education in the Philippines

[OPINION] On the deletion of Mother Tongue in the Matatag K-10 Curriculum

Ched Arzadon

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[OPINION] On the deletion of Mother Tongue in the Matatag K-10 Curriculum

Guia Abogado/Rappler

'Unlike many politicians and economists who view languages in education as a cost and problem, educators recognize that languages and funds of knowledge...are valuable resources...'

This year’s Buwan ng Wika has generated fascinating insights into our languages. One paper highlighted the Philippines as the only country that dedicated an entire month to celebrate its national language. The Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino’s (KWF) theme this year accentuates the importance of our diverse katutubong wika. It must be noted that the national language should not be based on Tagalog alone but should evolve and be enriched by various Philippine languages.

Unfortunately, a tragic event marred the Buwan ng Wika celebration. On August 10, the Department of Education (DepEd) announced the deletion of Mother Tongue as a subject in the new Matatag K-10 Curriculum. The following day, during the Wika Seminar organized by the National Commission on Culture and the Arts, an indigenous teacher from the Cordillera region stood up and gave a lengthy lamentation. He had led the long and tedious process of developing their mother tongue’s orthography along with various educational materials, only to see the fruits of his hard work undermined (nabalewala).

His efforts mirror the experiences of teachers in various regions who have dedicated the past decade to creating children’s literature and teaching resources in their respective mother tongues. In my research, for example, I found that a school district in Benguet produced 300 storybooks in their local languages. The DepEd’s Learning Resources Management and Development System features hundreds of Mother Tongue resources that teachers have developed. More are found in local repositories. Former KWF Chair Ricardo Nolasco said: “The last decade has seen an unprecedented explosion in literacy and educational resources in our spoken and sign languages. A cultural renaissance is brewing in many parts of the country, and it is only a matter of time before this linguistic and cultural upheaval engulfs the entire nation.”

The Wika Seminar organized by NCAA underscored the crucial role of language advocates in ensuring the continued flourishing of our mother tongues to help improve learning outcomes. These champions, referred to as manananggol, were to confront the manananggal ng wika. Manananggal refers to a mythical hideous creature that devours unborn babies and sucks the blood of its victims.

The manananggal promotes the type of education that is anti-child, subtractive (instead of additive), and deficit-oriented (instead of asset-based). Unlike many politicians and economists who view languages in education as a cost and problem, educators recognize that languages and funds of knowledge that children bring to school are valuable resources that can enhance comprehension, basic literacy, and acquisition of additional languages. A classroom becomes an inclusive, safe, and joyful place when teaching builds on what the learners know. Previous initiatives that use the learner’s language (Iloilo Experiment, Lingua Franca Project, First Language Component, SIKAT, Apu Palamguwan Cultural Education Center, etc.) affirm that using the child’s language improves learning outcomes and participation rates.

Regrettably, President Bongbong Marcos, in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA), announced that his administration prefers bilingual education with English and Filipino as the sole languages of instruction. Consequently, Congressmen Roman Romulo and Mark Go also managed to pass a bill suspending the use of mother tongues in early grades. Senator Sherwin Gatchalian introduced SB 2029, which removes the mother tongue provision in the Early Years Act, which will affect all daycare centers. Political influence led DepEd Undersecretary Epimaco Densing to initiate the removal of Mother Tongue as a subject, even though the Kindergarten Act (RA 1015) and the K-12 law (RA 10533) mandating the use of the MTB-MLE Framework (not just the use of the Mother Tongue) remain unamended. Furthermore, the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act 1997 (RA 8371) states that Indigenous People learners have the right to be educated in their language.

The educators within the bureau qualified that though the Mother Tongue as a subject is gone, the instruction should be delivered in the language the learners understand the most. However, such an announcement has confused many. It also gives the impression that mother tongues are undesirable and must be eased out. Without the Mother Tongue as a subject, teachers (like the Cordilleran teacher at Wika Conference) may lose the inspiration to continue creating orthographies and mother tongue materials. Echoing Paulo Freire’s metaphor, this situation could be likened to a “vampire-like” (manananggal) system that saps the vitality of our people.  

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DepEd should manage the confusion and misunderstandings brought about by the initial announcements, especially since the decongested Matatag Curriculum can potentially improve learning outcomes. DepEd should also provide training for teachers on using the child’s first language (L1) to improve comprehension. Most teachers think that the L1 is used only for back-translating. However, recent pedagogical practices on providing “Primary Language Support” include many scaffolding techniques like differentiation, Preview-View-Review (PRV), pairing/grouping, self-talk, gesturing, etc.  

Secretary Sara Duterte of DepEd is candid in acknowledging her non-educator status and her need for the expertise of learning experts within the bureau. I still have to hear the manananggal ng wika in Congress admit such a need. Remarkably, despite a unanimous consensus from learning experts advocating for the continued integration of L1 in education, these policymakers tenaciously cling to their non-expert viewpoints on pedagogical delivery.

Throughout history, teachers have been known to be the most dutiful and compliant. However, with the current subtractive stance of policymakers, teachers and education leaders are morally obliged to assert their teacher agency and persuade policymakers about the right path to take. They should remember that the Teacher Code of Ethics designates teachers as the manananggol or defenders of cultural and educational heritage. They are duty-bound to facilitate the transfer of this heritage to learners. They are to uphold the highest standards of quality education and prioritize the welfare of their students. –

Ched Arzadon is an Associate Professor, College of Education, UP Diliman.

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