There was once a natural spring in a forest from which all the animals drank. The pool, however, came to be inhabited by poisonous frogs. After some time, these frogs were able to take control of the water resource by threatening to poison it unless the other animals did what the frogs wanted.
First, anyone planning to drink from the pool had to ask the frogs’ permission. Next, the frogs decreed that everyone should eat only frog food, like flies and mosquitoes. Later, everyone was commanded to forget one’s own language and to speak only frog language. Everyone who lived in the forest had no alternative but to obey what the frogs willed.
One day, a thirsty dog came to the pool to drink but was turned away by the frog police. In frustration, the dog began to scratch the ground. The hole became bigger and deeper, until he struck water. The other animals saw this and also began digging: birds pecking with their beaks, horses stomping with their hooves, cats using their paws. And soon all the animals had their own water holes, and they all lived happily ever after.
This short tale written by Jimple Borlagdan of Tabaco, Albay, years ago predicted the advent of multilingual education (MTB-MLE) and the deprivileging of English and Filipino as the sole media of instruction in our educational system. The Early Years Act, the Kindergarten Act and the K-to-12 Law all provide for the use of the child’s first language as the fundamental language of learning and teaching, including the recognition of Filipino Sign Language as the visual language of the Filipino Deaf.
The story also foretold the frenzied and sustained efforts of stakeholders in orienting, educating and preparing teachers, school heads, parents and communities to support the new language-in-education policy of the government.
One of these MTB-MLE stakeholders is the Communication Foundation for Asia (CFA) that will host a series of live-in training workshops for teachers at its offices and dorms in 4427 Old Sta. Mesa, Manila. “Paglinang 2014” will come in three waves and will present ways to develop learning materials from prekindergarten to Grade 3 in all learning areas.
The first wave, scheduled on May 6-10, covers the language arts and araling panlipunan track. The last two waves, to be held in parallel fashion on May 26-30, cover science and mathematics (second wave) and early years and universal kindergarten (third wave), integrated with values education, music, arts and physical education.
Despite the admirable efforts of the Aquino administration, the Philippines continues to suffer from low literacy levels and poor academic achievement in the National Achievement Tests (NAT).
Latest figures from the Department of Education’s National Education Testing and Research Center show that in the 2012 NAT:
• Grade 3 children in public schools obtained a lower mean percentage score (MPS) of 56.98 compared to the previous years’ performance.
• The achievement rate of Grade 6 examinees (66.79) approximates a status quo performance for the past three years.
• On the average, the fourth-year students obtained an MPS of 48.90.
The National Career Assessment Examination results of high school students for the years 2008-2009 and 2012-2013 likewise saw a decline in overall abilities from 45.4 to 37.9. Science ability had the biggest deterioration (43.2 to 31.3), followed by mathematics ability (41.7 to 33.7).
The underachievement of our pupils can be traced primarily to the declining quality of our teachers (not of their own making and which can be remedied through long-term and sustained training). The outcomes of the 2012 Test of
English Proficiency for Teachers and the Process Skills Test in Science and Mathematics given to Grade 1 and 2 teachers reveal that 62 percent of teachers have poor process skills (25-50 MPS) in science and mathematics and 50 percent of them have low ability (25-50 MPS) in using English in their daily teaching activities.
The low English proficiency of our teachers is enough reason to discard the DepEd plan of immediately shifting from the L1 (first language) to English and Filipino as media of instruction in Grade 4. But the truth of the matter is that teachers nationwide are ill-prepared to teach in the L1 of the learners. In fact, most teachers do not understand how Philippine languages work and lack the necessary experience to teach content in these languages. For instance, an early grade reading study in Ilocano schools conducted last year found Grade 1 children scoring well below the benchmarks. The study included children in “pioneer” schools in which L1 initiatives and training were in place for at least a year. Learners in the “pioneer” schools were found to score no better than those in the nonpioneer schools.
As I have repeatedly stated, MTB-MLE is brand-new and cannot be accomplished well if pushed hurriedly. Translation of terminology is a poor substitute for developing the L1 academic register in all the subjects which can only come through hard thinking and hard work. Even for a short-exit program, it is erroneous to underestimate the gargantuan tasks involved in L1 teacher training and L1 materials development.
Ricardo Ma. Duran Nolasco, PhD, is an associate professor in linguistics at the University of the Philippines.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.