Lessons and Reflections on the Multilingual Education Conference 2019

Plenary Hall
Speaking on behalf of displaced learners

I attended the Inclusion, Mobility and Multilingual Education Conference 2019 organized by UNESCO, British and other INGOs held on September 24-26, 2019 at the Amari Watergate Hotel, Bangkok Thailand. There were about 450 delegates coming from various countries. It was my 3rd time to attend such a conference.

In the past, the main focus was learning from the case studies of various multilingual education programs in various places in Asia and Pacific which were mostly NGO operated learning centers (with few government-sponsored programs) among minority groups. This time, the use of mother tongue and multilingual education in development was highlighted especially in the context of Refugee Education. Based on https://www.unhcr.org/ph/figures-at-a-glance, there are 70.8M displaced people worldwide, half of whom are displaced in their own country. In the Philippines, there are 87,500 displaced Filipinos in Mindanao (mostly in Marawi). There is no report on how education is being delivered in those places.

Above is a picture of a plenary speaker Mr. Saw Kolohtoo, the Deputy Director of the Karen Teacher Working Group. He talked about their work as an education provider in a refugee camp for the Karen people who fled Myanmar. He himself belongs to the Karen group.

Philippine Delegation

All in all, there were more than 25 Filipinos who attended the conference, most of whom presented a paper in various themes or strands. My key interlocutors in my current research project in Buguias, Benguet joined me (at last) for a panel presentation.

It was refreshing to hear feedback from delegates who attended the conference for the first time. It was unnerving to hear so many people commenting that the Philippines was among the the first to mainstream MTB-MLE (in all its 47,000 villages).

In most countries, MLE was introduced only among minority groups. I remember when the MTB-MLE policy (DO 74. S.2009) was being formulated in 2009 and there was this suggestion of implementing the program only among Indigenous People communities. Somebody in our group objected saying that if that happens, our plan will not succeed. And during the conference, I raised the same issue to the school heads who were with me (they belong to the Kankanaey IP group in Northern Philippines) and they replied emphatically that they would not want that MTB-MLE to be applied only to to the Indigenous Peoples like them. They said that the more they would be marked and marginalized. It really made me think about what indigenous identity means--that IP communities may want to be both distinct and mainstreamed.

As I listened to many presentations at the conference and reflect on our own experiences in the Philippines in the past 11 years (since we started the advocacy in 2008), I realized that implementing MTB-MLE properly is such a daunting task. There are so many layers of tensions and complexities (curriculum, language standardization, IP identity, language ideology, funding, policy, technology, etc).

Dr. Isabel Pefianco-Martin
I think our view of language as a bounded entity is one source of tension. Dr. Isabel Pefianco-Martin, one of the plenary speakers, argued for the possibility of softening boundaries among languages. She made reference to current interests in translanguaging or translingual instruction (which they promote at the Ateneo de Manila University) in which the learner’s whole linguistic repertoire is seen as a resource in instruction. This departs from the traditional MTB-MLE view that each child just brings in one mother tongue into the classroom. In translanguaging, the idea is the child has a mix of mother tongues. This idea is resisted by some who cannot imagine a world without a distinct division among languages. Dr. Sangsook Son, a Korean scholar who is doing action research on Translanguaging in Chang Mai would tell his colleagues (who held the bounded language perspective) that what is important is the learners more than the language.

The top policy leaders (from various countries) met together and came up with the Bangkok Statement for Language and Inclusion. It highlighted the need to foreground language concerns in education, investment for quality MLE, forging partnerships and language-specific data gathering.
With School Heads from Buguias District - CAR

Our presentation (with Buguias school heads – Herminia Osting, Patricia Alatis and Estrella Tabdi) was entitled “Profusion of Mother Tongue Storybooks in a minority language group in Northern Luzon. In our presentation, we described the efforts of the Buguias School District in producing hundreds of big books despite the fact that their language, Kankanaey, is not part of the 19 supported Philippine languages. Our slide presentation is uploaded here - https://tinyurl.com/BuguiasPaper

At the end of our presentation, we affirmed that the Philippines made some good initial gains in MTB-MLE like the:
  • Crafting a good initial policy (it’s unfortunate that the long exit in DO 74 s2009 was replaced with a short exit in RA 10533).
  • A generic MTB-MLE curriculum and teachers’ guides to be contextualized in each language group
  • Initial mass training of teachers
  • A good model of L1 literacy
However, through the years, with the change of leadership in the Philippine Department of Education (DepEd),  MTB-MLE seems to have been stalled or shifting towards a weak MLE model. Based on our study and on the lessons learned from the MLE conference, DepEd should do the following so that the MTB-MLE will be more inclusive and will bring about quality education.
  1. Revisit and update the MTB-MLE Strategic Plan that was formulated in 2011. DepEd should do some short-term and long-term targeting (especially in teacher training, materials development, advocacy, funding) and provide accountability mechanisms (inclusion in the School Improvement Plan, PBB, performance metrics or school scorecard) that will guide monitoring and evaluation.
  2. The MTB-MLE Plan should include expanding beyond the 19 languages. It should identify targets and provide greater support for the implementation of MTB-MLE as part of the IP Education program among minority languages
  3. DepEd should realize that they do not have a strong and effective pedagogical model for the transition period (grades 4-6) which includes strengthening L1 literacy and bridging from L1 to L2. All teachers I talked to said there is so much talk about bridging but it is not being demonstrated or monitored. DepEd should build on the L1 of the learners and ensure that learners develop biliteracy in their L1 and L2. Dr. Heugh said that learners need to have a hold of at least 5,000 words in their L2 so they can learn in that language.
  4. DepEd should convene a think tank, a multidisciplinary group, that will formulate a strong bridging model based on Malone’s framework (TPR, sandwich method, scaffolding, etc), Teaching English in Multilingual Contexts (certificate program taught by Dr. Isabel Martin in ADMU), Ofelia Garcia’s Translanguaging Model (including Dr. Son’s contextualized model in Bangkok), the Dual Language Program introduced in the US and Canada, and the Plurilingual Multicultural Education model of Europe. DepEd should realize that the old TESOL/ESL models taught in our Teacher Education Institutes (TEIs) do not align with MTB-MLE because such traditional models see the L1 as an obstacle, not a resource (thus they prohibit the use of L1 in the ESL classroom). MTB-MLE, Translanguaging and all the new models are not yet mainstreamed in our TEIs or higher education and so DepEd should do its own research and modeling. Aside from getting in touch with experts on MLE, Bilingual Education, and Translingualism, the DepEd pedagogy experts should study the growing body of literature.  
  5. Address the needs of classrooms in urban areas where many mother tongues are used. 
  6. Train the new set of MTB-MLE teachers who were not included in the mass training in 2012. The MTB-MLE experts and writers/contextualizers that emerged in the past years should be developed and not be assigned to places where their knowledge would not be used (Madam Herminia Osting, the master trainer and storybook writer in Buguias was assigned to high school).
  7. Provide spaces for collaboration (at various levels) with MLE scholars and advocates from the academe, development sector and the LGU (I am happy that the head of the Education Committee of the Lanao del Sur LGU came and presented a paper in the conference).

Bangkok Statement on Language and Education
I hope that DepEd would address these concerns as soon as possible.

I hope, too, that since people in top leadership in DepEd come and go, there would emerge a strong support group from the academe, the civil society, and the local governments who would provide sustained input.

Based on my own experiences for the past 10 years in MLE, I found that language is such a contentious and divisive issue. When pressed, I would say I am a teacher first, an Ilocano second. We should think about the learner first. And so alliances (solely based on language rights) to support MTB-MLE tend to be short-lived and are prone to self-destruct. I thought that if there should be sustained and strategic support from MLE stakeholders, there should greater participation from other sectors (some language advocates in the alliance should try to temper their discourse and learn to collaborate more, especially with those who have wronged them or do not meet their standards). MLE should be presented not only as a matter of language rights but the right to quality and inclusive education.

Since my area is Teacher Education, I would want that those who study and teach about Inclusion, Literacy, Bilingual Education, Indigenous Education, Linguistic Citizenship, ICT, Education in Emergencies, and the like would be involved. Careful study, planning and monitoring are needed because there is no one-size-fits-all model. MLE has to be contextualized and localized and that requires a learning process.

There are so many MTB-MLE advocates from various countries who are looking at the Philippine MLE experience for inspiration and lessons (since we have made the bold decision to be among the first country to mainstream MTB-MLE).  These advocates are hoping that their own government would listen and be open to the possibility of providing instruction and materials in the learner's languages. Our positive experience in the Philippines would help them strengthen their advocacy and MLE Projects. And so my dear fellow Filipinos, our MTB-MLE successes would not just benefit our 27M of Filipino learners but would also help other children and learners of the world (especially those who belong to non-dominant groups).  #IMMLE19 #learnersfirst #languagesmatter  #MultilingualPhilippines  #MTBMLE 

Maria Mercedes "Ched" Arzadon mearzadon@up.edu.ph http://educ.upd.edu.ph/educational-foundations/


Commission on Higher Education (CHED) is funding MTB-MLE related projects

From the CHED K12 Transition Program FB Page 

The Commission on Higher Education is now accepting proposals for the Revised and Expanded Continuing Professional Education (RECPE) Grants.

RECPE Grants provides capacity-building initiatives based on the arising professional needs of teaching and non-teaching personnel, and accessible opportunities in training and/or materials development. RECPE also contributes to the body of knowledge in education by generating responses to content and instruction gaps.

Proposals may focus on the following areas:
1. Materials Development for Mother Tongue Based-Multilingual Language Education;
2. Program for Mother Tongue Based-Multilingual Language Education Teaching;
3. Research Administration and Management;
4. Land Use Planning and Management; and
5. Statistics and Data Science.

Submit your proposals at chedk12.com/RECPEapplication. Deadline of submission is on October 4, 2019.

For more information, visit chedk12.com/cpe.


Launching the IYIL 2019-Philippines : a move for inclusion of every Filipino

The celebration of the International Mother Language Day (IMLD) 2019 and launching of the International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL) at the University of the Philippines was held on February 20, 2019 at the College of Education, UP Diliman Campus, Quezon City.  The event which was held after the the afternoon classes gathered 200 participants from various places. There were participants who traveled from the Pangasinan province.  At the registration area, a display of mother tongue based multilingual big story books (Ayta Mag-antsi and Ayta Mag-indi languages) and MTB-MLE references was set-up. The latest book of the speaker, Dr. Clement Camposano on Jose Rizal was also on display.

Dr. Marie Therese Bustos, the dean of the UP College of Education gave the welcome remarks. She narrated how she and her colleagues in the Deaf Education and SPED Department struggled to promote the Filipino Sign Language (FSL) which led to the institutionalization of the FSL through a law passed in 2018. Dean Bustos also mentioned about the nationwide research project on Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education that was undertaken by ACTRC, a research center that she heads (https://actrc.org/category/projects/mtb-mle/ ).

Students from the Linguistics Department gave a backgrounder of IMLD and IYIL and explained to the audience how they can sign up for involvement in the IYIL website. This was followed by a presentation from learners from the Lumad Bakwit School (indigenous school) that was visiting the UP campus. They spoke about the struggles that they experience because they live in high-conflict communities in the Southern Philippines. They capped their presentation with an indigenous (Bagobo) song and a dance.

SIL Representative, Ms. Rynyj Gonzales presented the current state of Philippine languages in light of Fishman's EGIDS Scale (https://www.ethnologue.com/about/language-status). She described how certain languages in the Philippines are only spoken by the elders and are in the verge of extinction.

The main speaker of the evening, Dr. Clement Camposano, delivered a lecture based on his recent book “The Nation as Project”. He discussed the conflicting thoughts of Philippine heroes, Jose Rizal and Isabelo delos Reyes (who lived in the 19th century during the Spanish colonial period) about language, identity of indigenous groups in the Philippines. He underscored how the much revered national hero, Jose Rizal, saw the nation from a distant land. Due to the influence of the German Herderrian philosophy,  his conceptualization of the Filipino identity was quite exclusionary (limited to lowland Christian converts). He along with other famous Filipino educated elite (illustrados) wanted to show that  Filipinos were as modern and sophisticated, worthy to be represented in the Spanish Cortes (parliament assembly).  Isabelo delos Reyes, on the other hand, looked at the project of nationhood as a local (probinsiyano) located at the margins (Ilocos province in Northern Philippines). Though he was well educated and well versed in Spanish, he turned to local folklores (in local languages) to inform his views. Delos Reyes as a counterdiscourse declared that he was one with the indigenous mountain dwellers. The project of nationhood is an ongoing process according to Dr. Camposano. Filipinos today should take into account subgroups like indigenous people communities, the Muslim (Bangsa Moro) groups and the Filipinos in diaspora in re-imagining the Filipino nation today.   Prof. Arnold Azurin, the author of "Reinventing the Filipino" responded with his own commentary on some points raised by Dr. Camposano. He mentioned that Rizal and delos Reyes were kin. He took note of the exclusionary view of Filipino identity as one of the roots of the prevailing conflict in the Southern Philippines.

Participants posted their suggestions through an online form about ways to promote, study and develop the indigenous languages. There were many who requested for more forums, training and conferences. They recommended that there should be workshops on the means to integrate indigenous language and cultures in the curriculum. There were also suggestions on popularizing indigenous languages through music, literature, films and other art forms. Both social and mainstream media should be utilized to create awareness about indigenous language concerns. And members of indigenous cultural communities should be involved in various endeavors.

Mr. Fernigil Colicol, a PhD scholar (from Mindanao State University, Tawi-Tawi) wrote his thoughts about the event:

As a Subanen coming from an Indigenous Community in Mindanao, it is empowering on my part that our language is now given importance with the celebration of the Indigenous Mother Language Day 2019. This is not only about preserving indigenous languages worldwide, but rather a recognition of every indigenous peoples' unique cultures and identities in the different parts of the world. The success of the lecture symposium held at the UP Diliman College of Education in response to the UNESCO's call is a show of the institution's strong advocacy for embracing diversity - a move for inclusion of every Filipino from different ethnolinguistic groups in the country.

Below is a video clip of the launching event