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K to 12: More than just decongesting the curriculum

A few days ago, Deputy Majority Leader Magtanggol Gunigundo of Valenzuela City sent me an e-mail about the K to 12 bill pending at the 15th Congress and its repercussions to mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTBMLE). The measure was taken up at the joint meeting of the committees on higher education and on basic education with Education Secretary Armin Luistro and Commission on Higher Education Chair Patricia Licuanan in attendance.

At that meeting, Representative Gunigundo asked Secretary Luistro to show any research evidence to support the Department of Education’s position for an “early-exit” model on first language (L1) instruction. This weak model provides for the use of the learners’ L1 as the medium of instruction (MOI) up to Grade 3 only, after which learners are abruptly shifted to English and Filipino as teaching mediums. Critics of this model have amply demonstrated that it takes six to eight years of L1 instruction before learners develop their literacy and academic skills in that language. This “six to eight” model of L1 instruction is called a “late-exit” model because learners are also taught one or two second languages (L2) to prepare them for high school where the L2 eventually become the primary MOI.

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Luistro admitted that DepEd did not have any research data to back its position and that he was not prepared to declare that an early-exit scheme was superior to a long-exit program. He then said that he was open to the idea of expanding L1 instruction throughout the basic education cycle and of deleting any wording in the bill that would peg L1 instruction to an early exit program.

Luistro was also surprised to learn that the 10-year basic curriculum was decongested not too long ago in 2002. Since K to 12 desires to decongest the curriculum, Gunigundo requested DepEd to show the joint committee what the old curriculum was, how it was decongested in 2002, and how it would be further decongested by K to 12.

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In an apparent reversal of position, Luistro informed the joint committee that under the K to 12 curriculum, science and math would be introduced as separate subjects beginning Grade 1. According to him, the practice of embedding science in other subjects like English and offering it as a separate subject only in Grade 3 will be discontinued.

The discussion then turned to the qualifications of mentors in teaching science and math. Gunigundo pointed out that many science and math teachers lacked the necessary training to teach these subjects, and that one reason for this was these teachers were being educated by professors whose advanced degrees were in school administration and not in science and math, as shown in a UP National Institute on Science and Mathematics Education study. Licuanan opined that CHEd’s policy of requiring college professors in teachers’ colleges to have master’s or doctorate degrees might have boomeranged on them since college professors themselves were not specializing in their content areas.

Education reform advocates have expressed serious concerns that the essential components of a strong MTBMLE methodology are not evident in the K to 12 curriculum. They point out that:

Ongoing reform efforts notwithstanding, language remains the key to improving student achievement. All other reforms would most likely have the same results as those developed within the old bilingual setup if MTBMLE is not built into the curriculum plan.

Curriculum reform will be strengthened through planned use and development of the learners’ L1 throughout the entire educational process. This means that the K to 12 curriculum is not merely a matter of decongesting the old curriculum but of forming a new curriculum based on a different perspective and starting point.

The K to 12 curriculum should move away from a reading-based L2 curriculum which is not appropriate for learners who have not yet gained fluency in L1 literacy.

Overt integration of the learner’s linguistic and cultural world view into the curriculum should replace foreign content (e.g. English songs, poems, rhymes, word examples, etc.) that do not reflect or build on what the learners know.  Foreign literature and culture will be well developed at a later time in the curriculum, after time for L1 development and initial skill building in L2 oral communication.

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Most DepEd personnel are still grappling with how teaching proceeds in an MTBMLE system. This is something brand-new and cannot be accomplished well if pushed quickly. Additional time is also required to adequately train teachers in MTBMLE methodology and the new curriculum.

While there are many experts able to consult on developing the curriculum, input practitioners who bring experience and knowledge related to MTBMLE implementation would seem to be necessary and practical.

This year will prove historic for Filipino learners because it heralds the shift to an entirely new learning paradigm, one that is truly learner-centered and culture- and context-sensitive. This time, there is no turning back.

Ricardo Ma. Duran Nolasco, PhD ([email protected]) is an associate professor at the Department of Linguistics in UP Diliman.

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