COMMENT: Not the cause but the effect

He said: “Whether it was merely coincidental or an unintended result, the fact remains that since the introduction of bilingual instruction, the English adeptness of our students and teachers alike suffered considerably and, along with it, the overall quality of basic education began to slide.” 

Wrong

His observation about the still deteriorating proficiency of English among Filipinos as borne out surveys is correct but he is wrong in the following:

First, bilingualism is not “linguistic juggling”. 

Second, the “bilingual policy” introduced in the Philippine pubic schools in 1974 was an effect, not the cause of the deterioration of English proficiency among Filipinos.

Third, the deteriorating quality of English among teachers and students may have contributed to the decline in “the overall quality of basic education” in the Philippines but it is the effect of other major causes.

Bilingualism

“Bilingualism” is “the ability to speak two languages”. It is a desirable trait of a person and of a nation.  As a nation, we have been bilingual since the Spanish era. It is mandated in our Constitution since 1935.

At present, Filipinos are bilingual, using Pilipino and English.  What each Filipino should aspire is to be able to use both proficiently.  Learning to do so depends on how correctly one practices the languages.  Language is an art.  Learning one does not deter the learning of another.

Our problem now seems this: Most Filipinos can no longer use English so proficiently as their fathers and grandfathers used to – hardly is there any comparison at all. And the problem is being blamed on the bilingual policy in our schools since 1974. 

Is HB 4701 the solution?  What does the bill provide? We can only ask.  We tried the Internet for a copy to no avail. We have no idea how the bill addresses the problem.

The Policy

Bilingual education is not a new concept; that in the Philippines is not the first.  When learners are not proficient in the foreign language as medium of instruction – English, Japanese, etc. – they may be taught in both their first language and in the foreign language for more effective learning.  

Until 1940, English was strictly the only medium of instruction and communication in Philippine schools.  This continued to a fair degree until the 1950s when “Speak English Only” gave way as nationalism surged into the school campuses.  Why outlaw Tagalog and other dialects?

By 1970, English was no longer strictly spoken in the campuses and classrooms. To perfect an art, it must be correctly and vigorously practiced. That was English in 1940 and earlier but not after. With the proper learning environment gone, English proficiency among both the teachers and students plummeted. Comprehension also became very poor. So did the quality of education – basic and higher.

The bilingual policy was adopted  to arrest the going down of the quality of education. The policy was clearly an effect of the bilingual conditions in the campuses when the speaking of English could no longer be enforced.  It did not cause the deterioration of English; it was adopted to arrest the adverse effects of deterioration in the last 20 years.

Villafuerte was right. The bilingual policy did not stop the slide of the quality of basic education.  But why blame the policy?  The teachers, most of them, were neither proficient in English nor in Pilipino?  How can they be proficient in bilingual teaching?   The teachers – hence the school system – were not properly equipped to implement it.

Linguistic Juggling?

Villafuerte was still right in noting that “subjects that were supposed to be taught in English were actually taught in ‘Taglish’ or a combination of English and the local dialects”.  However, he failed to understand and appreciate properly the emergence of Taglish – in its variations, Ilocoish, Pampangoish, Bisayaish, Ilonggoish, etc.

Taglish is part of the evolution of our national language that while based on the Tagalog balarila or grammar and vocabulary, it is enriched by the local dialects. Since English is part of the Filipino tongue and thinking, English words are part of the Pilipino vocabulary if the speaker has no Pilipino or dialect word for his idea at the moment of speaking.

This is not linguistic juggling but a natural linguistic stimulus-response.  Whether in speech or in writing man expresses his thoughts with the words that handily comes to mind at the moment.  Through constant usage, foreign words become part of the local dialect or national language. 

Taglish is an every minute reality everywhere in the Philippines.  It is not only in our schools but in the offices, in business, in radio and television, in the market places, in the streets, in the barrios, etc.  Villafuerte did not mention it but Taglish is used in the halls of Congress.

The Solution?

Villafuerte said: “As a language is best learned through constant exposure and usage, we have to prescribe again by law not simply by administrative fiat the restoration of English as the medium of instruction, except in Filipino taught as a subject.”  That’s the primary purpose of HB 4701. Is it the solution?

The prognosis is correct.  But the prescription seems irrelevant.  English has remained the medium of instruction.  It does not need to be restored but to be invigorated.  Mere legal mandate cannot do it.

Does HB 4701 outlaw bilingualism and multilingualism in school campuses and classrooms? If not, the correct learning environment for the “constant exposure and usage” of English will be absent. 

Does HB 4701 provide for adequate funds to revise and reprint textbooks full of faulty English?  If not, exposure to bad English will negate proficiency growth among the students, as well as the teachers.

Does HB 4701 provide for adequate funds for special refresher classes in English for teachers?  Can HB 4701 make teachers speak English only among themselves and the students to attain high proficiency?  The teachers’ English necessarily influences students.

Our street names, traffic directions, business names, billboards, and other outdoor notices are in English.  Does HB 4701 mandate that all these must be in good English?  Bad models can undo correct English.

Question

HB 4701 relegates the teaching of Pilipino as a mere school subject as it abolishes not only the bilingual policy but necessarily bilingualism in schools.  Will this not be in violation of the 1987 Constitution, particularly Section 6 of Article XIV? To quote:

“The national language of the Philippines is Filipino. As it evolves, it shall be further developed and enriched on the basis of existing Philippine and other languages.

“Subject to provisions of law and as the Congress may deem appropriate, the government shall take steps to initiate and sustain the use of Filipino as a medium of official communication and as language of instruction in the educational system.” (Bold Italics supplied)

(“Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You may e-mail your comments to [email protected]).

 

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