THE PROSPECTS OF MULTILINGUAL EDUCATION AND LITERACY IN THE PHILIPPINES Ricardo Ma. Nolasco, Ph.D. Acting Chair, Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino September 17, 2008 1. Introduction A basic weakness is plaguing Philippine education. It is that many pupils do not understand what their teacher is saying and therefore they cannot follow the lesson. Why? Because the language in school is one they can hardly speak and understand. In a hearing conducted on February 27, 2008 by the committee on basic education and culture of the Philippine House of Representatives, various stakeholders in education urged Congress to abandon moves to install English as the sole medium of instruction, especially in the primary grades. The Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino or KWF was one of these stakeholders. The KWF suggested that a law be passed mandating the primary use of the learner’s first language (L1 or mother tongue) from pre-school to grade 6, or at least up to grade 4. In our proposal, Filipino and English should be taught at the elementary level but only as separate subjects, and not as media of instruction. We explained to the committee that the plan should provide learners, whose L1 is neither English nor Filipino, enough time to develop their cognitive, academic and linguistic skills in their mother tongue. In the process, a solid foundation can be built for learning subjects taught in English and Filipino in high school. By then learners will have mastered the academic language in these two languages. The L1 can then be used as auxiliary medium and/or as a separate subject. This paper discusses the prospects of institutionalizing mother tongue- or L1based multilingual education (MLE) and literacy in the Philippines. It shall be divided into the following parts: a) introduction; b) the linguistic situation in the Philippines; c) the country’s language-in-education policy; d) the international and local research in the use of language in education; e) support for MLE from various stakeholders; and f) conclusion. 2. The linguistic situation in the Philippines The Philippines is a multilingual nation with more than 170 languages. According to the 2000 Philippines census, the biggest Philippine languages based on the number of native speakers are: Tagalog 21.5 million; Cebuano 18.5 million; Ilocano 7.7 million; Hiligaynon 6.9 million; Bicol 4.5 million; Waray 3.1 million;
Kapampangan 2.3 million; Pangasinan 1.5 million; Kinaray-a 1.3 million; Tausug 1 million; Meranao 1 million; and Maguindanao 1 million. While it is true that no language enjoys a majority advantage in our country, the census shows that 65 million out of the 76 million Filipinos are able to speak the national language as a first or second language. Aside from the national lingua franca, regional lingua francas, like Ilokano, Cebuano and Hiligaynon are also widely spoken. English is also a second language or L2 to most Filipinos. According to the Social Weather Stations, in 2008, about three fourths of Filipino adults (76%) said they could understand spoken English; another 75% said they could read English; three out of five (61%) said they could write English; close to half (46%) said they could speak English; about two fifths (38%) said they could think in English; while 8% said they were not competent in any way when it comes to the English language. The self-assessment of Filipinos to speak and write in English and in Filipino may not be consistent with their actual proficiency in those languages. For instance, in 1998, Guzman and her team administered proficiency tests to five separate groups in Metro Manila. The groups consisted of: a) University of the Philippines undergraduate students (UP-U); b) UP law students (UP-L); c) undergraduate students from a sectarian university (SU); d) undergraduate students from a private non-sectarian university (PNSU); and e) employees in a workplace (WP). Test items were selected on the basis of learning competencies and skills...
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