Our education reality: Bad with English, but badder with Mother Tongue | Inquirer Opinion

Our education reality: Bad with English, but badder with Mother Tongue

/ 09:23 PM December 21, 2021

Our scores in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) do not support the belief of Dr. Ricardo Ma. Nolasco (“English ‘pa more,’ the ‘betterer’?” 12/4/2021) that “speaking English at home may actually be disadvantageous to Filipino learners,” simply because the complete results are not as staggeringly lopsided in favor of non-English speaking students as he presented

in his piece. For the two tests Nolasco mentioned—the 2008 TIMSS Advanced Mathematics and the 2019 TIMSS—the total edge of the non-speakers is 235 points, but the actual net difference for all our four participations in the TIMSS is only 47 points in favor of non-English speakers. Nolasco mistook the figures for “Sometimes” as those for “Never” in the 2019 TIMSS. Also, page 123 of the “TIMSS Advanced 2008 International Report” states that the average score of the Filipino takers who “Always or Almost Always” speak English at home was 371, while those who “Never” do was 402, a far cry from the 514 vs 567 Nolasco cited.


The country’s complete TIMSS data are in these reports: TIMSS 1999 International Mathematics Report, page 122; TIMSS 1999 International Science Report, page 123; TIMSS 2003 International Results in Mathematics, pages 132, 133; TIMSS 2003 International Results in Science, pages 136, 137; TIMSS Advanced 2008 International Report, page 123; and TIMSS 2019 International Results in Mathematics and Science, pages 295-298.

What the slight margin for non-English speakers over English speakers in the TIMSS may indicate is that our students can acquire in the classroom languages that are new to them and use the same to learn content; that not speaking English at home does not necessarily mean the student does not have a grasp of it or will be less apt in the learning of the language. Our experience in the Cordillera supports this contention. Not many families here speak in English at home, but our schoolchildren topped Grade 6 English in the 2016 and 2017 National Achievement Test and placed second in Grade 10 English in 2017.


In the case of our Grade 4 examinees in 2019, the edge of non-English speakers could be partially due to the fact that English speakers are like fish out of water in classrooms where the mother tongue is the language of instruction (LOI), unlike in Bilingual Education Policy (BEP) settings where they have a head start.

Neither do our total TIMSS data prove that our usage of a language not our own as LOI constitutes an immovable barrier to better results in international assessments. There was a fair chance of improvement of our performance in the TIMSS under the BEP. Page 46 of the “TIMSS 2003 International Mathematics Report” said that, along with Israel, the Philippines “showed significant improvement from 1999 to 2003” in the Grade 8 test. From third to the last rank in both subjects in 1999, the country moved up to fifth to the last in Mathematics and fourth to the last in Science in 2003.

It was after the country shifted to the Mother Tongue-based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) that our chances of raising our scores in the TIMSS vanished, what with the bottom finish of our Grade 4 students in the 2019 TIMSS compared to the third to the last rank in both subjects of their counterparts in 2003, and the very conclusive difference in the scores of the two batches. Among other factors for the debacle, the 2003 batch was immersed in the test language from Grade 1 to Grade 4, while those who took the 2019 TIMSS had their mother tongues as LOIs from kindergarten to Grade 3 and only shifted to English in Grade 4.

The planned expansion of the MTB-MLE to Grade 6 Nolasco mentioned will address his beef over the usage of English as LOI. But the question is, based on our experience in the TIMSS in 2019, what awaits our students in the Grade 8 TIMSS and the Programme for International Student Assessment if they only start their immersion in the test language in Grade 7? More importantly, what future awaits students who take international assessments in regional languages in a country and world increasingly dominated by the English language?

Estanislao C. Albano, Jr., [email protected]

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