Coping with Our Linguistic Diversity

Manila Bulletin, June 29, 2008 | Go to article overview

Coping with Our Linguistic Diversity


Given the linguistic diversity of Philippine society, language policy in the Philippines is always in a state of flux. Time was when it was an all-English curriculum that pervaded. Subsequently, the so-called Revised Educational Program of 1957 introduced Tagalog as medium of instruction (MOI) in Grades 1 and 2, with the shift to English as main MOI in all school subjects starting in Grade 3. Then, we adopted bilingual education, which had become popular in the West; we jumped onto the bandwagon of bilingual education after considerable research proved its advantages in multi-ethnic contexts. DECS Order No. 9, s. 1973 initially announced it, and a year after, a bilingual education policy got implemented through DECS Order No. 25, s. 1974. The Bilingual Education Policy provided for the separate use of Filipino and English as MOI in certain subjects. This order was slightly revised in DECS Order No. 52, s. 1987, which provided for the inclusion of Arabic and the regional languages as auxiliary MOI. It was also then that Filipino with an F, replaced Pilipino with a P -- the change was a consequence of 'Filipino' being viewed as a language evolving from the various indigenous languages of the country. This was probably a stance to unify a largely linguistically diversified Philippines.

If we listen to the dictates of current thinking, there is wisdom in beginning instruction in the mother tongue (MT). The studies conducted by many notable associations, for example, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics), NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children), point to the superiority/advantage of using the MT as medium for teaching and learning inside the classroom. School beginners find it a great advantage to start learning in their MT. Reasons for offering vernacular instruction include its being psychologically and economically sound, its being a positive move of maintaining language and cultural identities in a supra-ethnic age, hence instilling pride in one's own heritage, and getting the child to a good start in cognitive learning in school. Furthermore, communication among family members is not stifled. Unschooled parents will be able to assist in their child's school learning if they share a common language with their children. In short, home and school language being the same, children will not suddenly find themselves estranged from their families and lost in an unfamiliar environment (the school) where a language other than their native language is being used to teach them.

In the matter of choosing a national language (with its consequences on the choice of an official language and MOI), the highly diverse linguistic situation of the country had to be contended with. It was not only that not all the regional languages could qualify as the national or official language or main MOI in the schools, but also that in large part the choice was full of political pitfalls and feelings and emotions ran deep, thus making decisions extremely difficult. At the time that a national policy was instituted, it was thought that with English serving as unifying language, no regional language would surface above all the others. This seemed to be the wisdom that guided the choice of English and it came to pass that an-all English curriculum was followed from the grades up to the secondary and tertiary levels. It made the non-Tagalog sector of the populace satisfied and contented, since the nonTagalogs seemed to prefer English to Tagalog. Then, not soon after, a tide of nationalism emerged. An overarching desire to incorporate an indigenous language as another language of instruction besides English was expressed.

This quick review of what has transpired in relation to medium of instruction in the schools may have left out some details. Nevertheless, the intent of the article is to show only that there was cognizance of the linguistic diversity obtaining in the country and that moves to make changes in policy could have been triggered by such a phenomenon. …

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