I immersed myself in two major training activities on Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTBMLE) in a span of just two weeks. I joined the Training-Workshop on Bridging between Languages in St. Louis University (SLU)-Baguio City, then I moved farther up north to Lagawe, Ifugao, to speak at a training session that formed part of the regional mass roll-out training of Grade 1 teachers on the K to 12 curriculum for the Cordillera Autonomous Region. Dr. Modesta R. Bastian told me that there were to be four waves of 5-day training activities at the CAR for 1,864 Grade 1 teachers.
After four sessions at SLU, it became abundantly obvious to participants that mother tongue-based multilingual education is very different from everything they know. One former SLU professor initially believed that she already understood MLE because she assumed that it simply meant using the first language (or L1) as medium of instruction along with good teaching strategies. Now she realizes L1 literacy (or learning to read and write in your L1) is critical to teaching in her own language, and she isn’t even literate in this.
Private school teachers were there because they wanted to participate in MLE as well. The teaching education institutions (TEIs) wanted to learn what their role would be so that they could adjust their curriculum—and train their faculty accordingly—if they are to be trainers for MLE. Nongovernment organizations and other groups joined in to learn about MLE so that they could support local communities and schools.
Department of Education teachers were there because they wanted to implement MLE but had no idea what it is, or how to do it. Among other things, they wanted to know how to assess existing materials and what the curriculum is going to be. They were quite apprehensive because the DepEd order says transition will be in Grade 4, and they realize that this is by no means long enough.
The workshop also underscored the fact that the traditional way of teaching second languages is not as helpful and supportive as the modern methods used in MTBMLE programs. For instance, MLE separates language learning and academic learning at the beginning. The two kinds of learning are only combined after the second language is developed enough that the learner can use it adequately to learn, or negotiate learning of, new content.
To illustrate this concept, the participants—all college graduates—went through an exercise where they had to learn just 10 Lubuanga-Kalinga words. Each word was carefully and deliberately demonstrated, and yet the participants complained that there were too many words! On a positive note, though, they gained valuable insight on how a 6-year-old feels when he or she is taught in a foreign language all day long while being expected to learn academic content.
The two-week bridging course at SLU is one of scores of activities that educators have planned for summer throughout the country to prepare and orient public school teachers on the K to 12 curriculum and MTBMLE programs.
The Lagawe activity, on the other hand, was an eye-opener. It was held at the Lagawe Central School gymnasium with around 300 Grade 1 teachers participating.
Equipped with a bagful of curriculum guides in all of the subjects (written in Filipino and English and some in Ilocano), the teachers listened to a series of lectures and demonstration lessons. At night, classrooms were transformed into sleeping quarters. Some teachers came with their babies in tow, just so they could nurse them and, at the same time, participate in the training.
I lectured for one-and-a-half hours on why it was necessary to shift to a mother tongue-based multilingual policy and a 12-year basic education. I was forewarned that Ifugao teachers were steeped in English instruction, but after I showed them the evidence of learners performing dismally in the national and international tests because of the language question, I could see faces lighting up and heads nodding in approval. I openly deplored the fact that the Ifugao language wasn’t included in the 12 languages that were to be used as medium of instruction (MOI) in June, despite the availability of grammars and dictionaries and literacy materials in that language.
I expected questions and concerns that were of the same nature as those asked in the Baguio workshop. Instead, the participants wanted to know what Ifugao variety will be used as MOI, how this will be written, and what will be the medium of testing. I told them, of course, that the language of instruction should be the variety used in the communities (there are at least five speech varieties used in the province, including Ilocano), that the Ifugao writing system should be a unified one but with varying pronunciation depending on the dialect, and that the language of testing should be the same as that of instruction.
I ended my lecture with the prediction that it will take from three to five years, at the very least, before MTBMLE gets off the ground and far beyond the Aquino administration to see its results.
Ricardo Ma. Nolasco, PhD, (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an associate professor at the Department of Linguistics in UP Diliman.