By By tataramon
Who’s Afraid of the “Dila ning Ina” (Mother Tongue)?
posted 3-Jul-2017  ·  
1,355 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

Mothers are our first teachers, and in most cases the best, but nobody seems to like the so-called Mother Tongue Based Education, least of all the mothers themselves who in the Philippine setting preside over the educational endeavors of the family. So we witness a lot of wagging by the dila ning ina against this thing and that is quite a problem for our society’s aspirations to educate our youth.

But let us first try to make sense of it according to its own terms; this new approach anyway is 1) a major component of the grand educational reform that is the K-12, and 2) it is product of the best minds in the educational enterprise, su mga experts baga. The complete name of this strategic scheme is Mother Tongue Based Multi-Lingual Education (MTB-MLE). As such, it defines the whole language policy of our educational system, which makes the MTB-MLE of central importance because language is the medium that facilitates the teaching-learning process. Simply put, it mandates that this process takes two basic features, language-wise: 1) that it will be rendered through a multiple of languages (first, second and third languages), and 2) that it will build upon the foundation of the learner’s first language (mother tongue). 

Like any programmatic scheme conceived and designed by experts, it is calculated to produce only the best effects. The MTB-MLE is supposed to create a happy combination of both practical and ideological aims.  In the former, the assertion is that children acquire literacy faster when reading and writing are introduced through one’s first language, and that other cognitive skills are facilitated when conducted in the most “natural”  lingo of the learner.  The latter on the other hand (the multi-lingual component), is a way to nurture our common heritage: Filipino identity rests on a multiplicity of cultural influences from East to West, courtesy of our particular historical experience. This is noble, considering that younger generations of Filipinos are losing their appreciation of their traditions.

To be sure, the MTB-MLE does not represent a turn-around from our long-standing premium for the English language, which is the fear of most of those skeptical about the new approach. The MTB-MLE remains to be English-oriented. English is still the language to look up to and considered worthy for higher learning (Filipino plays an ambivalent second fiddle as medium for intellectualization).As presently reckoned in the developmental ladder of Philippine education, use of English increasingly becomes predominant, and all these functional roles given to mother tongue are merely instrumental to the eventual primacy of English.  The whole formula runs like this: mother tongue facilitates literacy and basic cognitive skills, which facilitates the learning of second and third languages for higher order thinking skills in tertiary education. 

The supposed facilitative role of mother tongue in early education is amply supported by researches all over the world. In fact there is a robust international movement to promote it.  In the Philippines, piloting studies also proved its efficacy. However, the logic behind the MTB-MLE seems to escape appreciation by the clientele, parents especially. Even the teachers appear to lack a good grasp of its rationale.  This strong resistance is born by experience. For one thing, use of the vernacular in early education had been tried as early as 1948, and lingered on into the 60’s. From the 70’s they introduced a new policy of bilingualism that emphasized the use of the national language. Both cases met strong resistance.  This is all because English proficiency had long become the one “good thing” of our educational aspirations, for both practical and cultural grounds. Anything that goes against it is undesirable.  In 2004, then President Gloria-Macapagal Arroyo implemented a policy that gave back to English top priority noting that it is one comparative advantage of the Filipino in global competitiveness. The move represents our most straightforward collective attitude towards language where the popular converged with the official: that any round about road to English proficiency is counterproductive.  The sooner we go English, the better.

Confounding the difficulty of selling the logic of MTB-MLE are formidable challenges of implementation. Certain considerations re the actual reality on the ground seemed to have been overlooked by the planners.  First is that pre-schoolers are already multilingual at the outset, putting to question the operational presumption that they are monolingual users of a “mother tongue”.  This is brought about by early exposure to electronic media and the multilingual social environment of a globalizing world.  Secondly, the twelve identified regional languages which had been basis for preparation of modules and instructional materials cannot adequately represent the mother tongues of a nation of about 120 languages. In the case of Catanduanes, mother tongue cannot be Bikol Naga which in fact appears as a second language to a pupil in Bonur Viga.  So the teaching can only be a travesty of the original intention.  The situation on the ground is just much more complex than the assumed linear mode of mother tongue-to-second language-to-third language acquisition. The reality of language exposure and use even among the very young is a dynamic interaction of tongues.  Sa isang paslit na mag-uumpisa pa lang matutong  gumamit ng wika, naglalabo-labo na ang mga lenguahe, hindi pumipila para hintayin ang kanilang pagkakataong aralin ng bata. 

All its unpopularity aside, I am personally happy about MTB-MLE’s implications for cultural diversity.  We Filipinos are multilingual, reflective of our varied cultural influences, and this is something that we can be proud of. Most Americans for example are hopelessly imprisoned in their being monolingual.  A language is a world of its own, and the person who speaks several languages has the privilege of knowing many worlds.  This is cultural diversity within the same Filipino cultural tradition and as such it is a resource that we must treasure, conserve and enhance.

It works pretty much the same way as biodiversity: our survival as a species depends on it.  Culturally, ours is a world that is increasingly becoming homogenized, thanks to this thing globalization. Oft-glorified by pundits,  it actually entails the extinction of not only languages but of entire ways of life in favor of sameness. The rate of cultural extinction in the planet might actually be faster than the extinction of biological species.  In science fiction, the favorite scenario that writers use to scare us about the future is a dreary specter of sameness of human life where all of us become automatons, robots. 

So the MTB-MLE should be a welcome change with its noble aim of nurturing language and cultural diversity in the Philippines. But granting its present challenges in the form of popular resistance by the educational clientele (a study revealed that teachers themselves are ambivalent about the wisdom of MTB-MLE) and in weaknesses of its design and implementation, prospects are dim that we are on the verge of a renewed appreciation and celebration of cultural diversity among the Filipinos, especially the young generations. More likely, it will only amplify mass annoyance on how it gets into the way to proficiency in English.

How sad that MTB-MLE should go the way of many bright schemes before it that promised deliverance from our woes as Filipinos. At best, given our legendary sense of humor, those who survive MTB-MLE’s ordeal will generate a whole class of jokes and funny anecdotes that later will become part of our folklore. Just like how my generation and those immediately before us love to recall some classic line of Bikol vernacular reading fare: “Miling, Miling magabat ang ubi! Tabangi si Badong!”

In the Philippines, language and education remain to be magabat na ubi.  

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