Madam Herminia Osting -- MTBMLE Exemplar

I met Madam Herminia Osting in 2011. She was then serving as the School Principal at Lengaoan Elementary School, a small school in the middle of the Mountain Trail of Benguet. She showed me and my students some of the Kankanaey big books she wrote. Since her college life at SLU, Baguio, she developed a strong interest in Cordilleran literature. During our first meeting, we talked about MTBMLE for almost the whole chilly night of February. In the years to come, she sought every opportunity to improve the MTBMLE materials and teaching strategies she has been developing.

More than four years later, I saw her again (now a principal of  Loo Elementary School and PSDS OIC) showing me the fruits of her labor—new big books (a few were published locally), new MTBMLE allies, the newly approved (by the community and the government) Kankanaey orthography…. All these became possible even if Kankanaey (the 13th largest Phil language) was not selected as one of the 19 Philippine languages supported by the central office of DepEd for massive material development

She and her teachers, dipped from their own pockets to produce many more Kankanaey big books (now more than a hundred). Later, the LGU contributed some and when MTBMLE became part of the K-12 Law, they were given the go signal to use their meager MOOE. They wrote fun and captivating stories that young learners in Benguet (and other rural places) would fondly remember----frog friends who discovered a large footprint...the duck who got stuck under the stairs...the cockroach with a pot belly, etc. Some were written to teach the sounds of the alphabet and some for simple enjoyment of their young readers.

According to Madam Osting (who taught grade one for a long time), when English or Tagalog text was used (before the MTBMLE policy came out) pupils would only be able to read in September...now they can read with comprehension in July. In the past, when a question was posed, the pupils would go back to the book to search for the right word that will answer the question.  Now with the story in their language, the pupils would respond spontaneously and would even offer their own interpretation and opinion.

Other teachers from neighboring schools in Benguet have been coming to borrow and photocopy the big books Madam Osting and her teachers wrote. There is indeed a need for an affordable means (an alternative to the traditional publishing) to reproduce these mother tongue big books. I hope these big books would also have a small and portable version that kids can bring home and read on their own. Maybe a digital version that can be downloadable in tablets or mobile phones is one possible solution. IPR is also one issue in MTBMLE (there are horror stories about this).  

I hope that some of these Kankanaey stories, including those written in other Philippine languages would be translated to Tagalog (instead of the usual practice of translating Tagalog stories to other languages). I am aware that our gifted teacher-writers in Bicol, under the leadership of Dr. Opay Tuy, also produced so many stories in some Bicol languages. There are hundreds more that were produced because of the initial funding provided by the K-12 program. I hope DepEd would make an inventory of the big books produced by the teachers and community people the past six years. Maybe they can even organize a big event to display the books in so many languages (about more than 70). Such would make a strong argument for K-12.
It would be great if someday, our children would have access to these books and be able to read and enjoy stories contributed by various ethnolinguistic communities. I hope, too, that someday the many mother tongue story writers like Madam Herminia Osting would be known and inspire the budding mother tongue writers who would come out of our MTBMLE experience.

Ched Arzadon

Madam Hermie Osting at Lengaoan Elementary School taken in February, 2011

May 2015 at Loo Central Elementary School

Some of the books she and her teachers have produced.

One of the Madam Osting's books that was locally published


Citing the Philippine example in MTB-MLE

Since 2013, I've been hearing in international conferences commendations for our MTBMLE initiatives in  the Philippines, spoken by known authors like Jim Cummins, Jessica Ball, Carol Benson and Kimmo Kosonen. Below, an article from Jakarta Post written by a UNESCO officer during the International Mother Language Day, is one example. We were the first country that issued several laws that prescribe the use of all our mother tongues in basic education and provided a corresponding implementation support in the form of teachers training and materials development. Most countries would recognize only selected languages. Others have a law that allows the use of mother tongue (especially for indigenous groups) but with no strong implementation support. Ours does not exclude any and the government, along with local government units and various NGOs, have been allocating resources.  After we issued DepEd Order 74 s.2009 (Institutionalizing MLE) and later RA 10533 (Enhanced Basic Education with strong MTBMLE provision), Timor Leste, Cambodia and Zambia followed suit. We hope that many more would join us in improving learning thru MTBMLE and in recognizing the languages of our ethnolinguistics groups.  Our present MTBMLE implementation is not without any problem. It is actually sailing through rough waters. The commodification of languages (seeing some as more valuable as they provide better jobs), the myth of a "globally competitive Filipino," and the challenge of handling many languages in a classroom are among the major obstacles. Such are real concerns that can be addressed through research and dialogical processes. MTBMLE is a major education reform initiative to improve access and education outcome and recognize diversity in schools. We cannot just give up and revert to our old ways.

Ched Arzadon


Inclusion in and through education: Language counts 

Kyungah Kristy Bang, Bangkok | Opinion | Sat, February 21 2015, 7:37 AM

Why is mother tongue-based multilingual education important?” It’s a question I’ve been asked often over the past five years in my role as the coordinator of the Asia Multilingual Education Working Group (MLE WG), which advocates on behalf of removing barriers to quality education for ethnolinguistic minorities in this region.

Let me begin with my story.

The first day of school after my family emigrated from South Korea to Canada was the most frustrating and alienating experience I had ever had. I felt like I was lost on another planet where people spoke a different language. I could hear my teachers and classmates but couldn’t communicate with them. Once an active and talkative student, I grew quiet and shy. School was no longer the fun place it had been, and I felt excluded most of the time.

A few months later, I started to make progress. Utilizing my strong reading and maths skills in my mother tongue, Korean, I was able to translate and convert concepts and catch up on learning in English. With support from teachers, classmates and my parents, I slowly started to speak and raise my hand in the classroom and finally felt a sense of belonging in school and in Canadian society.
“Inclusion in and through education: language counts”, the theme of this year’s International Mother Language Day, Feb. 21, resonates with my experience. It also speaks to the challenges faced by some 2.3 billion people worldwide who don’t have access to education in their mother tongue and are excluded as a result. For many of them, the challenges I faced are made more daunting by poverty and other barriers.

Language is a key to inclusion. If children cannot understand, they won’t learn. Unfortunately in monolingual education systems, language poses many barriers keeping students from ethnolinguistic minorities from accessing quality education. Even if such students manage to enroll in school, they are often unable to follow classroom instruction and end up being pushed out of the education system. This in turn results in further marginalization and exclusion from society.

When language barriers are combined with other marginalizing factors such as gender, ethnicity, disability and geographical remoteness, the chances of children entering and completing basic education become very low. According to a recent UNESCO-UIS report, children from marginalized groups in Bolivia, Ecuador, India and Lao PDR, for example, are two to three times more likely to be out of school.
Looking back on my own experience, I realise that the most crucial factor in successfully transitioning from one language — and one education system — to another was the grounding I had in my mother tongue. During my six years of primary education, I developed a strong understanding of concrete and abstract ideas, learning vocabulary and concepts that were transferable to my second language. Without this foundation, it would have been extremely difficult for me to become functionally bilingual and continue my education.
Research has increasingly shown that teaching in a mother tongue early on in school is effective in reducing dropout rates and makes education more engaging for marginalized groups. Children who benefit from mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTB MLE) also perform better in their second language. Unfortunately these benefits elude many ethnolinguistic minority children who do not have such opportunities.

When I was studying in my mother tongue, my parents took a more active role in my learning than they were able to after we emigrated. This parental engagement is important for children’s intellectual and social development and is a good indicator of student survival rates. Parents of ethnolinguistic minority students are often unable to provide this support.

MTB-MLE programs also bridge the gap between the culture at home and that at school and mainstream society. They not only improve learning, they also broaden outlooks, increase tolerance and foster a respect for cultural diversity. These programs are one of the most effective ways through which we can promote a culture of peace and build equitable and inclusive societies.

Multilingual education initially costs more than monolingual education; however, the long-term benefits far outweigh the initial investment, provided there is adequate funding allocated toward promoting the use of mother tongues, the development of multilingual teaching-materials and teacher training. Monolingual education is not sustainable in multilingual nations, and thus MTB-MLE programs are likely to result in considerable savings over the long term, while also tapping the previously untouched potential of millions of ethnolinguistic minority students.

It has been my privilege to be involved in the MLE movement in Southeast Asia, which has been among the most dynamic in the world over the past decade. Cambodia and the Philippines are among the countries in this region that have shown increased government support and commitment to language education policy that ensures the language of instruction reflects the way in which children learn and teachers teach.

Successes such as these are turning what were once alien worlds for children into welcoming ones, benefiting these young learners and their societies as a result.

The writer is the project officer for multilingual education at UNESCO Bangkok and the coordinator of the Asia Multilingual Education Working Group, a consortium of UN agencies, inter-governmental organizations, academics advocating on behalf of ethnolinguistic communities through multilingual education initiatives and related policy advocacy throughout Asia-Pacific.

One of our staunch MLE advocates, Dr. Aurelio Agcaoili (NAKEM International and 170+ Talaytayan MLE) posted an article in a local newspaper during the celebration of International Mother Language Day.

Mother language counts and more

by BusinessMirror - February 22, 2015

WHY the United Nations needed to institute the International Mother Language Day (IMLD) in 1999 is both a reminder to do things right and a signal to account for our gains.

Sixteen years after, we are still celebrating the IMLD.

This reminder is simple enough: Mother language counts. And it counts because there is no way we can ever shortchange our learners by making them aware of the world around them through a language that is not theirs.
This leads us to the celebratory nature of the IMLD.

The assumption is that when everyone’s mother language has been recognized and respected, there shall no longer be the need to single out a day in February—every 21st of this month—and have this day reserved for making all of us aware that language counts in the education of our young.

Here, we insist: It is not just any language.  It is their first, indigenous, native, or mother language. ‘Mother’ here is not mother per se, but a concept to mean source from which all acts of knowing come.

Which means simply that this language, in which our learners are born is that source through which they get to understand the world around them for the first time, and that first time ought to continue uninterrupted for their understanding to make sense.
This means that through that source language, our learners get to understand the other aspects of that world, or perhaps other worlds. Or perhaps other experiences they have not known in the beginning.

The sounds and words and concepts—all these that constitute our learners’ first language—are the requisites through which the first act of learning happens.

When those sounds and words and concepts are dismissed because our learners need to learn another language not their own, the subtle dance of deception comes about even if we call it nationalism or some other brutal logic we resort to to justify our bad educational aims.
The “Education For All” (EFA)concept is unequivocal on the value of mother language.

When mother language is not used, the attainment of the EFA goals becomes a case of an educational abracadabra.
It is a pure ruse in numbers without substance that when we are not looking, it could be passed off as gains by governments that do not know any better. Which leads us to the context of IMLD when a country is multilingual, and thus, multicultural as in the case of the Philippines.
For decades, we had gone the wrong way in instituting bilingual education for the wrong reasons and the wrong methods. Ours was a long history of language miseducation under the guise of nationalism with no memory and with no heart. What the educational apparatus of the state did is to impose a philosophically and cognitively unsound educational practice of making the “educates” learn in a national language based on one of the languages of the country, and another foreign language.  The first is to express patriotism, the second to communicate with the world.

These are two good reasons.

But the means to attaining these were through languages not the child’s, not the learner’s.

Do we need IMLD?

Until we have not done the right thing in teaching all our young through their mother language, we ought to have IMLD each year. And no less.

Aurelio Solver Agcaoili

The author is the program coordinator for Ilokano of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where he has pioneered community language programs for heritage learners. He has written four dictionaries on the Ilokano language for various audiences. A founding member of 170+Talaytayan, he serves as its vice president for international relations. He helped found an advocacy group for cultural diversity and linguistic pluralism, Nakem Conferences. He writes in three languages and has received awards for his work in education, communication and creative writing, including a novel in Tagalog that won a Centennial Literary Prize.