Monday, November 22, 2004

english as medium of instruction

In her keynote address at a gathering at the Far Eastern University last January 29, 2003 President Gloria Magapagal-Arroyo revived the language war that has been raging on since the 1930s when Manuel L. Quezon, started pushing the idea of a single language for Filipinos. “Until Congress enacts a law mandating Filipino as the language of instruction, I am directing the Department of Education to return English as the primary medium of instruction, provided some subjects will still be taught in Filipino,” she declared. Immediately, this stirred the hornet’s nest of nationalists and a bevy of purists. “We question the Arroyo administration’s development program that hews to the labor needs of the multinational market at the expense of the growth of local scientific and entrepreneurial endeavors. Instead of looking after foreign interests, the Arroyo administration should consider prioritizing Filipino needs and concerns,” so went their protest led by those from the University of the Philippines.


In 1937 the Institute of National Language (INL), which was created in pursuance of the mandate of the Constitution, recommended to Congress the adoption of Tagalog as the basis of developing a national language—with loud murmurings, of course, from the Cebuanos. It is interesting to note that when the INL was established, the first chairman was a waray-waray: Jaime C. de Veyra, a scholar, historian and politician from Leyte. The INL provided the impetus for the development of the national language (which is 95% Tagalog) though it was very slow simply because Tagalog is not the mother tongue of Filipinos who prefer to speak their own dialects. By 1960 only 44.5% of the population spoke Pilipino (the official name of the national language) according to data then gathered by Onofre D. Corpus. The use of Pilipino as one of the media of instruction in all schools in the Philippines, gained momentum in the 1970s when a bilingual policy in education was adopted by the National Board of Education. The policy provided, among other things, for the gradual introduction on all levels of Pilipino as the medium of instruction in certain subjects like social sciences, practical arts and physical education starting in 1973.


This policy worked. After 30 years, English in this country has become barely recognizable. Today, only the older generation and the economic elite speak straight English. The others speak the Filipino brand of Pidgin English called Taglish or better “carabao English” which was sadly popularized by the deposed President Joseph Estrada. Even the media has eventually shifted to Tagalog. Foreign cartoons and imported TV series are now dubbed in Tagalog. Unlike before when a 7th grader could already speak fluent English, a college degree holder today can hardly manage to talk in straight English without perspiring. It would not be inaccurate to say that English and Tagalog delineated the gap between the small Philippine intelligentsia and the masses—from whose ranks came the 11 million who elevated Estrada to presidency.


I think the Department of Education and the rest of us need to support the move of President Arroyo to restore English as a medium of instruction. Really, we do no not become less Filipinos by speaking English. I don’t think Filipinos will loose the sense of who and what they are just because they do not speak the same indigenous language. They were united enough when they came out in the streets and put an end to the Marcos dictatorship—English and Pilipino did not have anything to do with it, if at all. English is the language of world commerce and technology, of power and progress. Our Asian neighbors are hard on finding ways to increase their English proficiency in the light international relations, global cooperation and rapid developments in computers and telecommunications. Japan, for instance, with all its nationalistic fervor has realized the pragmatic view that its future as a leading industrial nation will critically hinge on its population mastering the English language. It leaders and opinion-makers are currently advocating to adopt English as a second official language. A similar awakening is happening in other Asian countries like South Korea, Taiwan and even China. Let us be good nationalists, all right. But let us not be obstinate, too.

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