The Failure in Educating Filipino Children through Their Native Languages and through Filipino; Educators Speak

By Sibayan, Bonifacio A. | Manila Bulletin, April 15, 2001 | Go to article overview

The Failure in Educating Filipino Children through Their Native Languages and through Filipino; Educators Speak


Sibayan, Bonifacio A., Manila Bulletin


FILIPINO children in the Philippine public school system established in 1901 by the American administration were taught entirely in the English language. Children were prohibited from speaking their native languages (dialects) in the classroom and in school premises often under pain of punishment.

It has been said that many children withdrew from school because of their difficulty in learning English. This claim may have been true but there is no documented study on the subject. It is an admitted fact, however, that many Filipinos learned the English language well enough to obtain a good education. Many Filipinos who studied in the Philippine public schools went to study successfully in the United States and came back to help build the institutions conducted in the English language, chief of which were the three branches of government, the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary. Later, many of those knowledgeable in English filled many positions in the business and commercial firms and other private enterprises that conducted and carried out transactions in the English language.

The public school system taught in the English language may be said to have built the middle class in Philippine society (there was no middle class to speak of during the Spanish regime). This was accomplished through the help of support institutions such as the government civil service where many graduates served. Other support institutions on the use of the English language were the business firms that soon employed young men and women who spoke and wrote English. It did not take long before the schools and colleges formerly taught in the Spanish language shifted to the use of English as language of education. By 1940 there were Filipinos reading newspapers and magazines published in English more than in Spanish. In the short span of forty years (1901-1941) the "language of aspiration," that is, the language used for aspiring to the so-called better life, both social and economic, was the English language. In the short span of approximately four decades the main language of oral and especially the written form of communication or doing business in what I have called the controlling domains of language was English.

***

Let me digress. The reader will please note that there are three types of language domains, namely: (1) non-controlling domains, (2) semi-controlling domains, and (3) controlling domains.

The language or variety of language needed and used in the non-controlling domains of language such as the home and the market place do not need to be learned formally; the rules of correctness and acceptability are not strict. Any language or variety may be used. Writing is often not required. The language used in a non-controlling domain such as religion requires more rules of acceptability and correctness but people may participate in religious activities without knowing the language well. However, those who lead in religion, priests and ministers, must learn a formal type of religious language.

The language required in the controlling domains of language, on the other hand, is almost always learned formally in school. The rules of correctness and acceptability are almost always specified. Often there are manuals or instructions on how to use the language. For example in the domain of government, in the Philippines, all official matters put down in writing must be in English or Filipino. In the domains of government administration (executive, legislative, and judicial), education, especially higher education (hence, the language of the professions), the language used before the Philippines became independent was the English language. In spite of the fact that Filipino is now an official language and may be used in official correspondence and other important matters, English still dominates the written version of official documents and transactions.

A very important point to remember is that the progress and prosperity of a nation is greatly determined by the percentage of the population who acquire and have mastery and command of the language used in the controlling domains of language: the larger the populations of these domains, the more progressive and prosperous that country is. …

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