A study jointly conducted by the University of the Philippines’ Assessment Curriculum Technology Research Center-College of Education (ACTRC) and the University of Melbourne on the effectiveness of Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education in (MTB-MLE) in the Philippines has confirmed something many Filipinos have known for some time — that English remains a highly-prized skill that most Filipinos are betting their fortunes on.
This was the first of challenges identified after a series of tests to determine whether there is a need to re-assess the medium-of-instruction aspect of the Philippines’ education reform initiatives…
One problem is that stakeholders perceive limited use, as well as lower value of the mother tongue outside specific domains.
As expected, English remains more highly regarded and valued by the community. It is a perception that is borne by facts. Lost or ignored was the primary reason for MTB-MLE, which is to give students a head start in developing higher-order thinking skills, particularly in the elementary grades.
Indeed, it has been long observed that command of the English language has strongly polarised Philippine society. Filipinos who are proficient in the use of English are at a huge advantage over those who don’t. The most plum jobs and careers are dominated by excellent English speakers who, in most cases, enjoy immense social advantages over the rest.
This is an increasingly critical issue now that relentless progress in technological development computers, robotics, and communications is rapidly eroding employment opportunities for low-skill-required jobs — a niche the Philippine economy desperately depends on to survive.
Much of the demand for high-paying work nowadays particularly favours professionals who are highly-trained in the so-called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields. And this is an area where India and China have acquired an advantage churning out hundreds of thousands of engineers and scientists from their respective universities every year. But the Philippines remains (for now) at an advantage when it comes to English language skills, which is important considering that any amount of technical acumen will be worth squat unless the person who wields it can communicate that knowledge.
Therein lies the tragedy in the way the Philippines is squandering this rapidly-eroding advantage in English language proficiency by continuing to allocate scarce public resources to this whole mother-tongue-as-medium-of-instruction effort. The same study has revealed the disturbing risks along these lines associated with a focus on implementing MTB-MLE in the Philippines as evident in the effect on teachers involved in the program…
Test results for the two years showed elementary teachers getting low mean percentage scores of 50.53 percent and 54 percent in the English test, and 46.7 percent and 49 percent in the process skills test for Science and Math.
Most important of all, humanity’s collective body of knowledge in the maths and sciences are overwhelming articulated in English. This means that focusing on teaching non-English language skills to the Philippines’ youth will doom an entire generation to a monumental struggle to access this body of knowledge or, worse, rely on an inifinitessimal trickle of that knowledge translated to their mother tongue.
The better way forward is to educate Filipinos exclusively in English. It does not make sense to bet already scarce public education funds on what are evidently dead-end languages that hardly add anything to the marketability of their speakers in an increasingly competititve market for jobs.
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