CHED is not targeting Filipino language instruction

Lisandro E. Claudio
Emotionally-charged, ill-informed nationalist polemics about the national language move us away from more productive debates

The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has recently received a lot of flak from teachers and activists for Memorandum (CMO) No. 20, series of 2013 – a document that outlines the new General Education (GE) for colleges and universities.

Unfortunately, reporters and pundits have reduced this 22-page memo into a convenient sound bite. They claim it removes the mandatory teaching of Filipino/Tagalog from tertiary level curricula. Because of this simplification, people have been led to believe that the CHED has put the national language in danger. It has not. 

Let’s see what the document has to say, and consider how educational institutions can implement it. 

The memo, with the subject “General Education Curriculum: Holistic Understandings, Intellectual and Civic Competencies,” is not primarily a text about language instruction. Rather, it presents the outline of a new GE curriculum, more advanced and more interdisciplinary than ones currently in place. For instance, it mandates the teaching of courses like “The Contemporary World,” “Ethics,” and “Understanding the Self,” which depart from the discipline-based courses we have now (disclosure: I am helping design one of the CHED GE courses). Instead of, say, taking a basic Psychology class, a student will instead take the course on the “self,” which would be taught through various perspectives and disciplines. At Ateneo de Manila, we envision the course to be team-taught by psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, philosophers, and political scientists. 

As you can see, these courses are advanced. The reason why colleges can now teach these courses is a function of the K-12 adding two more years to the basic education curriculum. Because of this, many of the courses that used to be taught in college will now be taught in high school. These include courses on languages. 

CHED’s memo cannot be understood outside the context of K-12. If we are scaling back language instruction in college, it is simply because we are intensifying language instruction in basic education. Instead of a first year of college where a student takes Filipino/Tagalog units, he/she will have two more years of basic education, which will allow him/her more time to study Filipino/Tagalog. The net effect is, in fact, an increase in time and resources devoted to the study of the national language. 

As you may have already gleaned, the CHED memo does not unfairly target Filipino/Tagalog. All language instruction will be brought down to basic education, including English reading, speaking, and composition. In asking the CHED to have mandatory Filipino language instruction in the college curriculum, advocates are, in effect, calling for the outright privileging of Tagalog over English. None of them advocate returning both Tagalog and English instruction.

Losing jobs?

Most pundits have also been concerned about Filipino teachers possibly losing their jobs, while neglecting the fact that English teachers face a similar dilemma. But will Filipino teachers really lose their jobs? Not necessarily. 

Losing a course to teach is not tantamount to losing your job. Teachers teach more than one course. For example, under the new CHED GE, I will no longer be able to teach my beloved Philippine politics course, but this doesn’t mean I’ll be out of a job. Between now and 2016, I am developing Ateneo’s version of the CHED course on the contemporary world. Similarly, teachers who used to teach Filipino language may train themselves to teach the course called “Art Appreciation,” which would benefit from scholars familiar with Filipino literature and aesthetics. The rhetorical and compositional skills of Filipino teachers would also be useful for the course called “Purposive Communication/Malayuning Komunikasyon,” which, like all the other GE courses, may be taught in Tagalog. Will this retraining take time, effort, and money? Sure. The question is if it’s worth it. 

(Parenthetically, I should note that Filipino departments, while indeed getting most of their revenue from language instruction, do more than that. A great tertiary level Kagawaran ng Filipino should also be a hub for advanced literary and cultural studies.) 

Another option for tertiary-language teachers is the possibility of getting seconded by basic education units. The added two years in basic education will create an increased demand for language teachers. At this point, we may not have enough qualified teachers to staff the extra grade levels. But you can hit two birds with one stone by lending some of your college teachers to high schools under secondment systems. This will ensure that the teachers get to continue teaching their courses, while addressing the shortage of staff in basic education. Again, this is a challenge, but any big change to the system will have birthing pains.  

None of what I’ve said means we should not scrutinize or be critical of the CHED memo. I know many of my colleagues, for instance, believe in the rigors of discipline-based education and are wary of how unwieldy some of the GE courses can be. I know others who believe that courses like “Intro to the Self” could introduce dangerous, “essentialist” notions of identity (I won’t get into the academic pedantry).

We should open up this discussion and others like these. Unfortunately, emotionally-charged, ill-informed nationalist polemics about the national language move us away from more productive debates. –

Dr. Lisandro “Leloy” Claudio is a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University. He is also Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Ateneo de Manila University. 




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