Starting from where the teachers are | Inquirer Opinion

Starting from where the teachers are

At the recent Bridging Languages Workshop in Baguio City, I was deluged with requests from the participating teachers for a more rigorous Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTBMLE) training regimen. The teachers were particularly concerned with practical issues like how to produce home-grown (and therefore contextually sensitive) teaching and reading materials, and how to actually develop greater fluency in their own languages. I surmise that their apprehension grew from the fact that teaching in a mother tongue-based program requires a vastly different set of skills, many of which they apparently do not have at the moment.

According to Dr. Dennis and Susan Malone, the leading MLE consultants from SIL International, a critical problem is that in most countries, there are too few certified teachers from local language communities who have the level of fluency needed to use both languages in the classroom. Without the advantage of MTBMLE, many of the students who do not speak the school language have done poorly in primary school and have not been able to progress through secondary school.


The Malones aver that effective and sustainable MTBMLE programs require teachers who are fluent in speaking, reading and writing both their students’ mother tongue and the official school language.

To help overcome this serious shortage, they propose these courses of action:


1. Incorporation of MTBMLE into regular 2-, 3-, or 4-year teacher certification programs. In this program, pre-service teacher trainees may focus on MTBMLE. Individuals learn how to read and write the local language fluently and how to teach their students to do the same. They learn effective second language acquisition (2LA) theories, how to apply the theories in the classroom, and how to use the local language effectively as the initial language of instruction. On completion of the program, these pre-service teachers will have achieved the same educational qualifications as mainstream teachers with the additional qualification for teaching in MTBMLE classrooms.

2. “Fast-track” programs for graduates with nonteaching baccalaureate degrees. This one-year certification program will provide trainees with the pedagogical knowledge and skills required for regular teacher certification as well as the theories, principles and practical skills (as in No. 1) that they will need in MTBMLE classrooms.

Some advocates suggest that dominant-language teachers who want to teach in MTBMLE programs should learn the local language. The Malones find this problematic because it takes an adult at least three years of intensive study to learn a language well enough to communicate fluently in it. They add that a poor grasp of the students’ language is nearly as bad as not using it at all.

They suggest that a better solution is to recruit and equip fluent mother tongue speakers from the students’ home communities and provide them with the training they need to serve as 1LA teaching assistants. Of course, this will require the certified 2LA teacher to take on a new role in the classroom. The teacher-teaching assistant relationship is another issue that must be addressed by the MTBMLE teacher training program.

3. MTBMLE intensive workshops for experienced certified teachers. These 2-4-week workshops will enable certified teachers with experience in mainstream schools to gain the additional theoretical and practical knowledge and skills needed to be effective in MTBMLE classrooms.

4. Noncertification training programs for paraprofessional teachers or teaching assistants. These intensive training workshops are for individuals from local language communities who are fluent in their home language and the school language but lack the necessary educational background to qualify for regular teacher certification programs. Pre-service and regular in-service training workshops will build their capacity to work with certified classroom teachers who are fluent in the official language but do not speak the children’s first language. Paraprofessional teachers from nondominant language communities have proven to be effective in situations where certified bilingual teachers are unavailable.

As students achieve success in formal education as a result of effective MTBMLE programs, more of them will complete secondary school and, hopefully, will have the desire to become certified bilingual teachers. The long-term result should be that this category of training will eventually be unnecessary.


Since the Department of Education decided this year to implement nationwide its own version of mother tongue-based education in kindergarten and first grade, teaching education institutions have their work cut out for them in revising their curricula to be congruent with the new education policy. As I had earlier predicted, it will take more than three years before we can produce and equip our teachers with the necessary competencies in the required languages and in academic content and before reforms translate into better learning outcomes and greater participation rates. A mapping on language use not only by the learners but also by the teachers themselves is a prerequisite that must be taken seriously by education officials as basis for planning sustainable MTBMLE programs.

Ricardo Ma. Nolasco, PhD ([email protected]), is an associate professor at the Department of Linguistics in UP Diliman and the MLE adviser of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: education, featured column, languages, Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTBMLE) training regimen
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