Philippine teachers are responding to the introduction of mother tongue based learning in the early years of schooling with a wide array of innovative strategies, according to a scoping study conducted by the Assessment, Curriculum and Technology Research Centre (ACTRC) in the College of Education at the University of the Philippines, Diliman.
‘First language first,’ or mother tongue based multilingual education (MTB-MLE), is being introduced by the Department of Education to give children the benefit of learning in their first language for the first few years of elementary school (Kindergarten to Grade 3). Included in the ACTRC study were some ‘pioneer schools’ that have been teaching in mother tongues since 2010, as well as schools in the early stages of the new program’s second year.
Phase 1 of the research, which was discussed in a curriculum forum at UP Diliman on 31 July, revealed that the rich linguistic heritage of the Philippines has provided teachers with a wide range of unique challenges. In linguistically diverse areas, where a number of different languages are spoken, teachers were observed teaching classes in all the mother tongues of their pupils and using translation and ‘code-switching,’ along with other strategies, to clarify meaning and deepen understanding.
Congressman Magtanggol T. Gunigundo attended the curriculum forum and, despite noting some disappointing results in recent assessments of teachers’ mastery of content knowledge, whole-heartedly endorsed the mother-tongue program, quipping that ‘MTB-MLE’ also stands for ‘Makes Teaching Better – Makes Learning Easier.’
Some delegates at the forum noted a difference between ‘heritage’ languages and mother tongues that may include elements of other languages. In many parts of the Philippines, where the mother tongue has never been the language of formal instruction, there is no standardised version. Schools have responded to this challenge by developing standardised versions of mother tongues which can be developed further through cooperation with other schools at the district and division levels.
The enormous challenge of producing materials for the new curriculum has meant that copies of Teacher’s Guides and Learner’s Modules have sometimes been slow to arrive at schools. The schools have responded by identifying available published material that is suitable for use in the classroom and by beginning production of their own teaching materials.
The study found that Filipino and English are widely valued for their use beyond local communities, and some parents expressed concern that mother tongue based education would be less beneficial to their children in the long term, but researchers point to many studies providing evidence that children learn second and third languages more readily when their schooling begins in their mother tongue.
The study also found that some parents have embraced the new program by donating money for the production of teaching materials and books for use in school libraries. Some have hired mother tongue-speaking tutors and helped their children with mother tongue homework. In some cases, parents have observed their children’s classes to see their mother tongue being taught and to re-engage with the language themselves.
“It’s important to recognise the work of these teachers,” said ACTRC Director Esther Care. “They have engaged in positive and creative ways with mother-tongue learning, helping to preserve and celebrate the rich language heritage of the Philippines while facilitating the early learning of their students.”