be devoted to producing Stage 1 to Stage 2 instructional materials and how to use these materials through demo-teaching. There will also be sessions on how to create tools for early grade assessment in reading, mathematics and social studies.

Pagtudlo is a conference-workshop on specialized topics in every learning area, like Singapore math, language primers and cultural identity markers. There will also be paper presentation sessions and open forums.

Aside from development materials, development techniques and practices for specific language groups, both events are aimed at serving as a forum for teachers and other stakeholders to share their experiences in implementing MTBMLE policy and curricula, and at constructing an early grade reading and numeracy assessment tool for each language group.

The Eggie Apostol Foundation hopes that other interested groups will use our workshops as templates that they can adapt and organize for their own language groups.

Butch Hernandez (butchhernandez@gmail.com) is the executive director of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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