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The failure in educating Filipino children through their native languages and through Filipino
by BONIFACIO P. SIBAYAN

Manila Bulletin 22 April 2001



THE title of this article is The failure in educating the Filipino child through their native languages and through Filipino. This may appear to many, especially those involved in the teaching and use of Filipino as language of instruction, as an extravagant or irresponsible claim. Let me explain. The original claim by Secretary Bocobo that the use of the native languages would facilitate learning, among other advantages, has never been challenged although the order included an admonition that educators in the field (the term 'field' refers to the school system) should comment or make suggestions on the order. The order was received by primary school teachers and implemented without question. The net effect of the use of the native language in school was to deprive the child of more time in learning English, in the already very much shortened six-year elementary school curriculum, one of the shortest, if not the shortest, pre-high school curriculum in the world. Students in the private schools taught in English from the very beginning (without the use of the native language) are observed to be better than their public school counterparts. There is of course the added advantage of most private school pupils: in general, they come from families that are socio-economically better than those of public school pupils; they have home and community support and other advantages in the pursuit of their education.

There are several reasons why the use of the native languages as language of instruction (whether as auxiliary or main medium) is a failure: the lack of teaching materials, no teacher and supervisor preparation, and lack of monetary support on the part of the government. One grave error is the assumption that any teacher who speaks the native language is qualified to teach through the native language. Yet, it is common knowledge that native speakers of English, Japanese, French or any of the developed, modernized and intellectualized languages, have to attend teacher education courses at an average of four years (for a Bachelor's degree) in a teacher education institution to qualify to teach in their native languages.

Aside from the lack of teacher preparation, no body of materials has ever been systematically developed in the use of the native languages mainly because of lack of funds. Consequently curriculum or materials writers knowledgeable in the preparation of teaching materials in the native languages were never developed. This combination of lack of teacher training in the use of the native language as medium of instruction and the lack of teaching materials has prevented the development of what I call a pedagogical idiom or register in the use of the native language as medium of educating the child. It is hoped that the present trial program by DECS "based on common sense and educated judgment on the use of three lingua francas" will correct this serious shortcoming.

In the case of Filipino the original goal or objective envisioned by Quezon and those pioneers in the original Institute of National Language, has been accomplished so that today, there is hardly a Filipino who does not speak some Filipino. Filipino is now the national lingua franca. This was achieved mainly through the public schools with the aid of such means of language development as mass communication media: radio, TV, "comics" and the movies. Even more important, Filipinos now identify their belonging to a Filipino nation, rather than a Filipino "tribe," through Filipino. People such as house help, drivers, security guards and even the better educated who come to Manila from the provinces now speak Filipino, not English, as the language of national identity in the sense that they are no longer "provincianos."

The national goal now with Filipino should be to intellectualize and modernize it so that it may be used for higher cognitive processes and as a language that can be used (maybe, hopefully even just partially) in the controlling domains of language.

The use of Filipino as a language for obtaining a complete education, especially in the professions, however, is still very far from reality. With the present trend in globalization and the use of English as a language of access to the Internet, the goal to have Filipino become the chief language of the schools and government and other domains and sub-domains of language such as the social sciences, mathematics and science, theoretical and applied, and other areas of knowledge now available in English and other intellectualized and modernized language is no longer tenable.

The reader is asked to do the following and think of the implications. Get a catalogue of the course offerings of a modern university that offers courses leading towards various degrees such as agriculture, engineering, law, business, teaching, liberal arts, etc. All these are domains and sub-domains of language. All subjects may be offered in one language, English, but note that each area uses one variety of English (called register in linguistics). Agriculture has one general register, law has another register, engineering still has another register. To make matters more complicated, all these areas of knowledge have sub-registers. Agriculture has many sub-registers such as those for agronomy, animal husbandry, etc. The engineer cannot understand a textbook in law and the lawyer cannot understand a textbook in engineering. Neurosurgeons may not understand the sub-registers of ophthalmology, cardiology, etc. because every specialty has a different sub-register.

The implication of the foregoing on the development and use of Filipino is tremendous and formidable. To make available all the registers and subregisters in the many courses taught in the university in Filipino so that university courses presently taught in English may be taught and learned in intellectualized and modernized Filipino is an enterprise that staggers and overwhelms the imagination. It simply cannot be done! Why? Because, for one, those engaged in the various areas of knowledge accessible in English who should be the ones doing the translation and production of books and other materials in Filipino will not do it. I am not aware of any group in any of the professions doing or contemplating such an undertaking. Even a small undertaking will require men and women knowledgeable in the area of specialization. Even if there is such a group, who will finance them in their work? Who will use what they will produce in Filipino? etc.

I am now sure that the goal to intellectualize Filipino so that it may become the chief working language (thus replacing English) in the controlling domains of language in the Philippines can no longer be pursued successfully. This is rather a sad, but realistic, conclusion. Filipino may just be what Fishman calls a small national language which he describes so beautifully and eloquently in the following words:

It is the burden of small national languages that they have "almost made it" into the big leagues. They are at least "almost," "never quits," "solid mediocrities" and "moral victors." This is irking to true believers who would like to see them safely, nobly, and handsomely ensconced, beloved and obeyed. The lives of most small national languages are actually far more precarious, if not beleaguered, than is commonly acknowledged or recognized´┐Ż Small national languages are often secretly felt to "deserve" the troubles they have because they also have the pomp and circumstance of nationhood as their compensation. Is there any wonder that, at times, their protagonists reveal a pettiness and even a meanness of spirit which bespeaks the never-ending pressures, the endless sniping, from above and below, from without and from within, which is their lot? (See "On the Peculiar Problems of Small National Languages," by Joshua A. Fishman in PANAGANI. 1984. Edited by Andrew Gonzalez. Manila: Linguistic Society of the Philippines. pp. 40-45.)

In spite of that conclusion, however, perhaps it is incorrect to say that the education of the Filipino through the use of Filipino has failed. Why? Because that was not the goal in the formation of a national language since the beginning. The goal envisioned by Quezon and the other architects of the building of a national language in the middle thirties as a common means of communication among a people with diverse local languages and dialects has been fully attained.

As for the native languages other than Tagalog, the goal of attaining initial reading skills (knowledge of the Roman alphabet and recognition of words) as a quick step (transition) towards reading in the two languages of education, English and Filipino, while a seemingly laudable goal, may be too expensive an undertaking to justify its pursuance. However, if such a project is to continue, only a Philippine language that is written, meaning there is a body of written material in the language, may be used. Many small Philippine languages have not been reduced to writing, such as most of the Aeta languages with very small populations; hence there is nothing to read at all in these languages. These languages should not be used. For teaching initial reading to speakers of these small unwritten languages, Filipino may be used.

There is simply not enough time to master one language for acquiring the substance of a good education (ten years of pre-university education, one of the shortest, if not the shortest in the world), not enough resources to support a program dedicated to the use of three languages in educating a people, not enough political will to engage in such a program. There is not enough of everything needed for success. No wonder the Congressional Commission on Education that made an extensive study about ten years ago on what ails Philippine education, mainly public school education, concluded that "Philippine education is continuously declining." The reader is referred to Making Education Work: Agenda for Reform. 1991. Manila and Quezon City: Congress of the Philippines.

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