Thursday, January 28, 2010

De-obssessing ourselves from English

As I travel around and talk to various people about the issue of language in learning, one thing I found so glaring and quite worrisome is our pathological obsession towards English. I agree that English provides a great advantage to many. It would enable you to communicate to more people in the world and make sense of the language of the Internet.

However, we have gone far beyond seeing English language as a tool to be deployed according to our purposes. We have become its slave. We hear ourselves saying, "edukado siya kasi magaling siya mag English." It does not matter if that person does not pay his taxes and maltreats his employees.

We also hear, especially the way people describe TV personalities, "Wow, ang talino niya kasi magaling mag-English at may slang pa!" Of course, those young stars were raised in America. We also make parody and overly criticize people who speak "carabao English." I see it though as an honor to the carabao. I find people who speak the carabao English as the most creative and empowered. It's like a teacher who said, "that child recitates a lot." It might sound reprehensible to her supervisor but at least that teacher was able to invent a new verb form that might be included in a dictionary someday (like the recent word "mentee"). At least that teacher put words to her thoughts. Most people would simply remain silent listeners and passive spectators refusing to engage in a thoughtful discussion simply because they are afraid that they might be criticized for their grammar and pronunciation.

It is our obsession for English that we began to believe that the purpose of schooling is for people to learn English. The streamer that we often find hung at the gates of many schools announces-- "We are an English speaking campus." This indeed speaks about the frivolous expectation of parents who would sacrifice a lot to pay the expensive tuition fees of such schools.

Our fixation for the English language is tragically manifested by the insistence of authorities to use the language as the medium of instruction. I can't still understand the logic of such policy. English is used as medium of instruction for intellectually demanding subjects like Math and Science for the expressed purpose of strengthening the children's knowledge of the language. Science and math virtually became language classes. It does not matter if at the end the children were not able to comprehend, analyze, critique, compare, synthesize, extrapolate the rich concepts found in math and science.

Our pathological obsession for the English language can be partly explained through our history of institutionalized education. The introduction of free mass public school system by the Americans as recorded in legal documents was said to be a strategic means to assimilate the Filipinos into the American culture. The main tool was the imposition of English as the only medium of instruction. Children from day one in school had to listen to wonderful and stimulating stories told in the English language. They were forced to write their thoughts and feelings using the same language. And yet since English was not the language of their soul their output, if there was any, was not comparable to that of the native English speakers. I am not discounting the fact that there are Filipinos who have learned to write well in their second language. But that came about after much struggle. And oftentimes, those writers or scholars are not as articulate or even literate in their local language.

The use of mother tongue based multilingual education provides a fissure to the seemingly indestructible English Only narrative. It provides us with the opportunity to be diagnosed of our pathological obsession and grieve over our silenced childhood and of the lost opportunities to speak and write from our soul. The grieving and healing process would result to regained courage and confidence to rectify the past and ensure that the 22 million Filipino children in school today would learn in a kinder and more humane environment.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

UN Report on Phil Education and MLE

The article below appeared in today’s paper. It highlights how we are trailing behind in providing quality and inclusive education. The report points to poverty and regional disparity as the main reasons for the sad state of education. As a remedy, it prescribes that we make it as an urgent priority the use of the local language in education.

In our MLE lecture-forum at Valenzuela City last Monday, the Div Supt verbalized her sense of awe in seeing the passion and sense of idealism among the MLE teachers that we trained last summer. It must be unusual for her to see the usually docile grade one teachers voicing out their excitement over MLE (before a big crowd) and giving concrete and intelligent recommendations in making the curriculum MLE friendly. One teacher said that MLE indeed is effective in developing thinking skills among her pupils and for the first time she is assured that her pupils are indeed learning.

After that meeting I came to realize the value of MLE as an avenue for education reform mobilization. MLE has become not a mere rational choice for the best teaching method or innovation. It departs from the usual technicist/program-oriented discourse on education reform that is often top down or “pinatulo” instead of bottom up or “pinatubo”. MLE is about acquiring a new set of mindset and pedagogical/cultural orientation that enables each teacher to develop creative and contextualized approaches. It is indeed encouraging to find that MLE has the capacity to stoke passion and touch the yearning of every Filipino teacher and education stakeholder for inclusive/quality education and also for cultural/linguistic pride.

Ched Arzadon

Inquirer Headlines / Nation

UN: RP trails Tanzania, Zambia in education
By Philip Tubeza
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Posted date: January 20, 2010

MANILA, Philippines—The United Nations has warned that the Philippines is in danger of leaving the poor behind when it comes to their education.
Noting an “absence of decisive political leadership,” a major UN report on education on Tuesday said the Philippines was in “real danger” of missing its target of providing universal primary education by 2015.
The 2010 Education For All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report, which was launched by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon at UN headquarters in New York cited the Philippines as a “particularly striking example of under-performance” in educational reforms as its current polices were failing to make a difference in improving the education of the poorest Filipinos.
“Education indicators for the Philippines are below what might be expected for a country of its income level … With an average income four times that of [African countries] Tanzania and Zambia, it has a lower net enrollment ratio,” the report said.
“The unfavorable comparison does not end there. Whereas Tanzania and Zambia have steadily increasing net enrollment ratios, the Philippines has stagnated,” it said.
RP could miss its goal
“Given the country’s starting point in 1999, achieving universal primary education by 2015 should have been a formality. There is now a real danger that, in the absence of decisive political leadership, the country will miss the goal,” the report added.
The Global Monitoring Report (GMR) is produced annually by an independent team of UN experts and is published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The report assesses the global progress towards the six EFA goals to which over 160 countries committed themselves in 2000.
These goals include expanding early childhood care and education, providing free and compulsory primary education for all, providing learning and life skills to young people and adults, increasing adult literacy by 50 percent, achieving gender equality by 2015, and improving the quality of education.
In the portion “The Philippines—leaving the marginalized behind,” the 2010 report said “extreme poverty and regional disparities were at the heart” of the mismatch between the Philippines’ income level and its poor educational outcomes.
It noted that, in 2007, the number of out-of-school youth aged 6 to 11 “broke through” the one-million mark and “there were over 100,000 more children out of school then than in 1999.” It added that around one-quarter of those entering school drop out before Grade 5.
Deeply marginalized
“The net enrollment ratio was 92 percent in 2007, which is comparable with countries at far lower levels of average income, such as Zambia, and below the levels attained by other countries in the (East Asia) region, such as Indonesia,” the GMR said.
“Why have countries that were so close to universal net enrollment at the end of the 1990s failed to go the extra mile? One factor is the difficulty in extending opportunities to certain regions and parts of society,” it added.
The report said that this happened to countries like the Philippines and Turkey that faced “problems of deeply entrenched marginalization.”
“In the Philippines, marginalization is strongly associated with poverty and location, with the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and some outlying islands falling far behind,” the GMR said.
Low investment
“It is evident in the cases of the Philippines and Turkey that current policies are not breaking down inherited disadvantage. One contributory factor is the low share of national income invested in education,” it added.
The report noted that the gap separating the poorest 20 percent of Filipinos from the rest of society was “far wider than in most countries in the region.”

“Those aged 17 to 22 in the poorest quintile average about seven years of education—more than four years fewer than in the wealthiest 20 percent. Data on school attendance provide evidence that current policies are not reaching the poorest,” the GMR said.
“Around six percent of 7- to 16-year-olds from the poorest households are reported as not attending school or to have ever attended. Extreme economic inequalities fuel education inequalities, notably by pushing many children out of school and into employment,” it added.
Deep fault lines
The report said regional data also reveal “deep fault lines” in educational opportunities within the country.
“Nationally, about six percent of those aged 17 to 22 have fewer than four years of education. In the best-performing regions—Ilocos and the National Capital Region—the share falls to one percent to two percent. At the other extreme, in the ARMM and Zamboanga Peninsula over 10 percent fall below this threshold,” the GMR said.

“The disparities are driven by a wide array of factors. The impact of high levels of poverty is exacerbated by conflict in Mindanao, and by the remoteness and wider disadvantage experienced by indigenous people in the Eastern Visayas and Zamboanga,” it added.
The sound of howitzers
To give a “human face” to the conflict in Central Mindanao and its ill effects on education in the region, the report included the story of 13-year-old Muhammed, a refugee living in a tent on the grounds of Datu Gumbay Piang Elementary School in Maguindanao.

“Most of the children come to class to escape the dismal living conditions in their tents. But there is no immediate escape from the destruction and violence they have witnessed,” the report said.

“When the children are in class, they are either lethargic or very nervous because [evacuees] often hear howitzers being fired not far from [them],” it added.
Quoting an evacuee who works in the school, the report said: “‘Students are often absent because they spend hours lining up for rations and water at the pump or because they’re sick.”

Given these problems, the GMR said Filipino authorities faced “difficult policy choices if the Philippines is to achieve universal primary education by 2015.”

“Far more weight has to be attached to reaching marginalized populations and providing them with good quality education. Social protection and conditional cash transfer programs, such as those in Brazil and Mexico, could play a vital role in combating child labor and extending educational opportunities to the poor,” the GMR said.

The report added that another urgent priority was the use of local language when it comes to teaching in indigenous areas.

“The diversity of the challenges sets limits to what the central government can do. Regional and sub-regional authorities need to develop and implement policies that respond to local needs. However, the central government could do more to create an enabling environment,” the GMR said.

“The education system suffers from chronic shortages of teachers and classrooms, rising class sizes and low levels of learning achievement. Addressing these problems will require an increase in the 2.1 percent share of national income directed towards education in 2005—one of the lowest levels in the world,” it added.

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