Mother Tongue policy violates law, main study

Published by rudy Date posted on January 1, 2022

By: Estanislao C. Albano, Jr., Philippine Daily Inquirer, 1 Jan 2021

In his piece “English ‘pa more,’ the betterer’?” (Commentary, 12/4/21), Dr. Ricardo Ma. Nolasco wrote that the current Mother Tongue-based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) policy is “under review.” But during the language forum held by the Department of Education (DepEd) on Feb. 22, 2021, he had bared that the agency was already drafting a “truly additive” language policy. The DepEd officials present did not react.

Apparently, after nine years of implementing the program, the DepEd is finally conceding that it erred when it adopted what Nolasco describes as a “weak, subtractive, short exit program” instead of the “L1 plus L2 no-exit program” mandated by law which makes use of the first language (L1) as primary language of instruction (LOI) in all subjects until high school, when the second languages (L2), namely Filipino and English, replace it as the primary LOI.

Nolasco did not highlight it, but apart from ending the MTB-MLE in Grade 3 instead of in Grade 6, the DepEd also deviated from the mandate of the law for L1 to be used as LOI in all elementary subjects with its policy of teaching the Filipino and English subjects in those languages.

The foregoing practice also disregards the key finding of the Lubuagan Experiment, one of the main sources of the MTB-MLE, that teaching English and Filipino in the L1 is more effective than the immersion method (“Mother tongue instruction in Lubuagan: A case study from the Philippines,” Stephen Walter and Diane Dekker).

But for the sheer magnitude of consequence, however, the most reckless violation of the DepEd in this case was its rejection of the beginning reading program of the Lubuagan Experiment whereby reading in the mother tongue, Filipino, and in English was taught in Grade 1.

In the K-to-12 curriculum, the Filipino and English reading competencies are only introduced in the first and second semesters of Grade 2, respectively. This is absurd. First, the Grade 1 experimental classes in the Lubuagan study outdid the control classes by 22.7 percent in reading. Second, in remarks during the meeting of the House of Representatives committee on basic education and culture on Jan. 28, 2021, Nolasco informed lawmakers that the Lubuagan Experiment was one of the foremost pieces of evidence that swayed Congress to institutionalize the MTB-MLE. Evidently, had they been told that learners would only be able to read in English in Grade 3, the legislators would have junked the bill just on the basis of their personal knowledge that Filipinos have been successfully learning to read in English in Grade 1.

Third, had the DepEd adopted and seriously implemented the Lubuagan Experiment reading timetable, we would now have zero learning poverty instead of the 90 percent reported by the World Bank. We would not have landed in the bottom of the 2019 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and near the bottom of the 2019 Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM), as all our takers would have been readers. The SEA-PLM found that 27 percent of our Grade 5 students could not read. Our takers in the TIMSS being Grade 4 pupils, it is highly likely that their illiteracy rate was higher than that of our examinees in the SEA-PLM.

As for who should take the blame for the MTB-MLE fiasco, Nolasco was wrong in claiming that the current DepEd team merely “inherited” the flawed language policy. First, the decline in the competence of learners was already apparent when the first MTB-MLE batch reached Grade 4 in SY 2015-2016, so if the present DepEd leadership knew better, they should have acted as soon as they assumed their posts. Second, the team of DepEd experts who bungled the current MTB-MLE is still practically intact and is behind the new language policy.

Former education secretary Armin Luistro and Secretary Leonor Briones should be held jointly accountable for the soon-to-be decade-long futile undertaking that reduced millions of Filipino children into guinea pigs and flushed billions of government funds down the drain. The former should explain why he allowed the adulteration of the MTB-MLE, and the latter why she naively accepted and continued implementing the program.

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