Language murder most foul

An excuse letter to a high school teacher reads: “Dear Madam: Please excuse me for my absent yesterday because my mother is born again.”

This is the kind of English in schools that we love to ridicule and that teachers are desperately trying to remedy. For many educators, it has been an uphill battle—not only in English but also in science, mathematics and even in Filipino.


Three important reasons come to mind for our learners’ underachievement. One is, until recently, our short educational cycle, which disadvantaged teachers and students. Another is our dysfunctional language of instruction (LOI) policy, which correlates with low scores in mathematics and science, according to international research. A third is our weak pre-service and in-service teacher education programs that are partly to blame for the inadequate subject knowledge of teachers.

Not so long ago, in 2013, lawmakers enacted Republic Act No. 10533, which made kindergarten and senior high school obligatory. It also abolished the bilingual policy and introduced mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTB-MLE) to address the language-in-education issue.


The law states: “Basic education shall be delivered in languages understood by the learners as the language plays a strategic role in shaping the formative years of learners.

“For kindergarten and the first three (3) years of elementary education, instruction, teaching materials and assessment shall be in the regional or native language of the learners. The Department of Education (DepEd) shall formulate a mother language transition program from Grade 4 to Grade 6 so that Filipino and English shall be gradually introduced as languages of instruction until such time when these two (2) languages can become the primary languages of instruction at the secondary level.” (underscoring supplied)

These mandates are unequivocal. They mean: (a) in basic education, the use of languages incomprehensible to learners is disallowed; (b) for kindergarten and Grades 1-3, the learners’ first language or L1 is the language of instruction, of materials and of assessment; (c) from Grades 4-6, L1 continues as primary LOI, but Filipino and English (as L2s for most learners) are gradually phased in as secondary LOI; and (d) in high school, Filipino and English become the primary (but not exclusive) LOI, with L1 as auxiliary. Underlying all this is the idea of comprehensible input.

Sadly, previous DepEd officials misconstrued these provisions to mean that (a) L1 may be discarded as LOI at the end of Grade 3; (b) starting Grade 4, L2s (Filipino and English) shall become the LOI in abrupt fashion and without any transition; and (c) the LOI can be limited to 12 languages (later upped to 19) due to “limited resources.”

This misconstrual virtually kills the original intent of our lawmakers to establish a truly additive L1 + L2 educational system. What is now in place is a subtractive “short exit” scheme not dissimilar to the failed bilingual policy that international and local research have shown to be injurious to learners. Studies have concluded time and again that a learner needs at least six to eight years of strong L2 instruction before that L2 can become a medium of learning. These lapses are inexcusable given our more than five years’ experience in carrying out the new law.

Such flawed implementation may partly explain why learning outcomes have not improved. Poor learning results can also mean poorly prepared teachers. Traditionally, L1 use in the classroom was proscribed and considered shameful. Now, teachers are expected to shed off their L2-dominant ideology overnight and teach in L1s with little formal training in the task. Ano ba talaga, kuya?

We have formally asked the DepEd to issue a directive announcing that: (a) the L1 shall be the primary LOI for comprehensible input throughout the elementary cycle; (b) from Grades 4-6, L2s (Filipino and English) shall be introduced—gradually and in increasing amounts—as secondary LOI for comprehensible input; and (c) L2s (Filipino and English) shall become the primary LOI for comprehensible input in high school, with the L1 (or a combination thereof) as auxiliary LOI.


After making this correction, the DepEd will need to redesign its in-service education (and not only training) for teachers, revise the basic curricula for learners, produce new materials in the required languages and develop new assessment tools for the classroom.

Fortunately, the DepEd has approved and is implementing the Philippine Professional Standards for Teachers (PPST) to guide and inform the foregoing activities. The National Educators Academy of the Philippines has also been reinvented to serve as the principal agency for the professional development of teachers and school leaders. The Commission on Higher Education is also expected to firm up, align and quality-assure pre-service education according to the requirements of the DepEd and the PPST. An interagency body may be needed for this type of collaboration.

The above measures will strengthen our fledgling MTB-MLE program and will help both teachers and students acquire the four Cs (creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking). These are skills that are needed in the 21st century.

Lawyer Magtanggol T. Gunigundo I is a former five-term representative of the second district of Valenzuela City, and at present counsel for 170+ Talaytayan MLE Inc.

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TAGS: Department of Education, dysfunctional language of instruction, Republic Act No. 10533
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