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Is it feasible for the Philippines to switch to an English-only medium of instruction?

By SAAB LARIOSA Published Jul 05, 2022 11:49 am Updated Jul 05, 2022 6:35 pm

Is the Philippines ready for a strictly-English form of learning?

During his inaugural address, President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. caught the ire of local educator groups when he mentioned that the English language ought to be the medium of instruction in schools.

"What we teach in our schools, the materials used, must be rethought. I am not talking about history," the 17th President said.

"I’m talking about the basics, the sciences, sharpening theoretical aptitude and imparting vocational skills such as in the German example. Alongside the National Language; with equal emphasis and facility in a global language; which we had and lost."

This wouldn't be the first time that Marcos has iterated the desire to uplift the global language of English in schools.

During a June 20 press conference before his inauguration, the commander in chief mentioned the topic when discussing educational system changes with Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary and Vice President Sara Duterte.

"Without getting into too much detail about what the plans are, ang pinag-usapan lang namin basta’t pagandahin. There was also the question of when we start to teach in English, when we move from the lingua franca to English,” Marcos had said.

Local educator groups have since slammed Marcos Jr.'s words, with the Alliance of Concerned Teachers calling international assessments such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) a "big impediment" to student learning.

"Ang misyon ng edukasyon ay hindi lamang para magkaroon ng magandang trabaho kundi para sa pambansang pag-unlad. Ito dapat ang pinagmumulan ng mga solusyon para sa problema ng lipunan," said ACT Philippines Chair Vladimer Quetua in a statement.

"Ang mga mag-aaral ay dapat na may malalim na pag-unawa sa kalagayan ng lipunan nya, may malakas na damdaming makabayan at pagpapahalaga sa mga salalayan ng demokrasya," he added.

Likewise, the University of the Philippines (UP) Sentro ng Wikang Filipino condemned the initiative. In a statement issued on July 4, the group called forth the "neoliberal" mentality that came with uplifting the English language. 

"Dahil ang wika ay maaari ring gamitin upang kontrolin ang pag-iisip ng tao, ang pagtingin na isasalba ng wikang Ingles ang pag-unlad ng sistema ng edukasyon sa bansa ay lumang tipo at urong na pananaw," they said.

They added that English is being taught in classrooms as a form of communication, and not teaching Filipino would be a form of elitism: "Ang hindi paggamit ng mga guro at mag-aaral sa wikang Filipino bilang midyum ng pagtuturo at pagkatuto ay isang lantad na imposisyon ng elitismo ng wikang Ingles."

"Bunga ito ng global na kalakarang nagsasamantala sa mahihirap na bansa tulad ng Pilipinas," they added.

What are we teaching in schools at the moment?

The Philippines has been following the Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTBMLE) since 2009. The MTBMLE is the official term wherein educators and students alike use their mother tongue and additional languages, such as English, in the classroom.

Introduced by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), learners begin their education in the language they understand best and develop a foundation for other learnings from there.

Under the MTBMLE, students in Grades 1, 2, and 3 are taught through their mother language. When they reach Grade 4, English then becomes the primary medium of instruction in in academic discourse.

However, according to De La Salle University associate professor of Applied Linguistics, Dr. Shirley Dita, the push for an "English-only policy" still depends on a case-to-case basis.

"Even during the pandemic, while I was giving lectures, there are still private schools insisting that they want English to be the full medium of instruction in their classrooms. They have this mentality that learning English means students will be more globally competitive," Dita shared with PhilSTAR L!fe

Dita added that it will be a challenge for the current administration to implement an entirely new learning system, as the current system introduced by UNESCO remains a norm for other Asian countries such as Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam, among others.

"[UNESCO] went through a lot of experiments and longitudinal designs just to prove that it is more beneficial for kids to use their mother tongue in the early learning stages. So if we are going back to English again, the question is: what will happen to these experiments?" she queried.

Dita herself believes that bringing back the English-only policy will do more harm than good, calling the intention a "blunder".

She also countered Marcos Jr.'s address saying that the global language is something that the country "had and lost" because of our low International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Program for International Student. Assessment (PISA) exams—the two international English-based assessments in academic excellence.

"Ang dahilan kung bakit mababa Pilipinas sa PIMA and TIMSS ng bansa is we did not strategize at the time," Dita explained. "We just let the students take the exams, whereas in other countries, ang nag participate sa national exam are only those who were trained."

On the other hand, the push for stricter implementations of using English as a medium of instruction has seen similar discourse in the past. In 2019, Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia expressed the need for students to be taught basic subjects in English in all provincial schools in the country.

Former Cebu Congressman and lawyer Eduardo Gullas has also long called for DepEd to boost the English education budget.