"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Mother Tongue




Spider’s web
Saturday, June 9, 2012
I still remember the girl (and no, don’t go singing about remembering the song but not the feeling), she’s your typical girl on the street – dusky, dark haired, toes spread apart, quiet in the company of strangers until given a push. Her name was Rochelle and she was determined to return to school.
I WOULD have scoffed at all these talks about teaching in mother tongue, and looking down on it as yet another sinker to the ever-sinking standard of education. Hey, I entered kindergarten and learned English without much difficulty, and that was even though we all spoke in Tagalog (the real one because I was learning from a Tagalog mom and our home was not yet invaded by the mangled language Dabawenyos claim as Tagalog). I was good at it, too (both English and Tagalog may I say). And yes, I am preening.
By college, I was strutting my ware, woe to the clueless moron who’d cross me, I’d slay him or her with my razor-sharp English. No one tutored me, I learned it all in the classroom, very proud young me would say. It was easy, too, and everyone should go through it the same way I did.
But of course, that was decades ago, when youth and talent was always equal to not just a hard head, but swollen as swell. (Those who cannot admit that they were never mayabang or had an air or angst in their 20s are living a lie. Haha.) The years that have passed have mellowed me down since, and slapped me with life’s lessons as well.
I still remember the girl (and no, don’t go singing about remembering the song but not the feeling), she’s your typical girl on the street – dusky, dark haired, toes spread apart, quiet in the company of strangers until given a push. Her name was Rochelle and she was determined to return to school.
To return to school, however, she has to undergo the placement examination and I volunteered to tutor her and three other street girls. Algebra, high school algebra should be easy. It wasn’t. After several days of trying to communicate, we finally were able to come to an understanding of what we were really trying to learn. In a mix of Tagalog and Bisaya with the English algebraic terms, we tackled… fractions.
Yes. The subject is algebra but you cannot proceed to algebra without first tackling numbers and addition and multiplication and division. That we even reached fraction was an algebraic problem by itself. But we did draw a lot of sticks and grouped them in different numbers. But that hurdle over, we were ready to take a sample exam. Since the first part of the Algebra placement exam had some fractions there.
I borrowed a placement exam sampler, wrote the problem on the board and gave them 15 minutes to do it. That should be easy. We were able to go to 1/16, solving problems that only involve halves and fourths should be peanuts. Not.
After ten minutes, they were still not writing on their “exam paper” although their scratch paper were already getting filled up with lines that are being encircled in different numbers and groups. Fifteen minutes past, our one-hour session rounding to a close, still not one answer. I called their attention, they looked up. Blank uncomprehending stares in their expressions. “Ate, English man ‘ni,” Rochelle said.
Indeed, like all exams, the samplers were in English and they can barely talk in English much less comprehend and analyze written English. Expectedly, no one passed.
That was a long time ago, maybe five years, maybe more. But the girls who came after them were not any better.
In a cramped classroom, would a student have the guts to tell the teacher that she cannot understand the test because it’s in English? I doubt it. At the expense of being ridiculed, many would just go through the motions of answering an exam, and failing.
How many of those students we see walking from school in their uniforms and with notebooks in hand have just failed an exam? We will never know because no one is actually counting and there is that directive for teachers not to fail anyone. Thus, student goes through the motions of answering even without understanding anything while teacher goes through the motion of passing even without imparting real understanding. Every year, they march on; year per year.
Now there’s mother tongue in the first three years of education, let’s hope it will be better because that’s all we have to hold on to, hope. The classrooms are still cramped, the teachers are still not allowed to fail, the students getting rowdier.
Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on June 10, 2012.

1 comment:

  1. Englishman sings Tagalog - 'Nais Kong Malaman Mo' ---> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-heg3Mj7n3M

    ReplyDelete