TOWER OF BABEL They are insisting on a multi-lingual education policy, similar to Senator Nene Pimentel's proposals for up to ten languages to be used as official media of instruction, thus requiring textbooks, teacher's guides and instruction materials in Reading, Writing and 'Rithmetic --to be rendered in Iloko, Pangalatok, Kapampangan, Tagalog, Bicolano, Waray, Binisaya, Tausug, Maranon, as well as English and the mythical Pfilipino national language. One might think, naively, that it would be just a matter of translating say an existing English textbook into these dialects. Even if it were, and publishers and authors will tell you that it ain't, there are further difficulties involving qualified instructors, linguistic experts and reviewers in obscure or little used dialects, which however cannot be treated as second class baggage and be ignored or neglected.
What has emerged is this: fifty years of research shows that mother tongue instruction has its pluses and minuses, that children do learn faster, at least initially, in a language used at home, compared to some strange foreign tongue. But there is huge conceptual and logical leap from this commonsensical and plausible notion to the insinuation that ANY mother tongue is a suitable and wise choice for use as medium of instruction for 25 million public school students studying 5 different subjects (Math, Science, Makabayan, English and Pilipino) at ten different levels (Grades 1-6 and High School I-IV) spread out over 40,000 barangays in an archipelago with 170 ethnologically recognized living languages spoken by what will soon be 100 million human beings.
The House is about to pass overwhelmingly HB 5619 -- An Act Strengthening and Enhancing the Use of English as Medium of Instruction -- authored by Cebu Rep. Ed Gullas. But the bill is being opposed by ideological heavyweights in media and academe. Lately it has become the mantra of a certain genre of propaganda that using English is a form of colonial mentality and that we ought to use our various "mother tongues" instead as medium of instruction. For example, in its editorial, King's English, PDI says
Now, it has always puzzled me that those who have been making these claims never cite the original sources of this "scientific evidence" or the "across the board studies" that established the Mother Tongue Hypothesis. Now I know why--because I believe I have discovered the Mother Lode of that "evidence" for the benefits of Mother Tongue instruction in this position paper (PDF) by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco). Published in 2003, it reprises fifty years of Unesco research into mother tongue instruction and related language issues in education worldwide.
To be sure, the state should be in the business of looking for the best way to effectively transmit knowledge in its education system. But studies across the board show that the mother tongue is the best conveyor of instruction.
To some extent, the Gullas bill recognizes the above. It gives schools the option to use English, Filipino or the regional language as the teaching language from pre-school up to Grade 3. But from the intermediate grades up to high school, English will be the teaching language, except in Filipino as a course.Just the same, the bill’s “English myopia” is hegemonic, and overlooks scientific evidence showing the mother tongue to be the best medium of instruction."
And indeed, we find in the Unesco documents substantial confirmation of the claims being made by PDI and the supporters of mother tongue instruction here in the Philippines. And more...much more! Because in this very same paper, in the very same section that praises the benefits of mother tongue instruction we also find,-- lo and behold! -- substantial objections and caveats to mother tongue instruction that are not mentioned by the PDI editorial. Here is an extended excerpt from the Unesco PDF which gives a far more balanced view of the use of first language or mother tongue instruction:
UNESCO DEFINITION AND SUPPORT FOR MOTHER TONGUE INSTRUCTION:ETHNOLOGUE claims that there are 1 71 living and 4 extinct languages in the Philippine Archipelago, and lists each one along with the estimated number of active speakers. These are the MOTHER TONGUES of the various tribes of the Filipinos, some with millions like Cebuano and Tagalog, others with just a few hundred, like Agta-Aeta, or a few hundred thousand like the Spanish-based pidgin, Chavacano. Please peruse the list...it's fascinating!
Mother tongue instruction generally refers to the use of the learners’ mother tongue as the medium of instruction. Additionally, it can refer to the mother tongue as a subject of instruction. It is considered to be an important component of quality education, particularly in the early years. The expert view is that mother tongue instruction should cover both the teaching of and the teaching through this language.
The term ‘mother tongue’, though widely used, may refer to several different situations. Definitions often include the following elements: the language(s)that one has learnt first; the language(s) one identifies with or is identified as a native speaker of by others; the language(s) one knows best and the language(s) one uses most. ‘Mother tongue’ may also be referred to as ‘primary’ or ‘first language’. The term ‘mother tongue’ is commonly used in policy statements and in the general discourse on educational issues. It is retained in this document for that reason, although it is to be noted that the use of the term ‘mother tongue’ often fails to discriminate between all the variants of a language used by a native speaker, ranging from hinterland varieties to urban-based standard languages used as school mother tongue. A child’s earliest first-hand experiences in native speech do not necessarily correspond to the formal school version of the so-called mother tongue.
It is an obvious yet not generally recognized truism that learning in a language which is not one’s own provides a double set of challenges, not only is there the challenge of learning a new language but also that of learning new knowledge contained in that language. These challenges may be further exacerbated in the case of certain groups are already in situations of educational risk or stress such as illiterates, minorities and refugees. Gender considerations cross cut these situations of educational risk, for girls and women may be ina particularly disadvantaged position. In most traditional societies, it is the girls and women who tend to be monolingual, being less exposed either through schooling, salaried labour, or migration to the national language, than their sons, brothers or husbands. Studies have shown that, in many cases, instruction in the mother tongue is beneficial to language competencies in the first language, achievement in other subject areas, and second language learning.
UNESCO CAVEATS TO MOTHER TONGUE INSTRUCTION:
The application of the principle of mother tongue instruction nevertheless is far from being the rule. Some of the difficulties encountered by the use of mother tongues as languages of instruction may include the following:_sometimes the mother tongue may be an unwritten language;
_sometimes the language may not even be generally recognized
as constituting a legitimate language;
_the appropriate terminology for education purposes may still have
to be developed;
_there may be a shortage of educational materials in the language;
_the multiplicity of languages may exacerbate the difficulty
of providing schooling in each mother tongue;
_there may be a lack of appropriately trained teachers;
_there may be resistance to schooling in the mother tongue by the students, parents and teachers.
In the Comment Thread to our colleague Blackshama's post on this topic, I already mentioned my own independently conceived objections to the Mother Tongue Hypothesis, including that the medium of instruction ought to be a written language and that the Philippines lacks the resources, both material and human, to support a plethora of mother tongues being used as media of instruction.
So I am gratified to now be able to say, just like PDI, that there is scientific evidence to support my objections to their position. In fact that scientific evidence is the same source of their scientific evidence in support of the mother tongue instruction.
Except I am presenting ALL of Unesco's scientific evidence!