English vs mother tongue as a medium of instruction
Before we discuss the so-called Gullas bill or the proposed act strengthening and enhancing the use of English as a medium of instruction, let's get a backgrounder on the state of education in the Philippines.
For every 100 children that start grade one in our country, only 65 will reach Grade 6, the others having dropped out along the way (with 18 of the dropouts occurring between Grade 1 and Grade 2). What this means is that even before these children are 12 years old, more than one third of them are essentially condemned to poverty.
That is not all. The net enrollment ratios have been steadily decreasing between 2003 and 2007, and for the Philippines, that has gone down from 90.3% to 83.2%.
The quality of that education is abysmal. Only 26% or a little over ¼ of 6th graders have a mastery of English, where mastery is defined as obtaining a score of 75% or higher in English, 31% of those students have a mastery of Math and 15% have a mastery of Science.
And if that is abysmal, that means the quality of high school education has to be the pits because only 7% of them have mastery in English. 16% have mastery in Math... 2% have mastery in Science.
Even college does not help: only 2 to 7% of college graduates who apply for positions in BPOs show English mastery, and even then, they have to undergo another three months of training to increase their competence.
This is where the Gullas bill comes in. The rationale of that bill is that if we want to have greater competence in English, and be in a position to take advantage, or compete in a globalized world, English must be used as the medium of instruction from Grade 3 onwards.
Now everyone will agree that we need greater competence in English to be competitive in a globalized world. But educators or those who have done education research will disagree that using English as the medium of instruction will accomplish that goal.
As a matter of fact, they point out that research findings are unequivocal, that to achieve greater mastery in English or Filipino, the most effective medium of instruction is in the child's mother tongue that is her first language or the language spoken at home.
Studies in country after country bear this out. Teaching in an official school language that is not the mother tongue is a major barrier in the child's learning.
In the Philippines, the experiment was conducted in Kalinga, where teachers use Kalinga to teach children from Grades 1 to 3 to read and write. It is also the medium of instruction for teaching other subjects, including Filipino and English.
Out of the 10 districts in the Kalinga division, the Lubuagan district topped the 2006 national achievement test Grade 3 reading test for both English and Filipino, with mean scores of 76.55% and 76.45 respectively, which indicates mastery. The Tinglayan district came in a far second, registered only 63.89% and 53.58%.
The Gullas bill has very good intentions. But, as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.