MLE Primer (Condensed form)

The MLE Primer is now available. Get your copy from the Department of Linguistics, Faculty Center, University of the Philippines, Diliman. For more information, call 926-9887 (ask for Vicky).

The primer is entitled "21 Reasons Why Children Learn Better While Using Their Mother Tongue." It is written by RICARDO MA. DURAN NOLASCO, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Department of Linguistics, UP Diliman.

Below is a glimpse of the primer. The full version contains citations of empirical studies on multilingual education.

1. What is mother tongue-based multilingual education or MLE?

MLE is the use of more than two languages for literacy and instruction. It starts from where the learners are, and from what they already know. This means learning to read and write in their first language or L1, and also teaching subjects like mathematics, science, health and social studies in the L1.

2. When will children start learning Filipino and English?

As they develop a strong foundation in their L1, children are gradually introduced to the official languages, Filipino and English, as separate subjects, first orally, then in the written form.

3. Does MLE only involve changing the language of instruction and translating the materials into the local languages?

MLE is an innovative approach to learning. Apart from programming the use of several languages, it also involves the following: (a) the development of good curricula (i.e. cognitively demanding); (b) the training of good teachers in the required languages for content and methodology; (c) the production of good teaching materials (i.e., error-free and culturally relevant); (d) the empowerment of the community (i.e. school-based management). MLE will not work when one simply changes the language by translating existing materials into the local languages.

4. What kind of learners does MLE intend to produce?

MLE aims to produce learners who are:

• Multi-literate—they can read and write competently in the local language, the national language, and one or more languages of wider communication, such as English;
• Multi-lingual—they can use these languages in various situations;
• Multi-cultural—they can live and work harmoniously with people of culture backgrounds that are different from their own.

5. What specific weaknesses in the Philippine educational system does MLE seek to address?

MLE seeks to specifically address the high functional illiteracy of Filipinos where language plays a significant factor.
As one educator, Professor Josefina Cortes, has observed, we have become “a nation of fifth graders.”

6. Why use the mother tongue or the first language (L1) in school?

One’s own language enables a child to express him/herself easily, as there is no fear of making mistakes. MLE encourages active participation by children in the learning process because they understand what is being discussed and what is being asked of them. They can immediately use the L1 to construct and explain their world, articulate their thoughts and add new concepts to what they already know.

7. But our children already know their language. Why still learn it in school?

What we and our children know is the conversational language or the everyday variety used for daily interaction. Success in school depends on the academic and intellectualized language needed to discuss more abstract concepts.

8. Why use the national language or Filipino in school?

The Philippines is a multilingual and multicultural nation with more than 150 languages. A national language is a powerful resource for inter-ethnic dialogue, political unity, and national identity.

9. Will the use of Filipino as medium of instruction and as a subject be advantageous to native Tagalog speakers?

It is partially true that native speakers of Tagalog enjoy a small advantage under the present bilingual education set-up in which some subjects are taught in their L1. But this is nothing compared to the overwhelming bias of the present system for English.

10. Will the use of the local and regional languages be detrimental to building one nation?

No, it won’t. On the contrary, it is the suppression of local languages that may lead to violent conflicts, disunity, and dissension.

11. Why use an international language like English in school?

Languages of wider communication like English should be part of the multilingual curriculum of a country. The graduates of this system should find relevance beyond their ethnic and national boundaries. Most world knowledge is accessible in English, and so, knowledge of English is certainly useful. It is not true, however, that students will not learn science and mathematics if they do not know English. The ideas of science are not bound by one language and one culture.

12. Will using the mother tongue as language of instruction hinder the learning of a second language like English?

No. Many studies indicate that students first taught to read in their L1, and then later in an L2, outperform those taught to read exclusively in an L2. Learning to read in one’s own language provides learners with a solid foundation for learning to read in any L2.

13. Will increasing the time for English or making it the exclusive medium of instruction improve our English?

No. This popular belief is increasingly being proven untrue. Large scale research during the last 30 years has provided compelling evidence that the critical variable in L2 development in children is not the amount of exposure, but the timing and the manner of exposure.

14. What is the best way to attain proficiency in English?

For non-native speakers of English, the best way is to teach it as an L2 and to teach it well. This depends on the proficiency of teachers, the availability of adequate models of the language in the learner’s social environment, and sufficient reading materials. Simply increasing the time for English will not work.

15. Are local languages capable of being used as languages of instruction?

Definitely yes. As far back as 1925, during the American colonial period, the Monroe Commission already recommended the use of the local languages in education.

Beginning 1957, the local languages, or vernaculars, became the medium of instruction in Grades 1 and 2. This vernacular education policy was abruptly abolished in 1974, when the bilingual education policy was launched by the Marcos government.

Languages grow and change in response to changes in the physical, social, political, spiritual and economic environments in which they are used. As a language is used for instruction, for example, it intrinsically evolves to adapt to the demands of its users.

16. Why not use an early exit program where the L1 is used from pre-school up to Grade 3 and English is used as the exclusive medium of instruction thereafter?

Early-exit programs can help but may not be enough. The international experience on the use of L1 and L2 in education, especially in Africa, reveals that children need at least 12 years to learn their L1. It takes six to eight years of strong L2 teaching before this can be successfully used as a medium of instruction.
The consolidated Gullas, Villafuerte and Del Mar Bill (or the “English-only” MOI Bill) pending in Congress appears to support the use of the local languages and also the national language in education, as it provides that “English, Filipino or the regional/native language may be used as the MOI in all subjects from preschool until Grade III.” However, the Declaration of Policy section betrays the Bill’s real intention and this is to strengthen English “as the medium of instruction in all levels of education, from the preschool to the tertiary level.” The optional use of L1 and the national language as MOI really means that they may not be used at all.

17. Don’t we need more English since the language will provide more jobs for our countrymen, such as in the call center industry?

Many believe that this is an extremely shortsighted view because not all Filipinos will become call center agents. The more important concern is how to solve the current mismatch between industry and the educational system. According to former Education Undersecretary Miguel Luz, the consensus among employers is that a high school diploma with its current coverage is inadequate for its purposes because Filipino high school graduates are weak in their ability to communicate, to think logically, and to solve problems. Luz adds: “It (the Gullas Bill) is a dangerous bill, however, because it places a misleading emphasis on English as the medium of learning. As such, the young learners and their teachers will concentrate on the language, not on Science and Math and literacy (that is more fundamental to learning).” The best way to learn basic science and math, problem solving skills, and reasoning skills is through the L1.

18. What is a better alternative to the English-only Bill?

A better alternative is House Bill No. 3719, filed by Congressman Magtanggol Gunigundo II of Valenzuela. The Bill is also known as the Multilingual Education and Literacy Bill, or the Gunigundo Bill, which is far superior to the English-only Bill in many respects.

19. Is it costly to practice MLE?

Contrary to popular belief, L1-based education may actually cost less than a system that is based on L2. If we consider the money wasted on drop-outs, repeaters, and failures, as well as other added costs, studies show that L2-based education systems are more costly than L1 systems.

20. What do Philippine stakeholders say about MLE?

• The Department of Education, through Secretary Jesli Lapus: “We find the bill (the Gunigundo bill) to be consistent with the Basic Education Sector Reform Agenda (BESRA) recommendations and the bridging model proposed by the Bureau of Elementary Education where pupils were found to comprehend better the lessons in class.”
• The National Economic Development Authority, through NEDA Director General Ralph Recto: “From the economic and financial vantage points, we believe that adopting this education policy (HB 3719), in the final analysis, is cost-effective...
• The Philippine Business for Education (PBED), one of the largest associations of businessmen in the country: “English and Filipino are languages `foreign’ to most children and legislating either as medium of instruction will do more harm to an already ailing system of education.”
• The Department of Foreign Affairs and UNESCO Philippines, through Secretary Alberto Romulo: “Multilingualism is the order of things in the UN and in the world. The unique richness of the world’s national identities draws on the many traditions that make up different countries and are expressed through local and indigenous languages. UNESCO supports mother tongue instruction as a means of improving educational quality by building upon the knowledge and experience of the learners and teachers.”

21. Do we have to wait for legislation to implement MLE?

No. The Lubuagan experience, the DepEd Lingua Franca Project, and other existing programs using the local languages tell us that it is already possible to undertake an MLE program without waiting for legislation.