Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Greening of a Village: Popular Education in Action

(Note: this is a summary of my presentation in PAFTE conference held on Nov 28,2008 at PNU)
Education in the recent years has been unlatched from the limiting paradigm of schooling into its broader meanings as indicated by the ideas associated to lifelong learning and learning community. Due to such shift, the theorizing and practice of Education should engage with the community and examine how learning occurs in the larger context of a community. This process of social engagement can be truly empowering and mutually transformational especially if it is organized around the philosophical framework of Popular Education. This paper presents some insights about how teachers can work with community leaders in bringing about personal and collective transformation using the precepts of Popular Education. Its basis is a qualitative research using ethnography and critical discourse analysis that was conducted on a village in Pangasinan Province called Barangay Bued.

Popular Education (PopEd) is "popular" in the sense of being "of the people" or being anchored on a community’s own cultural and collective imagination and experiences. Often associated with PopEd is its method that often draws on popular or mass culture, using drama, song, dance, poetry, puppetry, mime, art, storytelling, and other forms. (Kerka 1997) Theoretically, PopEd is founded on a broad sociological body of knowledge called Critical Theory, developed by philosophers and social thinkers whose social mission in theorizing is social change to bring about a more humane society.(Popkewitz 1999) Critical theory’s application to Education (often referred to as Critical Pedagogy) has been developed by Freire, Dewey, McLaren, Giroux, Shor, Torres, Popkewitz, Burbules, Berk, and a few others.

Originally, the theory’s first vision of transformation was tied to actors in the context of class struggles. In this period PopEd became known in Latin America with Paulo Freire as its major exponent. But a shift took place the 1980s with the emergence of new variants known as postmodern, poststructuralist, and postcolonial. This new movement diverged from class struggle analysis into an examination of how discourse, which is a system of knowledge or commonly called reason or logic, is constructed and legitimized so that it has power to normalize or tacitly control how people see themselves and participate in the world they live in (ibid).

In this paradigm, one major task of a popular educator is to engage with the community in demystifying and deconstructing so called “high-tech” knowledge so that the discourse can be either be resisted or reconstructed and contextualized according to the values and worldview of the community. If a community is robbed of such opportunity, they become disempowered and unable to hold the community together. Their core values erode and there will be alienation and disintegration of collective identities resulting to all sorts of pathologies that require imposition of various forms of external control (White 1988).

The collective learning of Barangay Bued began with their desire to revive their dead river that became a dumping site of waste coming from the households and the softdrink manufacturing plant in their midst. Bued being located along the main highway became known to travelers for their so called “signature smell” emanating from their dead river. Not getting any response from government to their pleas for help, a group of barangay leaders and some teachers organized themselves and connected with other environmentalist groups. At the same time, they also initiated cleaning of the river with their bare hands and crude implements, extracting soiled diapers, animal carcasses, bulky furnitures lodged underneath. They engaged into a battle against the multinational softdrink company and residents who resisted joining the zero waste campaign. In the end, the softdrink company capitulated and built a 37million peso waste treatment system. Household waste began to be segregated, recycled, and processed into compost –fertilizer to enrich the farmlots in the area. They got rid of their signature smell, became one of the cleanest barangay in the country, and served as a learning site with visitors coming from as far as Zamboanga City.

In the process of community learning, the community had to engage with the technicist oriented discourse being promoted by the government and businesses. The technicist discourse of environmental management is about complying with international standards (ISO), using “right” chemical and mechanical processes that require highly expensive equipment and facilities. It renders knowledge about the environment as accessible and intelligible only to experts. It normalizes non-experts as deficient, needy, mere consumers of knowledge.

Instead of defining environmental management success through the establishment of equipment and waste processing facility, the popular educators reconstructed success a way of life and a sense of stewardship over their God given resources manifested by practicing segregation, recycling, and preference for biodegradable materials. They also contextualized waste management into a discourse of a war against polluters. Therefore, instead of mere consumers of technology, they recast themselves as a band of strong and capable warriors that will protect their environment having called their group “Kalikasang Vigilantes.” High school students organized a group called “Earth Savers Club.” When the softdrink company repulsed their demands, the community issued press release and submitted their concern to the Senate. They won their battles against resistance through various information and education campaign. An NGO staged a theater arts production entitled Magagandang Anak. Yearly fiestas were a display of colorful floats decorated with recyclable materials and pro-environment slogans. The experiences of cleaning the river and tree planting were transformative and happy events. One participant of the river clean-up said: Ang baho, isang linggo kang mag-aalcohol pero happy sila. Happy silang nagwo-work.

When people asked what made the greatest impact in their learning process, they pointed to the example of their leaders. People distinctly remember that during the first day of cleaning the river, the men froze at the sight of dirt and filth until their village chief walked into water to begin removing the debris. He was known to go visit the river at 2:00am to check if sludge is being released from the softdrink factory. He was the first who walked out and boycott the softdrink products. Students described their teacher as one who would require that every quiz, examination, term papers should utilize scratch papers and recycled materials. She was dedicated to her advocacy, would go house-to-house, conduct study groups on environmental care even without any promise of reward or promotion. The students would talk about a time of their life-- “…nuong nag-environment ako…” like a moment of conversion to their teacher’s “religion.”

Interestingly, what proved to be the most potent PopEd method were not the organized cultural shows or formal meetings and seminars but enacting and embodying the discourse in lives of the leaders and teachers. Stories about their heroic acts, how they resisted giants like the multinational company and DENR, how they practiced beyond what they preached were often told and passed on to the younger generation. These stories have become like modern day folklore that have the power to instruct, inspire, or bolster collective pride.

Kerka, S (1997). Popular Education: Adult Education for Social Change. ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Popkewitz, Thomas (1999). Critical Traditions, Modernisms, and the “Posts.” Critical Theories in Education: Changing Terrains of Knowledge and Politics (Social Theory, Education and Cultural Change). Popkewitz and Fendler (eds). Routledge, NY and London.
White, Stephen (1988). The Recent Work of Jurgen Habermas: Reason Justice, and Modernity. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, New York.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Manifesto for Mother Tongue-based Learning

Education for All: Building Strong Learning Foundations thru the Mother Tongue

Philippine basic education is now at a critical crossroad.

It now calls for the revisiting of our commitment to Education for All (EFA) 2015. All stakeholders have to be vigilant and involved. Otherwise, education will just be a weak transformative power in our society. Instead of education for all, it will be education for the few; instead of seeing Filipino youth become critical thinkers, coherent communicators, and productive citizens; we will see a generation of unreflective and mediocre mouthpieces of languages not their own.

We affirm the need to improve learning competencies in all subject areas, including English. Our educational system has to move forward following a roadmap drawn by experts in language and education based on empirical proofs. Experiences of other multilingual countries all point to the mother tongue as the best language of learning, especially in the early grades. The mother tongue is the most effective bridge to and foundation for the learning of other languages like English.

At this stage, however, many of our lawmakers and national leaders still hold on to the unfounded but long-held belief that an English-dominated initial basic education will produce superior learners. We submit that such educational strategy will only benefit a very small number of Filipinos—those who belong to families where English is the home language. But the truth is that the majority of our school children come from homes where the mother tongue is the predominant language. This explains their marginalization in the classroom.

Such marginalized learners, as pointed out by scientific evidences face the double burden of learning. They are struggling to learn the 3Rs on top of the big burden of learning an alien language in which they are taught. This predicament is one of the major culprits of poor performance and high drop-out rates. All of these imply the needed approach-- teach the yet unknown 3Rs through the already familiar local language and culture, build the learner’s capacity to learn and introduce a second language with the correct phasing. With such mother tongue-based multi-lingual education (MLE) framework, the mastery of all the learning areas including English is effectively attained.

It is a basic truth that language embodies a person's cultural identity and heritage. To uphold this truth, even international law guarantees and directs states’ educational system to develop respect for the child’s own cultural identity and language (Article 29-c Convention on the Rights of the Child). Thus, we reject any assertion that a local language may be inferior, inadequate and poses an obstacle to learning.

We also reject the usual argument that MLE is costly and, therefore, very hard to implement in the face of limited financial resources. Papua New Guinea, a poor Asian country of more than 800 languages, has demonstrated that reliance on local initiatives and resources for MLE is highly feasible and substantially saves on much costs of developing and producing learning materials. Recently, our own DepEd’s Agusan Pilot MLE Study corroborated the practicality and merits of local self-reliance and initiatives. Thus, we submit that ultimately, to insist on teaching with an alien language is more costly and inefficient when children do not become functionally literate and hardly develop higher order thinking skills and whose English competencies are mediocre.

In view of the rush to pass a law on English-based teaching in basic education, stakeholders need to collectively reflect and act now. We call on the following and other stakeholders:

The Department of Education - to have the resolve to uphold and adopt its own framework on Mother Tongue-based Multilingual Education set by the Basic Education Sector Reform Agenda (BESRA) as the touchstone of the national policy on languages in education;

The Legislature - to pass the amended House Bill 3719 (The Multilingual Education and Literacy Act) as a measure to rationalize and institutionalize a language of learning policy;

The teachers, school heads, and education managers - to provide the initiative and creativity that would bring about a learning environment conducive for mother-tongue education to flourish within the framework of School-Based Management (SBM);

The PTCAs, local school boards, LGUs and other community stakeholders to mobilize and develop the needed resources such as policy framework, learning resources, awareness and capacity building, and advocacy to guarantee implementation and contextualization of mother tongue-based learning.

And all concerned citizens who believe in the cause of Education for All, we call on you to make your voices heard and to give your wholehearted support to mother tongue-based education initiatives.

Let us strengthen the basic foundation of an educated nation: FUNCTIONAL LITERACY FOR ALL. Onward with Education for All through MLE 2015.
For more information and links to MLE reports, please visit our blog

To indicate your support for MLE, please sign our online petition found at the link below:

For paper-based signature campaign, please include name, town, province, organization/sector, contact number. Scan the document and email to

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The end of a "common sense" reaction about English as a medium of instruction

This blog was born out of recent exchanges about language of learning in an online loop called Teacher Education and Development Program or simply TEDP loop . This online community where I belong was formed in 2005 and its members are educators, policymakers, and other concerned Filipinos. It's an avenue where anyone can share/discuss/critique ideas and best practices about education reform initiatives. The thread on language of learning or medium of instruction (MOI) was sparked by recent deft maneuverings of the majority of our congressmen supported by an invisible hand to expedite the approval of the Gullas bill (English as the MOI from grade one onwards).

In the past, when I read reports about the declining English competency among our Filipino learners, my common sense reaction was to propose programs to intensify exposure to the English language. In fact I even facilitated a project that provided English workbooks for grade one pupils. And so I thought at first that the Gullas Bill was something good and helpful. It was not until I was confronted with volumes of studies about the efficacy of mother-tongue education as foundation for development of higher level of thinking and as bridge to second language acquisition that I realized that my common sense reaction was grossly misguided.

Gullas Bill or sometimes called English Bill is clearly contrary to research reports, language learning principles, and expert opinion given by credible institutions like UNESCO, Summer Institute of Linguistics, Linguistics Society of the Philippines, SEAMEO-Innotech, Komisyon ng Wikang Pilipino, NEDA, Department of Education, and others.

Should the bill becomes a law, the ones who would benefit are only the pupils from the middle class and up, who are exposed to the English language at home because their parents are most likely educated and they have access to cable TV, Internet, and English storybooks and reference materials. But the ones who would be disadvantaged are the pupils who do not enjoy such privileges. And in this country, they are the majority.

Dr. Dennis Malone of SIL provided a bridge illustration that shows the sad plight of disadvantaged children in an English First setting. He described it as "double learning burden." The illustration shows that children that come from homes where the language of school is spoken (dominant language community) are able to cross the bridge to the school. However those who come from homes where the language of school is rarely used (minority language community), their tendency is to fall from their fragile bridge and unable to survive long in school.

Though public school teachers are directed to use either Filipino or English as a medium of instruction, some noble teachers in remote barangays resort to using the local language as MOI because otherwise their pupils will not understand what they say. But the hovering pressure on their shoulder is to expedite by all means the use (no matter how crude) of the English language.
Imagine a scenario where a child does not have the burden to acquire a second language (L2), where his language at home is the medium of instruction at school. This means then that all his learning energy would be focused on the sole vital task of understanding and explaining the world around him through the language of his heart and mind (L1). Through time, the he is able to reach a level of awareness that empowers him to be a productive young citizen. Without the burden to learn another language, he also develops abstraction skills, critical thinking, and other higher level of cognitive abilities as he solves problems in Math, Science and Civics, all taught in the language of his heart and mind. Years later, he develops what is mentally required to allow him to handle more complex ideas and create or recreate new knowledge (like the Japanese and Koreans who inspite of their ignorance of the English language are able to develop world class technologies). In such advanced period of one's schooling, he has already formed a strong foundation and linguistic readiness to engage into the more complex task of learning not only English but also Chinese, Arabic, and other languages (L3, L4 etc) that might interest him. This learning framework is presented by another Malone's bridge illustration.

The principle, therefore, is that a second language is better acquired when it is introduced at the right time. If it is forced too early, the child uses all his learning potential on language acquisition and not on things that would make him a thinking and creative person. If we allow the passing of the English Bill, what we produce in the end are mediocre mouthpieces of the English language. Sure, they can temporarily fill the employment demand for service workers. But they can be easily displaced due to increasing automation in the workplace. What is tragic though in such scenario is that education is used a tool to disempower people instead of enabling them to meaningfully participate in changing their world.

It is unjust that our already scarce resources are wasted to promote an English First policy. What we need is to divert such resources towards development of appropriate culture-based instructional materials and training of teachers.

For education to be a truly demarginalizing force, it requires that learners be educated in the language of their hearts and minds or within their socio-cultual context. In that way, they start from the known to venture into the unknown, instead of starting from an unknown to move into further unknowns.

Indeed, mother tongue education is the only way to go. We should not allow an English First policy like the Gullas bill to be imposed on our children. Let us instead support mother tongue education initiatives like the bill that was recently proposed by Rep. Magtanggol Gunigundo.

The best form of advocacy we can do is to start now our own culture-based education programs in our communities. One of the first tasks is to locate experts of the local language and culture. They do not have to be scholars. Some wise old folks will do. We can organize them into some sort of a local language resource group that will clarify and answer questions regarding difficult words, local idioms, cultural meanings of customs and traditions. Another task is to convince the parents and leaders about the value of mother tongue education. Usually they mistakenly believe that their little children should be educated either in Filipino or English. They take pride when their children can sing an English nursery rhyme or recite a poem (even if they do not understand a single word).

Effective mother tongue education program starts with oral fluency (since our languages are strongly oral in form) and move towards mother tongue literacy (reading and writing). The following are some possible projects that can be done in a classroom or in a barangay or parish hall.


  • Conduct regular storytelling sessions. Let the children retell the story or interpret it through a skit
  • Organize creative and artistic activities that like debates, community theater, declamation, singing and dancing, etc
  • Discuss and contextualize difficult topics taught in Math and Science using familiar terms and images.


  • Put up a collection of reading materials written in the local language. The local parish might have a local translation of gospel stories.
  • Make colorful storybooks about local legends and folklores using the local language as the text. We can also translate existing stories found elsewhere or come up with contemporary stories
  • If not yet available, make a simple local dictionary
  • Conduct writing workshops
  • Provide translation training
  • Put up a village bulletin board
  • Translate posters, billboards, labels, memos and other materials
  • Ask learners to label things around them like trees, furnitures, tools, etc

There are various possibilities of culture-base and mother tongue education out there. Below are links that lead us to a rich minefield of ideas.


DepED-IX intensifies lingua franca education project (DepEd 2008)
Legislators push English as medium of instruction (Llanto 2008)

Mother-tongue education is the way to go (Martin 2008)
Languages do Matter (Nolasco 2008)
Improving English Competence (de Jesus 2006)
The right to learn in one’s own language (Gunigundo 2008)
Myths about languages in the Philippines (Martin 2008)
English First’ policy will hurt learning (Luz 2007)

---------LEGAL PAPERS---------
HB 3719 MLE Act Draft (Gunigundo 2008)
Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

Vernacular Language Teachers Guide
Vernacular Language Trainers Manual (2005)
The Philippine Roadmap to Multiliteracy (Ocampo 2007)
Framework in Mother Tongue Based MLE (SEAMEO)
First Language First: Community-based Literacy Programmes for Asia (UNESCO 2005)

The Use of Vernacular Language in Education (UNESCO 1953)
Teaching Chilren in a Language They Understand (Prouty)
The Lubuagan Mother Tongue Education Experiment: Report of Comparative Test Results (Walter & Dekker)
First language education in Lubuagan (Dumatog/Dekker 2007)
Language issues for Marginalized people (Malone 2007)
The Use of First and Second Languages in Education: International Experience (Dutcher/Tucker 1995)
Mother Tongue Instruction in Philippine Schools (Castillo)
Education in a Multilingual World (UNESCO 2003)
Papua New Guinea’s Vernacular Language Preschool Programme (UNESCO 2002)
The Language Planning Situation in the Philippines (Gonzales 1998)
Language planning in multilingual countries: The case of the Philippines (Gonzales 2003)