The Problem of Language in the Philippines

In Broward County in Florida, there is a Dual Language Program that starts at kindergarten. Like other school districts in the United States, a dual language program is not offered to all students. The program is limited since it often requires teachers who are either gifted-certified or endorsed. At the least, the teachers need to attend professional development and periodic curriculum training. In Broward, classroom instruction in the target language requires a minimum of about 2 hours per day. Across the Pacific, back in 2010, the Liberal Party candidate for president, Noynoy Aquino, in providing a blueprint for basic education, stated, "We should become tri-lingual as a country. Learn English well and connect to the World. Learn Filipino well and connect to our country. Retain your dialect and connect to your heritage." In Philippine politics, unrealistic promises are really common. But, in this case, it is not only unrealistic, but also hegemonic. The idea that the Philippines has a national language called Filipino is a fantasy, in fact, a deception. A poem often cited to promote love of one's native tongue was even sold to the public for decades as a poem authored by the country's national hero. Actually, the country's national hero, Jose Rizal, would be surprised if he came back to life today and find that Spanish, and not Filipino, was no longer required in higher education.

In Aquino's blueprint, which is now DepEd's K to 12 curriculum, a child born in a region other than the Tagalog-speaking municipalities or cities is taught first in his or her native tongue while introducing both English and Filipino. Later, all students are taught math and the natural sciences in English, while other subjects such as Social Studies are taught in Filipino. Broward county in Florida knows how difficult a dual language program is, and yet in the Philippines, all students outside the Tagalog-speaking regions are expected to become trilingual. Dual-language programs are challenging and students in the Philippines are no exception. A recent study shows that even in the Tagalog region, students are failing to acquire mastery of a second language and as a result, students are unable to learn science.

Maribel D. Ganeb and Marie Paz E. Morales, both from Philippine Normal University, note in their paper, Science fluency in primary school: Student transition from Filipino to English language learning that "third graders registered low ratings in all the three components of reading fluency. They are categorised as instructional readers of common terms, but are frustrated readers of science terms. They have very low reading speed and based on their reading prosody, more than half of these learners are labelled as non-fluent readers." The students included in this study are from a public elementary school in Manila. Obviously, if reading comprehension is hampered, students will be significantly challenged in learning science.

It is always a lot easier to make promises. It is much harder to bring these to reality especially when one does not take proper account of the challenges.

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