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Language as a Key Element of Quality of Learning

Starting SY 2012-2013, the Department of Education (DepEd) introduced a Mother Tongue-Based-Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) program to be implemented in all public schools, specifically in Kindergarten, Grades 1, 2, and 3, as part of the K to 12 Basic Education Program.

The language policy was designed to strengthen the use of the child’s mother tongue in the early grades with a gradual transition in Grade 3 to Filipino and then to English.

The National Assessment Tests designated for Grade 6, 10, and 12 were mandated to be taken in English, which, by then, was the language of instruction across all subjects.

In addition, the ILSA tests were also to be conducted in English with the assumption that the test-takers should have reached a sufficient understanding of English to attempt these tests without encountering linguistic problems.

An important insight from the country’s participation in the SEA-PLM was the inconsistency between the language of instruction, and the language spoken at home.

This result for the Philippines starkly contrasted with the results gained from other ASEAN nations that sat for the assessment. Students were asked what language they most often speak at home, which was mapped against the language of the test (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Percentage of Grade 5 Children, by Language of Instruction (and Testing) Spoken at Home

Percentage of Grade 5 Children, by Language of Instruction (and Testing) Spoken at Home

Only 6% of respondents in the Philippines indicated that they spoke English at home (the test language). All other countries administered the tests in their own countries’ languages (in Malaysia, the test was conducted in Chinese, Bahasa, and Tamil to take into account the ethnic diversity of the country).

The MTB-MLE policy was formulated to facilitate educational success, develop thinking skills, mastery of competencies in various learning areas, and develop socio-cultural awareness and pride in one’s heritage, language, and culture (DepEd Order No. 16 s. 2012).

The policy also claimed that the mother tongue provides the bridge to learn the L2 languages (Filipino and English) more efficiently; such learners become multilingual and multiliterate.

DepEd has issued additional supplements to the original order to address teacher training, orthography, materials development, pedagogy, classroom arrangements, and learning assessment within the MTB-MLE.

A recent review looked at the following aspects of the policy – choice of language instruction, teachers’ training, learning materials, pedagogy, school leadership/governance, and stakeholder support – and found that there are both positive practices and lingering challenges.

One of the key challenges was the provision of learning materials in the 19 different languages, and this has now been overcome with many more resources available.

There were some disputes over the MT chosen by the school in areas with multi-ethnic overlaps, but these are also being resolved.

Aside from challenges in implementation, PIDS found that some schools do not implement the policy at all. The main reasons are shown below:

Table 1: Reasons Why Schools Do Not Implement the MTB-MLE

Reasons for Non-implementationFrequency%
Teachers lack relevant teaching materials9117.3
School does not have the dictionary of the language8516.2
Students lack textbooks8416.0
Teachers lack expertise in the MOI of the school6412.2
Others499.3
Students do not speak the MOI of the school489.1
Parents do not speak and support the chosen MOI468.7
Teachers do not speak and support the chosen MOI264.9
School officials do not speak and support the chosen MOI203.8
School does not get support from the Central Office/Division Office132.5
Total526100.0

There has been a number of assessments of the policy in terms of impacts on learning outcomes:

A four-phase study of the ACTRC was designed to evaluate the extent of MTB-MLE implementation across the Philippines. Results from the Phase 4 report revealed that students who were assessed in the lingua franca (LF), such as Tagalog and Sinugbuanong Binisaya as the medium of instruction (MOI), performed better than those who were assessed in a local language (Meranao).

Language does not seem to affect students’ performance in mathematics. It was also noted that using LF as the MOI appears to positively affect students’ learning outcomes, even for mismatched students. The study cited that the LF variety utilized in the assessment could be considered a familiar local language is spoken by the students. (Pradilla et al., 2017);

Data from a 2015 Language Assessment in the Primary Grades (LAPG) showed a trend that students who used the LF performed better than those whose MTs were the local languages (SEAMEO Innotech in Pradilla et al., 2017). The results from LAPG and Early Grades Reading Assessment (EGRA) also demonstrated that girls performed better than boys across all assessment languages;

There was an indication that students who received low assessment averages were those lacking or not reading their MT reading materials at home. Students who read MT materials at home were more likely to perform well and belonged to the top 25% of students in oral reading fluency (Pouezevara et al. in Pradilla et al., 2017);

The Philippines’ Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) Longitudinal Study funded by UNICEF and the Australian Government DFAT was designed to measure the cognitive and social, and emotional skills of students in the early years over four years with four rounds of assessments: at the start of Kindergarten until the end of Grade 2.

The study followed a cohort of 4,500 students from 60 public elementary schools and was limited to schools where the language of instruction was Filipino, Sinugbuanong Binisaya, and Maguindanaoan.

Key findings suggested that a majority of the students appeared to be performing below grade-level standards for Grade 1. In Mathematics, 68% of the students achieved strong improvement and performed within the grade level standards in the K-12 Basic Education Curriculum.

It was also found that there was a slight positive relationship between the language of the test used at home and students’ cognitive, social, and emotional development. Students who spoke the language of the test at home continued to outperform those whose spoken language at home was different from the test in all three domains (UNICEF, 2017);

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) assisted the MTB-MLE program through Basa Pilipinas (Read Philippines). It was a program for early grade students to improve their reading skills.

MTs involved were Ilokano and Sinugbuanong Binisaya, Filipino and English as L2. The project provided additional training, materials, and support to participating schools. The impact evaluation of the five-year project showed a significant increase from 28% to 42% in the reading comprehension skills of Grade 2 students. Seventy-five percent (75%) of Grade 3 students met both the fluency and comprehension benchmarks (EDC, 2018).

The study indicated that students may not be ready for the shift in language instruction by Grade 4, as they still need to be equipped with learning strategies to develop trilingual fluency.

Continuing instruction in their MT onwards is needed as it would prepare them to transition to Filipino-based instruction at a pace comparable to their Tagalog MT peers and eventually improve their reading proficiency in this language.

These findings must continue to be debated at the same time as the debate over the language used in the ILSA’s also continues.

Jasper Klint de la Fuente

High School Teacher ๐Ÿ‘ฉ๐Ÿฝโ€๐Ÿซ๐ŸŽ| Lifelong Learner ๐Ÿ“š| Passionate about developing the next generation of leaders ๐Ÿ“๐Ÿ’ป๐ŸŽ“

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