Aiming for Both Equity and Excellence Need Not Be a Compromise

There is ample evidence that it is possible to achieve equity without compromising excellence. In fact, addressing issues on equity can greatly aid in lifting the quality of any educational system. Teachers need to be provided support so that they can perform their tasks well. This support includes adequate training, professional development, and living wages. Poor children need special attention. Without addressing important factors outside school, learning is difficult to achieve inside the classroom. One must keep in mind that these measures are necessary for one reason, quality education. Raising teachers' salaries and providing poor children additional resources should be viewed as measures taken for one specific goal, improving education.

Uplifting basic education supports the demands of Philippine public school teachers for better working conditions, higher salaries, autonomy, and professional development. These specific demands are clearly in line with the goal of providing both equity and excellence to Philippine basic education. The Philippine education system is facing so many issues and challenges. It is true that the current predicament of the teaching force needs to be addressed. However, it is equally true that there is incompetence. It is likewise true that a large number of schools are substandard. The situation in higher education is no different. There are diploma mills. There are courses in colleges that serve no purpose but remediation. Focusing alone on equity without an effort to lift education compromises excellence.

This debate on whether a Filipino language instruction course should remain as a requirement in higher education unfortunately typifies an argument that does not help advance the necessary education reforms in the country.

Members and leaders of Alliance of Concerned Teachers trooped to Commission on Higher Education’s (CHED) Head Office, wearing masks of Jose Rizal and a woven tray of fresh fish to symbolize their aghast over their decision to make Filipino optional in college education. (ACT Phils)

Being raised with Tagalog as a mother tongue, I likewise treasure the language. I am certain that this is equally true for Cebuanos who view Cebuano as their own. This applies to Ilocanos and Bicolanos. In fact, all Filipinos cherish their native tongues. They do not need to be told. It is already incorrect to attribute the saying, "Those who do not love their native language are worse than putrid fish", to Jose Rizal since this is a hoax. Rizal did not author this poem. Teachers should not be miseducating the nation. A bigger error, however, is to attribute "native tongue" to a language that is in fact not the native tongue of other Filipinos. Any claim to the contrary is completely deceitful. And it does not matter if Filipino is advertised as different from Tagalog and as a combination of the various languages in the country. This is one blatant lie. If Filipino is indeed derived from the various languages then it is not clearly a native tongue.

One important point that is easily missed is the careless equating of language to culture. The two are not identical. Culture does manifest in one's native language and one's native language is shaped by one's culture. Our beliefs, our way of life, our values, our intellectual achievements, our arts and music constitute our culture. Culture is what we are. It is not surprising that nationalistic sentiments abound when issues of language are raised. Sadly, in education, differences are highlighted. The disciplines of the natural sciences have indeed been developed in Western cultures. Sometimes, the sciences are even associated with Christian religions. One should not discount however the fact that chemistry, for example, has Islamic origins. These disciplines are really universal, not just Western.

Education reformers even in the United States are trying to learn from other countries especially those who do extremely well in international standardized exams. We may be of different cultures but we learn from each other. It is really ridiculous to suggest that adapting systems from the West is wrong. Emulating a successful education system is in fact correct. As members of one human race, there are standards that apply to everyone.

Arguments against the removal of a course on Filipino language instruction from colleges are framed on a nationalistic sense that is sadly misplaced. On top of this, insisting on requiring instruction of the native tongue in a university goes against quality education. One must keep in mind that there is a difference between "instruction of the native tongue" and "instruction in the native tongue". The former teaches the grammar and vocabulary of the language. The latter uses the language as a medium of academic discourse. What is about to be removed from college is the former because of one good reason: It does not deserve to be in higher education. Even in the absence of a new basic K+12 education curriculum, remedial and non college-level courses should not be taught for credit inside universities. College credit hours should never be used to remedy deficiencies in basic education. College is not for everyone and not everyone goes to college, thus, deficiencies must be addressed within basic education.

The guidelines for General Education from the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) prescribe core courses in eight different areas: (1) Understanding the Self, (2) Readings in Philippine History, (3) The Contemporary World, (4) Mathematics in the Modern World, (5) Purposive Communication, (6) Art Appreciation, (7) Science, Technology and Society, and (8) Ethics. If faculty from universities cannot design or imagine any one of these courses given in the native language then there is really no way the native language can be elevated into an academic level. The study of one's self, globalization, history, arts, mathematics, and communication can be provided in the native language as long as materials and an instructor competent in the language are available. Faculty have about three to four years to prepare. More than twenty years ago, I took 16 credits of Philosophy with Filipino as medium of instruction. It is clearly not impossible if there are competent faculty in universities.

If teachers are clamoring for retaining language instruction in the university, I hope these teachers are aware that they are admitting that they could not teach their students in elementary and high school to read and write in the native tongue. Teachers damage their own credibility. This blog lends support to upgrading teacher salaries, but not on this one. The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) is correct in its reform of general education in colleges. Faculty who do not serve the purpose of higher education should not be in colleges or universities. CHED gives the opportunity to these instructors to retool and innovate. CHED is now providing the right environment for deeper and more critical subjects in college. Going against this means going against excellence, and when the quality of education is compromised, so does equity.