Best move on Mother Tongue program
By Estanislao Albano, Jr.
The performance of the first batch of elementary school graduates who went through the Mother Tongue program in the National Achievement Test (NAT) in 2018 back up the call of Baguio City Representative Mark Go and Sorsogon Representative Evelina Escudero for the abolition of the said feature of the K to 12 Curriculum (“Legislators want mother tongue-based teaching in Grades 1 to 3 abolished,” Inquirer.net, July 15, 2020). The mean percentage scores (MPS) in English and Filipino show that the claim in the Mother Tongue curriculum guide that a learner “with well-developed skills in their first language have been shown to acquire additional languages more easily and fully and that, in turn, has a positive impact on academic achievement” is illusory.
On the national level, the Filipino and English MPS went down by 2.28 and 5.71 which are 4.26 and 14.14 of the previous scores, respectively. In the Cordillera, the region of Go, the deterioration of the performance is much more pronounced with Filipino incurring 4.08 MPS loss and English a hefty 9.9 reduction which are 7.08 percent and 20.47 percent of the previous MPS of 57.58 and 48.39, respectively. The stiff drop in English is particularly worrisome considering that Cordillera outdid all the regions in English in the Grade 6 NAT in 2016 and 2017 and was fourth among the regions in the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) where the test was given in English.
The national overall MPS also went down from 39.95 to 37.44 or by 2.51 (6.28 percent) frustrating the hoped for improvement of overall academic achievement with the Mother Tongue program.
The recent expose of this paper on tens of thousands of non-readers in the Bicol Region (“70,000 Bicol pupils can’t read – DepEd”, PDI, February 17, 2020) also proves that the claim in DepEd Order No. 74, series of 2009, which institutionalized the use of Mother Tongue-based multilingual education that children learn to read faster in the Mother Tongue is also an empty promise. Even granting that the numbers in the news report are inaccurate as asserted by DepEd officials, just when did this country have more school children who could not read than during the implementation of the Mother Tongue program? Just to give the reader an idea as to how bad the non-reader problem has become, the article “Filipino subject top among grade 6, 10 Baguio learners” in the Baguio City official website reports that in SY 2018-2019, 52 Grade 7 students in the city could not read. These students belong to the second batch of Mother Tongue program finishers.
Granting that it takes time for the goals of new education programs to come to fruition, must we pack our high schools with non-readers while waiting for the Mother Tongue program to find its range in teaching beginning reading? Why at all should the performance of children slip during the eight years of the Mother Tongue program and not just remain at its level before the introduction of the innovation? Can the DepEd tell us how many more years do we have to wait for the promises of the program to be fulfilled? What happens if after that additional number of years the Mother Tongue experiment will still be futile?
Per Inquirer.net story cited above, in response to the call of Go and Escudero, the DepEd informed “the government has already conducted consultations on the matter and will recommend to Congress whether it should be abolished or be implemented in certain areas only.” The agency is talking out of both sides of its mouth and we foresee that in the end, it will throw its full weight behind the retention of the program as is or with insignificant changes. In a hearing by the Basic Education Committee in February, Undersecretary for Curriculum and Instructions Diosdado San Antonio had announced “the DepEd is keen to continue implementing the MTB-MLE despite the early challenges of its implementation” adding the information that they are in the process of producing materials for at least 20 vernaculars. How could abolition be an option when the agency is presently producing millions of pesos worth of materials?
We challenge the DepEd to a debate on the wisdom and true effects of the Mother Tongue on our school children in any venue. An educational program which is causing the NAT numbers to fall, which can only be reviewed with friendly parties and cannot be defended in a public debate is a lemon and a liability that should be abolished the soonest possible time before it could do more damage to our educational system and children. ** (Based on a rejected letter to the editor)