Mother Tongue policy wreaks havoc on education quality
By Estanislao Albano, Jr.
Note: This is my response to two recent articles in the Rappler news website batting for the retention of the Mother Tongue policy which they refused to publish on ground it is off tangent but please be the judge. You can access the articles just be searching the titles.
In their article “Mother tongues are not the cause of poor education results” (September 22, 2020), Firth McEachern, Elizabeth Calinawagan and Ched Arzadon pointed out that contrary to the claim of some politicians, the Mother Tongue policy had nothing to do with the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) fiasco as our takers were already past Grade 1 in SY 2012-2013 when it was introduced. However, had the students been products of the policy, the results would have been more disastrous due to the near impossible handicaps in the learning of English imposed by the K to 12 Curriculum due to the adoption of the policy as follows: the old curriculum, the 2002 Basic Education Curriculum (BEC), allots 100 minutes a day from Grades 1 to 3 to English while the K to 12 Curriculum gives an average of 43.33 minutes; in the old curriculum, English is a medium of instruction starting from Grade 1 while in the new curriculum, starting in Grade 4; and reading in English is taught in Grade 1 in the old curriculum but starting in the second semester of Grade 2 in the K to 12.
The moves for abolition are in order because, as shown in the first eight school years of implementation, our basic education cannot withstand the marginalization of English in the formative years for so long as English remains our medium of instruction and assessment and we want our students and graduates to be globally competitive.
For one, based on the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) study “Starting Where the Children Are’: A Process Evaluation of the Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education Implementation,” public schools have lost their competitiveness in regional contests conducted in English as private school pupils understand the questions better. The study bared that private schools do not implement the policy as they “claim that the use of English for delivering content is successful, evidenced by their consistent winning in regional competitions over public schools where English, and not the MT, is used.” (Page 35)
Secretary Leonor Briones appears to agree albeit unwittingly with the private schools when she ascribed the good performance of Region 7 and CAR in Reading Literacy in the PISA to the fact that children in the two regions learn to speak in English early adding that some schools in Region 7 teach English as early as nursery (“Headstart,” ANC, December 10, 2019).
The experience of private schools and the revelation of Secretary Briones prove that Filipino children are capable of learning English at an early age sans the use of Mother Tongue debunking the claim of the authors that in improving English proficiency, “getting rid of the mother tongues in the critical primary years is not the solution.”
We Filipinos have become among the best non-native users of English in the world by going right ahead imbibing the language starting in Grade 1 or even before it for some.
The performance of the first Mother Tongue batch in the Grade 6 National Achievement Test (NAT) in 2018 also showed the ill effects of the relegation of English in the curriculum. The overall national English mean percentage score (MPS) fell by 5.71 or 14.14 percent, the largest normal fluctuation in the subject the second and third being the 5.26 and 2.70 incurred in 2006 and 2011, respectively.
Likewise, Region 7 and CAR – second and third in Reading Literacy in the PISA, third and first in English in Grade 6 and third and second in Grade 10 in 2017 NAT, respectively – suffered heavy and unprecedented losses of 8.38 or 19.41percent and 9.91 or 20.4 percent of their respective previous English scores. It is very telling that when the last BEC batch took the test in 2017, the national average English MPS increased by 0.57.
The loss of competitiveness of public schools in contests conducted in English and the unusually low English MPS of the pioneer Mother Tongue batch do not only manifest the deadly effect of the diminution of English in the curriculum on English proficiency but likewise the miserable failure of the Mother Tongue to deliver on its claim that it leads to the quicker learning of new languages (DepEd Order No. 74, series of 2009).
Up to now, neither could we see the faintest sign this claim they made in their other article“10 reasons why mother tongues in schools should be saved” (August 31, 2020) is already being experience by our school children: “development of literacy skills (like learning how to read) is faster in your mother tongue than through a second language.” The country’s non-reader problem worsened in recent years. In February 2019, PIDS urged the DepEd in the policy note “Pressures on Public School Teachers and Implications on Quality” to stop sending non-readers to high school. In November 2019, DepEd issued Memorandum No. 173, series of 2019, launching the “Hamon: Bawat Bata Bumabasa” initiative to address the presence of elementary and high school learners who “are still deficient in literacy skills both language and content areas, more so in reading.” That was the first time the agencies addressed the issue.
The thousands of non-readers in the elementary and high school in Bicol (DepEd: Data on non-readers ‘premature,’ inconclusive,” Manila Bulletin, February 18, 2020) and hundreds of thousands more all over the country if an honest to goodness effort to surface all non-readers in our schools is conducted are proofs the Mother Tongue is not working in our setting. The students underwent the program for three years and remained illiterate. If the Mother Tongue policy is failing in teaching beginning reading, how can it deliver on its other promises?
The authors did not mention the need for our educational system to be globally competitive as intended by the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013 which was just as well because there certainly is no way we can pit the products of the K to 12 Curriculum with those of educational systems which start to teach beginning reading in the medium of instruction and immersing them in the said language in preschool. More so when we consider the high correlation between reading and performance in other subjects (“Reading for change: Performance and engagement across countries,” OECD, Page 15).
In deciding on the fate of the Mother Tongue policy, it would be wise for policymakers to find out where the policy has brought our children after eight school years. The findings of the PIDS about the lost competitiveness of public school delegates in contests conducted in English indicates that the perceived gap in the quality of education offered by the private schools and public schools has been widened by the Mother Tongue policy. What public school pupils before and after the adoption of the Mother Tongue policy could do should also be compared.
Some public school teachers I have talked to said that the quality of education slipped by two grade levels since the introduction of the Mother Tongue policy clarifying that there are other factors but that the new language policy is the most devastating. I am inviting the authors, the DepEd and others interested in the truth on the effects of the policy for a joint validation of the allegation. We can go straight to the heart of the matter by holding spelling drills for Grade 6 public school pupils using Grade 4 level English words and by testing their comprehension with Grade 4 level paragraphs. **