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What is The Best Medium of Instruction for Philippine Schools?

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This paper provides a practical guide in answering the unresolved question “What is the best medium of instruction” for Philippine schools?” The first part would discuss the second Marcos administration’s language policy and how it departs from the Philippine Constitution’s official language policy. The second part argues that while the Mother Tongue Based-Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) is a good compromise policy given the country’s multilingual, multicultural, and neocolonial status, its haphazard implementation has not (yet) delivered on its promises. The third part provides a deconstruction of myths surrounding various Philippine administrations’ and some education sector professionals’ and bureaucrats’ obsession with maintaining English as either the sole or main medium of instruction despite the fact that such policy goes against the Philippine Constitution’s official language provisions. The fourth part provides an alternative language policy (functional multilingualism), which may not be ideal, but could be a working compromise that would satisfy both national language advocates, MTB-MLE advocates, and foreign language enthusiasts too.
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What is The Best Medium of Instruction for Philippine Schools?1
This paper provides a practical guide in answering the unresolved question “What is the
best medium of instruction” for Philippine schools?” The first part would discuss the
second Marcos administration’s language policy and how it departs from the Philippine
Constitution’s official language policy. The second part argues that while the Mother
Tongue Based-Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) is a good compromise policy given the
country’s multilingual, multicultural, and neocolonial status, its haphazard implementation
has not (yet) delivered on its promises. The third part provides a deconstruction of myths
surrounding various Philippine administrations’ and some education sector professionals’
and bureaucrats’ obsession with maintaining English as either the sole or main medium
of instruction despite the fact that such policy goes against the Philippine Constitution’s
official language provisions. The fourth part provides an alternative language policy,
which may not be ideal, but could be a working compromise that would satisfy both
national language advocates, MTB-MLE advocates, and foreign language enthusiasts
Marcosian Language Policy: Better English Language Skills for Better Overseas
In his inaugural speech, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. outlined the second Marcos
administration’s language policy: “What we teach in our schools, the materials used, must
be rethought. I am not talking about history. I’m talking about the basics, the sciences,
sharpening theoretical aptitude and imparting vocational skills such as in the German
example. Alongside the National Language; with equal emphasis and facility in a
global language; which we had and lost. Let us give OFWs all the advantages we
can for them to survive and to thrive.2” He adds: “Our teachers from elementary up are
our heroes fighting ignorance with poor paper weapons. We are condemning the future
of our race to menial occupations abroad. Then they are exploited by traffickers. Once
we had an education system that prepared coming generations for more and better
jobs...”. It is unavoidable to digress from our main topic, for a moment, to emphasize that
the reason why we have millions of Filipinos trapped in “menial occupations abroad” is
Marcos Sr.’s Labor Export Policy (LEP) which all post-EDSA I administrations also
retained and even expanded (San Juan, 2014a).
Taken together, these two portions of his inaugural speech would want to emphasize that
his administration intends to treat the national language, Filipino, and English as equals,
1Written by David Michael M. San Juan [Full Professor at De La Salle University-Manila and Fellow at the Southeast
Asia Research Center & Hub (SEARCH) in the same university; convener of Tanggol Wika; convener of Professionals
for a Progressive Economy (PPE) and Bantay Lehislatura/Legislative Watch; served as an ACT Teachers Partylist
nominee in the 2016, 2019, and 2022 elections; President of Pambansang Samahan sa Linggwistika at Literaturang
Filipino; Former vice head of the National Committee on Language and Translation under the National Commission
for Culture and the Arts; Associate Member of Division I (Governmental, Educational and International Policies) of
the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP).]
2All emphases in the whole paper are supplied.
but they would want to focus on the improvement of English language teaching (the
“global language”) to “give OFWs all the advantages,” so that future generations of
Filipinos could land in better-paying jobs (with better working conditions too) abroad, away
from “menial occupations.”
However, an earlier and equally important interview with Marcos Jr. reveals his
administration’s pro-English slant. Language advocacy group Tanggol Wika (2022)
transcribed and analyzed the relevant snippet from the said interview which originally
appeared in Manila Bulletin’s YouTube: Reporter: ‘…According to VP elect Sara Duterte,
napag-usapan n’yo daw po na rebyuhin yung K to 12 program. Sir, can we get more
details ano yung naging instruction po n’yo…’ (‘...According to VP elect Sara Duterte, you
supposedly discussed reviewing the K to 12 program. Sir, can we get more details on
what was your instruction...’) BBM: ‘I don’t want to pre-empt the VP Secretary…We did
talk about that…Without getting into too much detail about what the plans are…Ang
pinag-usapan lang namin basta’t pagandahin…There was also the question of when we
start to teach in English, when we move from the lingua franca to English? Yung K to 12
kung kailangan ba talaga yung K to 12?…’ (‘I don’t want to pre-empt the VP
Secretary…We did talk about that…Without getting into too much detail about what the
plans are…What we discussed is to ensure that we make it better…There was also the
question of when we start to teach in English, when we move from the lingua franca to
English? If we really need the K to 12? system…’).”
Marcosian Language Policy vis-à-vis The Philippine Constitution’s Official
Language Policy
The second segment of Article XIV, Section 6 of the Philippine Constitution prescribes a
mandate for Government thru Congress to “take steps to initiate and sustain the use of
Filipino as a medium of official communication and as language of instruction in the
educational system.” During the 13th and 14th Congress, then Gabriela Partylist Rep. Liza
Maza filed House Bill 1563 (July 21, 2004) and House Bill 1138 (July 16, 2007) – both
entitled Batas na Nagtatakda ng Filipino Bilang Opisyal na Wika ng Pagtuturo sa
Mga Paaralan (An Act Mandating Filipino as Official Medium of Instruction in
Schools). Unfortunately, these House bills did not gain much ground despite their
adherence to the constitutional mandate for Congress to legislate steps that would
“initiate and sustain the use of Filipino” as medium of official communication and as
language of instruction in the educational system. Section 7 from the same constitutional
article points out that while Filipino and English are both official languages of
communication and instruction, English can be demoted thru legislation: “For purposes
of communication and instruction, the official languages of the Philippines are Filipino
and, until otherwise provided by law, English.”
With regard to expressly demoting English, no bill has been filed as of this writing.
Contrary to the letter, spirit, and intent of the Philippine Constitution, various legislators
and at least one president have even attempted to legislate English as the primary or sole
medium of instruction and thereby further relegate Filipino and other Philippine languages
into the sidelines (for relevant perspectives on the infamously pro-English “Gullas bill” and
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Executive Order/EO No. 210 & House Bill 5091, see
Pambansang Komite sa Wika at Salin/National Committee on Language and Translation,
2005; Dulay, c.2005; Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino/Commission on the Filipino Language,
2007; Lumbera, 2007; Abad, 2007; Alamon, 2007; Bautista et al., 2010; Campoamor,
2007 & 2013; San Juan, 2020a, 2020b, & 2020c, Santos, 2020).
The second segment of Article XIV, Section 7, meanwhile, points out that “(t)he regional
languages are the auxiliary official languages in the regions and shall serve as
auxiliary media of instruction therein.” On this regard, it must be pointed out that the
noble intentions of the Philippines’ Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTB-
MLE), such policy seemingly directly contravenes the Philippine Constitution which states
the regional languages are “auxiliary media of instruction” NOT primary media of
instruction as what MTB-MLE does (or intends to) implement. However, in a decision
dated October 09, 2018 (in G.R. No. 216930 and other related cases) which became final
on March 5, 2019, the Supreme Court contends that “(a) closer look at the pertinent
provisions of the Constitution and the deliberations of the Constitutional Commission
reveal the contrary. In fine, there is no conflict between the use of the MT (mother tongue)
as a primary medium of instruction and Section 7, Article XIV of the 1987 Philippine
A further close reading of the deliberations of the Constitutional Commission/ConCom
(1986) reveals that the Philippines has three official medium of instruction, but, in the case
of English such status is meant to be temporary and transitional until such time that the
country’s educational system is able to use local languages as media of instruction:
“MR. SUAREZ: May we seek further clarification on the various statements provoked by
the questions and inquiries of Commissioners Davide and Monsod? As it is now
formulated, there will be practically three media of instruction: one is Filipino and
which I assume is the principal; second would be English as a second official
language of instruction, although in an implied manner; and the third which takes
the form or character of an auxiliary medium of instruction would be the regional
language. Is my understanding correct?
MR. SUAREZ: And this would apply only to the regions, for example, in Region I. In the
Ilocos region, therefore, there will practically be three media of instructions: Filipino,
English and Ilocano. Is what I have in mind the idea of the committee?
MR. BENNAGEN: No. may I answer that?
THE PRESIDENT: Commissioner Bennagen may proceed.
MR. BENNAGEN: Something like this can take place from Grade I up to probably Grade
IV which is equivalent to the primary level. The regional language may be the primary
language and Filipino or English is the auxiliary medium, and at this point English
can be taught as a subject in school. And then beyond that as the language
develops, the national language can take over, with English still offered as a
subject but with some variations. There might be possibilities also where Filipino
already becomes the primary language with the regional language as auxiliary and
English as a subject, until such time again as the capabilities of the regions or the
schools change.”
Another segment of the ConCom’s deliberations (1986) reiterated that Filipino as the
national language has the “first preference” in our education system, while English is
only being maintained as a “second language”:
“MR. PADILLA: The only reason I am saying this is to make clear in the Constitution that
the medium of communication and the language of instruction are not only Filipino as a
national language, and that the medium of instruction is the regional languages,
otherwise, there would be no mention of English. I believe that we are all agreed that
the first preference is the national language, Filipino, but it does not prevent the
use of English and also of the regional languages.
MR. VILLACORTA: Madam President, during the interpellation it was read into the
record that the committee contemplates on English to be maintained as a second
In another part of the ConCom’s deliberations (1986), Commissioner Wilfrido Villacorta
again reiterated that English is only a second language, while Filipino is institutionalized
and protected as the country’s first official language of communication and of instruction:
MR. MONSOD: I would like to propose that in the first sentence we insert the words, “FOR
“Philippines” and “are” so that it will now read: “The official languages of the Philippines,
until otherwise provided by law.” May I explain?
THE PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Azcuna): Please proceed.
MR. MONSOD: We are mentioning this in order to reflect the intent and answers of the
committee in Section 1. Since we are now mentioning regional languages as an auxiliary
official language and in the context of a medium of instruction, it is better to clarify that
until otherwise provided by law both Filipino and English are recognized as media of
instruction and communication which is what the committee gave in answer to the
clarificatory questions on Section 1.
MR. VILLACORTA: Mr. Presiding Officer, the committee regrets that it cannot accept the
amendment and would like to ask for a vote on that proposed amendment.
THE PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Azcuna): What does Commissioner Monsod say?
MR. VILLACORTA: The reason the committee is not accepting it is that it actually delimits
the concept of official language, and number two, it has already been made clear that
English will continue to be a second language and there is no necessity for making
it much clearer in the Constitution.
MR. MONSOD: As a matter of fact, the reason I am proposing this is precisely because
there seems to have been some doubt as to the role of English until after we had to clarify.
Secondly, I do not know if there is any other purpose than communication and instruction.
So, when we say for purpose of communication and instruction,” then we are removing
any confusion and doubt and anybody who reads our Constitution immediately sees the
intent of the Constitution and does not need to look into the Journal.
MR. VILLACORTA: Mr. Presiding Officer, the other reason we feel this is not necessary
is that in our society now, what needs greater protection and more
constitutionalization is not English but Filipino which is in a very weak state right
now. English can fend for itself...
In another exchange, the ConCom’s deliberations (1986) shed light on the origins of the
constitutional provision that allows Congress to demote the status of English in the
“MR. OPLE: What bothers me, and maybe a few others associated with the first
amendment in Section 1, is that after giving Filipino the pride of place in the preceding
section, are we now establishing a symmetry for Filipino and English in the subsequent
MR. MONSOD: No, Mr. Presiding Officer, I think the intent is quite clear. I was wondering
whether Commissioner Romulo was suggesting a transposition in order to obviate the
possible misinterpretation being raised by Commissioner Davide. We can say that the
official languages of the Philippines are Filipino and English until otherwise
provided by law. And then, we can have a second sentence which says: “English
shall be maintained as a medium of communication and instruction, until otherwise
provided by law.” That will make it clearer so that English is the only one that is
subject to the provision of law and not Filipino. Does that answer the Gentleman?
MR. OPLE: Mr. Presiding Officer, in that formulation, there is no symmetry because
Filipino still ranks higher than English. Is that correct?
MR. MONSOD: Yes, because that is the intent and the letter of Section 1.
MR. OPLE: Thank you, Mr. Presiding Officer.”
Meanwhile, the following segments of the ConCom’s deliberations (1986) show how the
constitution’s framers arrive at the current language provisions which essentially grants
English a status as secondary language of communication and instruction until such time
when Congress is able to legislate a law that demotes it, based on the educational
system’s capability to use local languages as main media of instruction, eventually:
“MR. NOLLEDO: Thank you, Mr. Presiding Officer. I do not find any inconsistency,
because if we look at the first and the second parts, the first part also subjects the
development of Filipino as national language to the existing provisions of the law or to the
will of Congress. Here we are making it clear that we consider Filipino as an official
language, but we cannot deny that at present English is still being used as a
medium of instruction. That is why we separated English from Filipino, in the sense
there is some sort of transitional character but both sentences, Mr. Presiding Officer
and members of the committee, are consistent with each other.
MR. TREÑAS: Mr. Presiding Officer.
THE PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Azcuna): Commissioner Treñas is recognized.
MR. TREÑAS: Mr. Presiding Officer, we adopt and echo the arguments of
Commissioner Nolledo that there is no inconsistency between the formulation of
Section 1, which we have already approved, and the formulation of Section 2 as
proposed by Commissioner Monsod.
MR. MONSOD: Which one, Mr. Presiding Officer?
MR. TREÑAS: The last as formulated by Commissioner Azcuna and stated just now by
the chairman of our committee.
THE PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Azcuna): The committee has accepted, as
counterproposal, Commissioner Monsod’s proposed amendment to read as
OTHERWISE PROVIDED BY LAW, ENGLISH.” Is Commissioner Monsod agreeable to
such counterproposal of the committee?
...MR. MONSOD: With the instruction to the Committee on Style, I am accepting the
proposal of the committee.”
The aforementioned review of ConCom deliberations is necessary to establish that,
regardless of various Philippine administrations’ penchant to promote English (the second
Marcos administration included), rather than Filipino and other Philippine languages, the
letter, intent, and spirit of the Philippine Constitution are clear: Filipino and other Philippine
languages are and should be the official primary media of instruction, while English is
only to be maintained as secondary medium of instruction until such time when our
national language and our other languages are developed enough to be used as the only
media of instruction, though of course, English will still be taught as a subject. Moreover,
it is also clear that the framers of the Philippine Constitution in the words of
Commissioner Ponciano Bennagen envisions a future where the national language
“already becomes the primary language with the regional language as auxiliary and
English as a subject, until such time again as the capabilities of the regions or the schools
change.” Strengthening the Filipino language is an imperative within the country’s
neocolonial, multilingual, and multicultural context for which developing, nurturing, and
solidifying a strong national language for social cohesion at the very least, and to achieve
the country’s cultural, economic, and political emancipation at best, is necessary
(Constantino, 1970; Villacorta, 1991; Atienza, 1998; Maceda, c.2003; Flores, 2015;
Guillermo, 2016; San Juan, 2020c). The progressive potentials of a national language for
social cohesion and socio-political emancipation is recently further highlighted by the
young lumad’s (indigenous people in Mindanao) embrace of Filipino language as a way
to “shape nationalist, pro-people, and scientific education” (Dumapit, 2017) that unites
and mobilizes the Filipino people for the country’s socio-economic transformation.
Hence, if only the Philippine Constitution will be followed and implemented, there should
be no debate on the status of English which should be retained only as a subject in all
levels of education, while at the same time being increasingly shelved out as in favor of
Filipino and other Philippine languages. It is expected that, “...gradually, the domains of
Filipino are to expand in our social lives and in our education system, so that as Filipino
expands its domains, English at the same time will contract its domains. To adapt a
Biblical phrase, Filipino must increase and English must decrease(Gonzalez, 1988). The
government should be also reminded that the Constitution’s language provisions does
not mention anything about “global competitiveness” or “labor export policy” or prioritizing
a “global language” so that we can export more Filipino workers overseas.
Gaps of and Recommendations for MTB-MLE
As discussed above, MTB-MLE is constitutional but its implementation is riddled with
problems which should be resolved for it to really succeed and contribute to improving
the country’s over-all quality of education. This researcher wrote a position paper on K to
12 and MTB-MLE which was adopted by Tanggol Wika, Pambansang Samahan sa
Linggwistika at Literaturang Filipino/National Organization of Philippine Linguistics and
Literature (PSLLF) and Propesyunal na Asosasyon ng Mga Tagapagtaguyod ng
Salin/Professional Association of Translation Advocates/PATAS (2021). The said position
paper provides lists some basic weaknesses of the MTB-MLE: 1) it is impossible to use
every language in the Philippines as a medium of instruction at school, hence there will
always be disenfranchisement in any situation; 2) there is a dearth in high-quality
instructional materials for MTB-MLE; 3) many MTB-MLE teachers lack ample training on
using the mother tongue as medium of instruction; 4) choosing a mother tongue within
the multilingual context of the Philippines is very difficult for some communities/regions.
Existing studies that also tackled related gaps in the implementation of MTB-MLE
(Fillmore, 2011; Aliñab et al., 2018; Metilla, 2018; Melchor, c.2018; Amparo, 2020; Monje
et al., 2020; Tenorio, 2022) are enough to prove that MTB-MLE’s implementation is not
(yet) successful. At least for some private schools where rich and middle class families
enroll their children, the real possibility of choosing English as a medium of instruction is
an additional problem. Nevertheless, it must be pointed out that according to official
statistics, English-speaking households in the country are not even 0.1% of the population
(San Juan, 2014b).
In response to the identified gaps in the implementation of K to12, at least six requisites
must be fulfilled: 1) adopting of a clear guideline on how to choose the dominant mother
tongue for every class or region; 2) resolving the gaps in the quality and quantity of MTB-
MLE instructional materials through decentralized production; 3) continuously training
teachers for the effective implementation of MTB-MLE; 4) reducing teachers’ non-
teaching tasks and deloading teachers in exchange for training in the production of
materials for MLE; 5) regularly evaluating MTB-MLE at the local and national levels
through a bottom-up approach; 6) increasing teachers’ salaries to boost teachers’ morale
and attract more talented teachers into public service; and 7) increasing public
expenditures for education (at least 6% of the GDP) to fund the aforementioned policy
actions. Past studies show MTB-MLE can be effective in contexts where its
implementation is supported by the community (Walter and Dekker, 2011; Burton, 2013;
Parba, 2018; ). There are ample “successful strategies” available which schools have
“used in addressing the challenges of implementing MTB-MLE” (Williams et al, 2014).
Supplementary “(t)raining for teachers to effectively manage transition” and “integration
of MTB-MLE concepts to the Professional Education courses in teacher education
institutions” are also recommended (Abrea et al., 2020), to ensure that future teachers
would be more capable of implementing this program.
Deconstructing Myths on MTB-MLE, English, and Filipino
To further convince policymakers that an alternative to an English-dominated education
system is possible and practical in the Philippines, it is necessary to deconstruct some
myths surrounding various Philippine administrations’ and some education sector
professionals’ and bureaucrats’ obsession with maintaining English as either the sole or
main medium of instruction – to the detriment of Filipino and other Philippine languages
despite the fact that such policy goes against the Philippine Constitution’s official
language provisions.
Myth No. 1: MTB-MLE and Filipino Language Teaching Eroded Students’ English
Language Competence, and Comprehension of Science and Mathematics
Propagators of this myth can’t cite any study to back their claim, because data shows that
contrary to their claims, Filipino students’ competencies in English, Science, and Math
have been subpar (not good) for many years now even before the full-blast
implementation of MTB-MLE (see figures summarizing past National Achievement
Test/NAT below).
The 2013-2017 countrywide NAT results – which the researcher was able to access via
concerned informants (and which are still not publicly available in DepEd’s archives as of
this writing) – are presented in this paper. In Figures 1-6 most of the results show that
the highest national mean percentage score (MPS) is for Filipino, followed by Araling
Panlipunan or Social Science (which is usually taught in Filipino) and the national MPS
for English, Science, and Mathematics are generally lower than the MPS for Filipino and
Araling Panlipunan too. Figures 7 and 8 that the MPS for all subjects covered by the
NAT has been deteriorating, and the MPS for Filipino is also higher than the rest of the
subjects in most years. Figures 9 and 10 (culled from Reyes et al., 2019) show that
trends of higher scores for Filipino than the rest of subjects in 2017 were somehow
replicated in the trends of 2018.
Figure 1. 2017 NAT Results (Grade 6)
Figure 2. 2017 NAT Frequency Distribution by Proficiency Levels (Grade 6)
Figure 3. 2017 NAT Results (Grade 10)
Figure 4. 2017 NAT Frequency Distribution by Proficiency Levels (Grade 10)
Figure 5. 2017 NAT Results by 21st Century Skills (Grade 6)
Figure 6. 2017 NAT Results by 21st Century Skills (Grade 10)
Figure 7. Four-Year Trend of NAT Results (Grade 6)
Figure 8. Four-Year Trend of NAT Results (Grade 10)
Figure 9. 2017-2018 NAT Results in MPS (Grade 6)
Figure 10. 2017-2018 NAT Results in MPS (Grade 10)
Simply put, Filipino can’t be blamed for the low scores in Math and Science because
English is the typical medium of instruction for these subjects from Grades 4 onwards
under the K to 12 curricula and almost in all levels under the old system.
The researcher filed a Freedom of Information/FOI request for the most recent NAT
results from the Department of Education on May 24, 2022 but as of this writing, no further
update has been provided by the agency, other than a correspondence on June 1, 2022
which informed him that the request was “forwarded to the Bureau of Education
Assessment (BEA)... for information and appropriate action.” Nevertheless, a more recent
media report quoted the Department of Education/DepEd secretary as saying that the
students’ NAT performance for 2019 “‘gravitates towards the low proficiency levels’
especially in Science, Math and English” (Hernando-Malipot, 2019), seemingly implying
that students’ performance in Filipino is possibly better or at least not as bad as that for
the other subjects, mirroring past trends discussed above.
Myth No. 2: English Should Be The Medium of Instruction for Science and
This is possibly the most illogical and baseless myths among related myths. As shown in
NAT figures above, the MPS for Filipino beats the MPS for English in most years and
aspects (see Figures 7 to 10). Insisting on imposing English as the medium of instruction
for Science and Mathematics – despite the lower students’ scores for English compared
with Filipino expectedly leads to generally low scores for Math and Science too. Most
education sector stakeholders are certainly aware of the Programme for International
Student Assessment (PISA) 2018 results that sadly relegated our 15-year olds to the
bottom heap with regard to scores in Reading, Mathematics and Science. The OECD
report for PISA 2018 results (Besa, 2018) explains why our students scored badly:
“expenditure per student in the Philippines was the lowest amongst all PISA-participating
countries/economies…Some 94% of 15-year-old students in the Philippines speak a
language other than the test language (i.e. English) at home most of the time.” PISA
organizers allow countries to use non-English versions of the test yet Philippine
authorities insist on testing students in English. Most countries/territories in East and
Southeast Asia used non-English versions of the PISA tests (see Table 1) and they
all outranked the Philippines. Many countries in the top 20 of PISA rankings used
non-English versions of the PISA tests (Table 2), and they also outranked the
Simply put, aside from insufficient funds for public education, the government’s perennial
obsession with the forced use of English in education it to blame for the current mess we
are in. International and local standardized tests show that many of our students have
insufficient competence in using English in academic settings, yet our government insists
on using it as medium of instruction and as language of assessment/testing too. Hence,
Marcos’ plan to double down on this stupid policy of maintaining (rather than progressively
supplanting) English as the official medium of instruction in Philippine schools should be
shelved out, if we are to have any slight chance of improving the quality of education in
the country.
At this point, those who are tempted to insist that we can still use English as our sole
medium of instruction because Singapore – that ranks high in PISA 2018 – uses English
too. It must be pointed out that Singapore has no choice but to use a global language for
its education system to maintain harmony among its multiracial communities, and as a
Harvard-trained economist implies, Singapore has no choice but to be a “parking space”
for transnational capital (Lichauco, 1988) because it lacks ample natural resources and
lacks enough local citizens to maintain its economy without migrants. As of 2021,
Singapore has 1,200,400 foreign workers (Ministry of Manpower, 2021). Hence, using
English is a necessity for the Singaporean situation which differs from the Philippine
context: a resource-rich and very populous archipelago with a strong base for the
development of a domestic market. Granted for the sake of argument that the Philippines
have enough basis to ape Singapore’s English-dominated education system, merely
imposing English on schools will not suffice. We must bear in mind that Singapore’s
teachers are paid and treated well, and their system benefits from huge public
expenditures for education and relatively better spending for Research & Development
(R&D) too, policies which the Philippines actually needs to adopt as soon as possible,
regardless of our language of instruction. Many countries in the top 20 of the PISA 2018
rankings are members of the OECD, meaning, they are relatively well-off, developed
countries. In 2017, “OECD countries spend an average of US $ 10,000 per student per
year from primary to tertiary education” (OECD, n.d.) while based on the author’s
estimates (through data culled from Geronimo, 2017; Commission on Higher
Education/CHED, 2017; Department of Education/DepEd, 2022), the Philippines’ annual
per capita spending for each student is only 32,140.47 pesos or merely US$ 583.58.
Table 1. Languages That East and Southeast Asian Countries/Territories Used for PISA 2018
Brunei Yes No
Indonesia No Indonesian
Malaysia Yes Malay
Philippines Yes No
Singapore Yes No
Thailand No Thai
China No Chinese
Hong Kong No Chinese
Japan No Japanese
Macau Yes Chinese
South Korea No Korean
Taiwan No Chinese
Note. The current researcher tallied information from Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development/OECD (2018) to produce this table.
Table 2. Languages That Top 20 Countries/Territories Used for PISA 2018 Tests
China No Chinese
Singapore Yes No
Macau Yes Chinese
Hong Kong No Chinese
Estonia No Estonian
Canada Yes French
Finland No Finnish
Ireland Yes Irish
Korea No Korean
Poland No Polish
Sweden Yes Swedish
New Zealand Yes No
United States Yes No
United Kingdom Yes Welsh
Japan No Japanese
Australia Yes No
Taiwan No Chinese
Denmark No Danish
Norway No Bokmål
Germany No German
Note. The current researcher tallied information from Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development/OECD (2018) to produce this table.
Dismal Philippine standing in the TIMSS 2019 International Results in Mathematics and
Science where the country ranked last (among 58 countries) in Mathematics-Fourth
Grade and also last in Science-Fourth Grade, both in average scale scores (TIMSS &
PIRLS International Study Center, 2021) tells the same story. The Philippines used
English for the TIMSS (Ebbs et al., 2019), despite the fact that its organizers allow
countries to use translations if they so wish to (see Table 3).
Table 3. Language Used for the TIMSS by Top 20 Countries in the TIMSS 2019 (Mathematics-Grade
Language Used for
Singapore English
Hong Kong SAR English
Traditional Chinese
South Korea Korean
Chinese Taipei Traditional Chinese
Japan Japanese
Russian Federation Russian
Northern Ireland English
England English
Ireland English
Latvia Latvian
Norway Bokmål
Lithuania Lithuanian
Austria German
Netherlands Dutch
United States English
Czech Republic Czech
Belgium Dutch
Cyprus Greek
Finland Finnish
Portugal & Denmark
Portuguese &
Note. The current researcher tallied information from Ebbs et al. (2018) to produce this table.
Myth No. 2: Achieving Mastery of the English Language Requires Using It as A
Medium of Instruction
There are only 13 countries with “very high proficiency in English” (Table 4) and, most of
these countries don’t use English as their main medium of instruction. Their experience
tells us that what we can be both very good in our mother tongues and also in English, if
we have a full mastery of our mother tongues which we can use as a strong springboard
to study not only English but also other Philippine languages and other foreign languages
as well. Unlike in the Philippines where English is taught as a subject and is maintained
as the sole medium of instruction for Science and Mathematics (and other related fields)
from Grade 4 onwards and for almost all subjects in higher education, most of these
countries teach English only as a subject and they rarely use it as medium of instruction
(or it is just a secondary medium of instruction in some cases). Yes, as their experiences
prove, we can just retain English as a subject without using it as a medium, and we can
still acquire a full mastery of it.
Table 4. Countries with Very High Proficiency in English (in the Education First/EF English
Proficiency Index 2021) and Their Main Medium of Instruction
Medium of Instruction
Netherlands Dutch
Austria German
Denmark Danish
Singapore English
Norway Norwegian
Belgium Flemish, French, or German
Portugal Portuguese
Sweden Swedish
Finland Finnish or Swedish
Croatia Croatian
Germany German
South Africa English and Afrikaans
Luxembourg German and French
Note. Information per country is from the following sources: Ministry of Higher Education and Science
(2022); Nuffic (n.d.); Pang (2007); Nuffic (2015); Expats in Brussels (2022); Marôco (2015); Toth (2018);
City of Helsinki (n.d.); Palekčić et al. (2015); Federal Ministry of Education and Research (2022); Beukes
(2014); The Government of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (n.d.).
Myth No. 3: An English Language-Dominated Curriculum is Necessary to Attract
Billions of Foreign Investments
Another baseless myth which many education sector bureaucrats and professionals
believe. Clearly, there’s no correlation between speaking English and attracting foreign
investments. For example, as Figure 11 shows, while the Philippines have more foreign
direct investments (FDI) inflows compared with FDI inflows of Thailand and Malaysia, the
Philippines have less FDI inflows than Indonesia and Vietnam. In 2020, Indonesia reaped
US $ 19.18 of FDI, Vietnam got US $ 15.8 billion while the Philippines received a pitiful
US $ 6.82 billion. If we put the East Asian FDI magnets (China, Japan, and South Korea),
all Southeast Asian countries’ FDI inflows would not be that visible in the figure. Like
Indonesia and Malaysia, China, Japan, and South Korea are all non-English speaking
countries and they all attracted way more FDI that our country does. An English-speaking
country’s official website explains why foreign investors are not so interested in the
Philippines even if its education system is English-dominated: “...corruption and high
cost of utilities continue to keep foreign investments significantly lower than
regional peers...Human rights groups have expressed concerns in the Philippines
about: the number of killings allegedly committed by security forces and vigilantes in
relation to the campaign against illegal drugs; calls to bring back the death penalty; an
overburdened criminal justice system; overcrowded prisons; and red-tagging (labelling
individuals as communist terrorists) and threats of violence against journalists, human
rights defenders and land rights defenders. Furthermore, human rights abuses have also
been reported in the extractive industries, power generation, agribusiness, real estate and
tourism” (United Kingdom/UK Government, 2021).
Figure 11. Foreign direct investment, net inflows (BoP, current US$) - Philippines, Thailand,
Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam
Note. From the World Bank (2020).
To be fair, it is true that our English language skills also attract some investors, especially
on the BPO sector, but even then, we should bear in mind not all BPOs require English
language skills. There are also BPOs that cater to non-English speakers. Moreover,
advocates of the BPO sector should not worry much because under K to 12, the Philippine
government has already included related senior high school courses for citizens who
would like to become BPO employees. For example, a big network of private schools
boasts that their “graduates receive job offers with competitive starting salaries within 120
days after graduating from Senior High School. Most of the offers are from our partner
organizations in the field of BPO, Fast Food, Retail, and Manufacturing” (APEC Schools,
n.d.). A government-funded app Learning English Application for Pinoys (LEAP) was also
recently developed to further enhance would-be BPO employees’ English skills
(Department of Science and Technology, n.d.; Sunstar, 2017). Hence, there is no need
to reorient the whole education system just to align it with the BPO sector’s needs.
Myth No. 4: We Should Stop Teaching Filipino as Subject and Using it as a Medium
Because Filipinos Already Have a Mastery of the National Language
This is simply not true. As NAT results show (Figure 2 and 4), we still have tens of
thousands of students who are not proficient or only low proficient in using Filipino.
Granted for the sake of argument that 100% of our students are already very proficient in
Filipino based on NAT results, teaching Filipino as a subject matter from elementary to
college/university level is still a must, especially if we want to be successful in
implementing a language policy that prioritizes the national language as a medium of
instruction in higher levels of education as what the framers of our Constitution
envisioned. Language learning does not stop even beyond the classroom. Language is
evolving as it is dynamic, hence constant study is necessary and constant use of the
language in both academic and non-academic settings is imperative if we do not want to
lose our language.
Myth No. 5: If We Don’t Use English as Medium of Instruction, Tourists Will Not
Come to the Philippines
This multi-layered myth is as bad as the rest. One, it assumes that tourism is our only
economic lifesaver and that it must be prioritized at all cost. If that is the case, we’re
doomed, because we’re stillf in the midst of a pandemic and hence, international tourism
is yet to recover from its pre-pandemic heydays. Two, this myth assumes that tourists
come to the Philippines because of our supposed English language skills. They come
here because of our beaches, our mountains, our good food, our warm welcome, and
especially because we’re a relatively cheaper destination for low-income and middle-
class tourists from the First World. Three, plenty of non-English speaking countries beat
the Philippines with regard to the number of tourist arrivals. According to World Population
Review (2022), the “top 10 Countries most popular with tourists (by number of 2019 visitor
arrivals)” are as follows: France - 90.0 million; Spain - 83.7 million; United States - 79.3
million; China - 65.7 million; Italy - 64.5 million; Turkey - 51.2 million; Mexico - 45.0 million;
Thailand - 39.8 million; Germany - 39.6 million; and the United Kingdom - 39.4 million.
Only 2 of these countries speak English everyday, while other countries are very proud
of their own non-English languages. Finally, we all know there are also non-English
speaking tourists because aside from English, there are other languages spoken widely
(see Lane, 2021; Ang, 2020).
Alternative Language Policy: Functional Multilingualism
In view of the foregoing discussions, I propose functional multilingualism as a compromise
language policy that is true to the spirit of the Constitution but at the same time recognizes
that our particular situation now calls for a creative solution.
MTB-MLE can be retained in Grades 1-3, considering that we have already poured
resources in this program, and considering that its intent is clearly in accordance with the
Constitution’s directive to ensure that our local languages will remain robust and vibrant
in our communities. Such strong foundation in the mother tongue would enable our
students to swiftly learn Filipino and then English, and eventually, even other foreign
languages too. In the short-term, the Bilingual Education Policy (BEP) from Grades 4 to
12 should be retained. Under such policy, English will be used as medium for Science
and Mathematics, while Filipino will be used for Social Sciences and other subjects. In
the long-term, our policymakers should engineer a subtle shift away from English, by
providing funding for the mass production and mass translation of materials that would
enable Filipino to be an effective medium of instruction beyond the Social Sciences.
We won’t start at square one, as institutions such as the University of the Philippines’
Sentro ng Wikang Filipino and agencies such as the Komisyon sa Wikang
Filipino/Commission on the Filipino Language have already produced many model
instructional materials on various fields and disciplines (; For doubters on what the Filipino language is
capable of, look at what Indonesia and Malaysia was able to achieve with Bahasa in just
20-30 years. Their national languages are younger than Filipino, yet they were able to
use and intellectualize it in just 20-30 years because of strong government support and
multisectoral unity for their languages (Alisjahbana, 1976; Abas, 1987; Constantino, 1991;
Gonzalez, 2022). The way their people embraced their languages as a badge of honor,
as a marker of collective identity is a lesson that we should really learn now. Bahasa is a
“close relative” of almost all Philippine languages (with the obvious exception of
Chabacano), hence, Indonesia’s and Malaysia’s experience can be directly replicated in
the Philippines.
For tertiary education, the current General Education (GE) Curriculum in CHED
Memorandum Order (CMO) No. 20, Series of 2013 allows teachers to choose either
English or Filipino as medium of instruction for GE subjects – which is somehow laudable
though not good enough. The said GE curriculum currently includes a mandatory 3-unit
course on Purposive Communication (which most universities offer in English, and was
actually originally designed as an English language syllabus), while Filipino and
Panitikan/LIterature subjects are yet to restored as mandatory core courses in the GE
Financial support and official encouragement for the Filipinization of the medium of the
whole GE curriculum (which CMO No. 20 rhetorically promoted) must be boosted.
Furthermore, Congress should immediately pass House Bill 564 (Batas na Nagtatakda
ng Hindi Bababa sa Siyam (9) na Yunit ng Asignaturang Filipino at Tatlong (3) Yunit ng
Asignaturang Panitikan sa Kurikulum ng Kolehiyo/An Act Mandating Not Less Than 9
Units of Filipino Language and 3 Units of Panitikan/Literature Subjects in the College
Curriculum) recently filed by ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro, Gabriela Partylist Rep.
Arlene Brosas, at Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raoul Danniel Manuel. Senate should also
pass a version of this bill. These Filipino and Panitikan subjects will help broaden and
deepen the Filipinization of our education system. In these subjects, lessons and readings
on other Philippine languages and from literatures of other Philippine languages could
also be integrated. The restoration of Filipino and Panitikan would also swiftly lead to the
restoration of (bigger) Filipino/Philippine Studies Departments in every college and
university. Such departments would take the lead in the steady process of Filipinization
through the help of advocates in every other department. Such interdepartmental
cooperation is vital in the long-term success of Filipinization.
For “major subjects” (subjects taken related to one’s course/specialization) the Bilingual
Education Policy should apply, while enough training, incentives and official
encouragement should be also offered to instructors and professors who would like to
Filipinize the subject that they are teaching. Colleges and universities should also be
encouraged and given financial incentives to promote the enrollment of students in foreign
languages which are culturally and historically linked to the Philippines (Arabic and
Spanish, as mentioned in the Philippine Constitution). Considering our 21st century
context, schools must be also encouraged to offer electives in foreign languages such as
Bahasa, Mandarin, German, French, Russian, Korean, Portuguese, Nihonggo, Hindi and
other languages that would boost our position as an important voice of the Third World in
international affairs.
It goes without saying that for this plan to succeed, we will have to really pour
financial resources and political will to raise the over-all competency of our
teachers who are very dedicated and committed to achieving quality education.
should be deloading for services rendered beyond class hours; there should be
encouragement for teachers to carry on with further/graduate studies; there should
be remuneration and full support for teachers to participate in local and
international trainings, workshops, seminars, and conferences; there should be
paid vacations for teachers (I don’t mean just a summer break with pay, but
summer break with pay and extra money to go to a local or international destination
for leisurely broadening their perspectives and worldviews); discounts should also
be offered whenever teachers buy books, go to theaters or museums, and do other
things or buy products related to their professional development...
For all these steps to work, there are five minimum requisites: raise Philippine public
spending for education to at least 6% of the GDP; raise the research and development
(R&D) expenditure of the country to least 2% of the GDP; raise the salary of teachers and
reduce their workloads by exempting them from non-teaching tasks; resolve existing
backlogs in resources, facilities, and personnel; and engage all education sector
stakeholders in a democratic education agenda-building where the government and
policymakers would listen and consider what the real experts (the rank-and-file teachers,
of course) recommend. We can tread the path slowly or swiftly: the pace doesn’t
matter for as long as we walk the path together.
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Full-text available
Like many of its South East Asian neighbours, the Philippines is characterised by individual and collective multilingualism, being home to over 180 individual languages (Lewis, Simons, & Fennig, 2013, p. 25). Unlike its neighbours, however, the Philippines is the first nation in the region to legislate and implement Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTB MLE) nationally. As such, the Philippines represents a valuable example for other countries as they attempt to develop language-in-education policy and put it into practice. Employing grounded theory case study methodology, this dissertation examines Filipino MTB MLE policies and their implementation in Mindanao, one of the most remote and linguistically diverse regions of the country. Through policy analysis and semi-structured interviews with key informants, this study presents findings for three key research questions which evolved through the study.
Full-text available
This paper discusses the possibility of a Philippine Studies “community” (or interconnected “communities”) of researchers working within “communication communities”. From a general overview, an examination will be made regarding the application of this concept with respect to issues of institutionalization, discourse, research, publication, circulation, language, translation, philosophy, and the various approaches to Philippines Studies. Special emphasis will be given to the key role of strengthening the various forms of internal interconnection between individuals and groups of researchers within Philippine Studies towards developing what may be called an “autonomous Philippine Studies”.
The implementation of the Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) policy in the Philippine basic education has gained traction among educators. Skepticism as to its effectiveness is evident especially in mathematics class where English is the universally recognised medium. This study explored how elementary teachers from a rural school in the Philippines appropriate the MTB-MLE policy in a mathematics classroom. Their attitudes toward the policy and the challenges met in the implementation were examined. An instrumental case study was conducted with documentary analysis, non-participant observation, in-depth interview, and focus group discussion as methods of data collection. Five Grades 1–3 teachers served as participants. Results showed that teachers do not fully observe the policy. They code-switch during discussion and do not religiously use the prescribed teaching guide. Fidelity to the policy is only apparent in the presence of authority. Teachers generally have negative attitudes towards the policy which is due to their colonial thinking, perceived complexity, and non-utilitarian view of the local language. Mismatch in the students’ language and the language of instruction, lack of equivalent local terms for some mathematics terms, and haphazardly done teaching and learning materials are the challenges that impede teachers’ effective implementation of the policy.
Though attracting some attention since its implementation, only a few scholars have closely examined how the Philippines’ Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) policy gets enacted at the classroom level. This study critically examines how elementary teachers’ language ideologies and teaching practices changed since the country institutionalized said policy. Using ethnographic methods, the researcher collected the data over 14 weeks in a predominantly Cebuano-speaking public elementary school in Northern Mindanao. The findings reveal that the elementary teachers were initially antagonistic toward MTB-MLE, but their attitude gradually shifted as they realized the pedagogical and learning benefits of mother tongue instruction in their own context. The study also found that translanguaging is often deployed by both teachers and students in order to negotiate and resist language standardization and the idealization of Cebuano native speakers as a result of the implementation of MTB-MLE. Moreover, the English-only ideology has continued to challenge the legitimacy and value of MTB-MLE, as learning English is often invoked by some teachers as a means to participate in a globalized world. This paper concludes by arguing that engaging both preservice and in-service teachers not only in MTB-MLE trainings and workshops but also in ideological conversations on multilingual education is a necessary step toward reversing the inequalities and challenges of MTB-MLE in the Philippines.
San Diego is home to approximately 114,000 Filipinos, slightly more than half of the Filipino population in Los Angeles. The majority is bilingual in English and one of the many languages of the Philippines, principally Tagalog/Filipino, but the significant loss of the native language in the second generation indicates that numbers alone will not accomplish the goal of language maintenance. Efforts to reverse language shift at the individual, family, and community level are directly affected by the status of Tagalog and its speakers, and the extent of institutional support that the language enjoys. Its status has been eroded by colonialism and conflicting language policies both in the Philippines and in the USA, and institutional support is limited. Nevertheless, second generation children are enrolling in Filipino language classes in a few high schools and colleges, attempting to revitalize the language in their families. The results of personal interviews and questionnaires administered to students who are studying Filipino and some parents reveal not only that language classes have successfully taught second generation children the language and the respect norms of Filipino culture, they also have fostered greater family admiration for and involvement in the educational system. Moreover, the impact on inter-generational relationships in the family has been profound because family members who share Filipino are able to express their emotions completely and accurately. Because of the group and individual rewards of bilingualism, including greater academic success, the Filipino community is working to establish more educational opportunities to learn Tagalog in the hope of preserving the language despite the much greater status, power, demographic concentration, and institutional support that English enjoys.