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K-12 'mother tongue' rule to test teachers in Basic Ed
The online news portal of TV5

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The author is a journalist and a member of the faculty of the Department of Languages and Literature, University of San Jose-Recoletos, Cebu City)

CEBU CITY, Philippines -- A component of the government’s K-12 program is giving educators from the Visayas and Mindanao headaches. Incidentally, it is that which teachers are supposed to be already good at -- the use of the local language or dialect.

“How are we expected to teach in the mother tongue when we, here in Cebu, don’t even have a standard in Bisaya?” asked Aurelio Vilbar, a faculty member of the University of the Philippines Cebu College, echoing what he said was a sentiment common among his fellow educators.

And it is something that needs to be addressed, particularly in the Visayas and Mindanao, where the local languages are as diverse as the people, says Rev. Fr. Enrico Peter Silab, OAR, president of the University of San Jose-Recoletos.

“The Cebuano will speak Sugbuanon, the Ilongo their Hiligaynon, and those from Tacloban and Samar will speak their Waray-waray. In Mindanao, there are the Danao languages of the Maranaw and the Maguindanaon, the Bahasa Sug of the Tausug, and the various languages of the indigenous communities like the Blaan, the Tboli, the Manobos and the Teduray among others,” he said.

Vilbar, together with Dr. Edizon Fermin of the Philippine Association for Language Teaching, were among the facilitators of a three-day workshop attended by some 300 educators from the Visayas and Mindanao that closed at the USJ-R last July 13.

The training, organized by the Catholic Educators Association of the Philippines, centered on the use of the mother tongue -- defined as “the first language learned by a child” and mandated as a “learning resource” under Republic Act 10533, or the K-12 law -- in teaching Basic Education.

Land of many languages

Silab, the regional head of CEAP in the Visayas and who sits as vice president for CEAP at the national level, cited the need for educators, particularly Catholic educators, to support each other for capacity-building in the use of the mother tongue and to remain aligned with government goals.

“In CEAP, we speak the same language, the language of a Catholic education that affects positively the lives of people,” he said.

USJ-R is hosting a three-day national gathering of Catholic educators and educators belonging to non-CEAP member schools on September 25 to further discuss K-12 related issues.

Vilbar, on the other hand, is urging the academe and media houses, particularly those producing publications in the Visayas and Mindanao that are in the mother tongue, to sit down and jointly develop or agree on a standard, adding that this is also one way for the conservation of the local language.

He told of a short story in English that was translated separately.

One had the word “sibsiban” and the other, “balilihan,” both of which pupils could not readily understand. In English, both terms denote a pasture or grazing land.

One challenge, cited a workshop participant from Mindanao, is that very little government resource has been allocated for the development of language other than that of the currently Tagalog-heavy Filipino.

Vilbar said this could be addressed by the intervention of private entities, like the media houses, because they have traditionally served the role as conservators of language, broadcasting or publishing in the mother tongue.

The greater challenge is resistance from educators, he maintained.

“Most Cebuano prefer English,” Vilbar told participants, because it is the “language of aspiration” among Filipinos and “those who are proficient enjoy a certain kind of status” among their peers.

Basta maayo mo English, bright dayun (If you’re good in English, you are immediately considered bright),” he said.

Likewise, he added, teachers prefer using English in the belief that children “are more comfortable” with it, particularly those from middle class families.

Not exactly true

A survey done in randomly selected schools in Cebu City -- done as part of a nationwide study -- showed, among other things, that teachers of social sciences here use English in teaching Philippine history and that they were more comfortable with that medium of instruction than they were using Filipino.

“However, we tested in what areas a child had higher grades. Mas dako siya ug score sa (the child scored better in) Filipino. If teachers taught that in Filipino, mas sayun siguro para sa estudyante (it would probably be easier for the student). The problem is the attitude of the teacher,” Vilbar noted.

Thus, he pointed out, the impression that most children are more comfortable with English as a medium of instruction isn’t exactly true.

Matod pa sa usa ka bata, Sa among eskuylahan, dili ko kasabot sa akong maestro; sigi man gud siya og English nya dili man mi mag English sa balay’ (As one child said, ‘In our school, I cannot understand my teacher; he always speaks in English when we don’t speak English at home’). And many Filipinos are like this. Maybe they are not used to that, because they are in the public schools. Gamay ra ang dato, kasagaran g’yud sa atong mga Pilipino pobre (The rich are few, most of us Filipinos are poor),” he said.

The high attrition rate among grade 1 pupils, Vilbar argued, is partly due to the erroneous belief that children learn better in English.

“One of the reasons is the teacher’s English, the intimidating English. To some kids, makahadlok g’yud ang English (English is scary),” he said.


Vilbar cited the paradox in the 2003-2004 National Achievement Test results, where kids in Cebu City scored high in math but low in English.

Since the Department of Education currently follow a bilingual education policy, he said, where math is taught in English, the result should have shown a correspondingly low score in math, given how children were deficient in the language used in teaching math.

“What could the reason for this be? The teacher did not use English in math but the mother tongue. Since the teacher is violating the DepEd law, congratulations kay mas effective man sad kay masabtan man ug i-Binisaya (because it was more effective and better understood in Bisaya),” Vilbar said.

He also cited an experiment carried out in a school in Lahug, Cebu City, where a class with students generally described to be poorly performing in academic assessments were taught using the mother tongue and, after a predetermined time, assessed to be doing better than the pilot class.

“After two years, the study has proven that the students taught with the mother tongue as the medium of instruction had excelled more than those who were not,” he pointed out.

Spiral progression

Under the government’s K-12 program, children in grade 1 will be taught exclusively in the mother tongue. In grade two, the mother tongue is still predominantly used, with Filipino words slowly introduced into the vocabulary.

In grade three, where science, math, reading and languages will be introduced, the mother tongue is still predominantly used, though the medium of instruction for social studies will be Filipino, to introduce the concept of national identity.

Grade three in K-12 is crucial because it is also here were English is introduced.

In the fourth grade, English becomes the medium of instruction for science and math, parallel with the now budding cognitive development of the child.

“Our brain needs 5-10 years to learn academic English. We must be trained with the mother tongue from 4-5 years first to make our brain be ready to learn another language which is English,” Vilbar said.

“What will then happen to children having English as their language at home, given they must be using the mother tongue at school? They could just adapt, since the Cebuano counting language, for example, is multi-lingual,” he added.

This continues until high school, until the 10th grade, where other languages can be offered.

“You can offer a language that is marketable in your perspective. In UP, we offer Arabic. Through offering these, we are into the idea of peace process, understanding people better,” Vilbar said.

Dr. Fermin, for his part, said teaching this way awakens the enthusiasm of children to learn other languages, rather than intimidate them.

“Study skill is a general term for techniques and strategies that help a person read or listen for specific purposes with the intent to remember. Domains of literacy are taught first through mother tongue, after which the domains of literacy are taught in the second language then to the third language. Therefore, students now can understand in three languages. Shifting to reading in second language can be taught through experience or oral language and or printed symbols,” he said.

“Students who are literate in the first language should be able to carry their knowledge and skills to reading in the second language provided that they are adequately exposed to the second language and they motivated to acquire it,” he added.