Ilocano language, culture, literature

Friday, December 15, 2006

Labaw & Ilocano as Medium of Instruction

From "Gumil La Union" comes this great news about the Labaw Book Launch last Saturday, December 9, 2006, held at the Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University, San Fernando City, La Union:


We are so sorry for a foiled online chatting sana with you or teleconference with the other writers we have invited to participate on-line during our launching. The LCD that we used during the program was not compatible with our laptop, isu a saandakayo a nacontact.

Anyway, here are two good news during the launching: 1) The affair was attended by writers and Ilocano-speaking visitors from all over the Ilocos Region. 2) The provincial governor of La Union, represented by the mayor of the City of San Fernando, committed to order copies of LABAW book for distribution to ALL BARANGAY AND MUNICIPAL LIBRARIES of the province of La Union, including libraries of public schools (elementary and high school). The reason of the development-oriented local executive is to strengthen the awareness of the Ilokanos, especially the youth by making available anthologized works of the province's legendary writers (both the living and the dead), as well as veteran and promising writers.

As our simple way of recognizing your commendable contribution to the development of Iloko literature, we have reserved a copy of LABAW for you. How can we send it to you there? Or can we send it to one of your relatives here?

Thank you, and keep stirring the wheel of Iloko literature!

We are truly proud of your cause... We are equally proud of what you are doing to truly promote the development of Samtoy....


These are the six major players at the Labaw book launching event:

1. Gov. Victor F. Ortega of the province of La Union

2. Mayor Mary Jane C. Ortega of San Fernando City

3. GUMIL La Union President Djuna R. Alcantara

4. GUMIL La Union Writers/Members

5. Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University


By George, I think we have here 6 of the most important can-do elements of an activist movement that could breathe life to Section 7, Article XIV of the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines which provides, among other things:

"The regional languages are the auxiliary official languages in the regions and shall serve as auxiliary media of instruction therein."

Ilocano has to be used as the medium of instruction at least in grade school in the Ilocano-speaking regions of the country. Ditto with the other local languages in their respective regions.

There is overwhelming evidence from a wealth of studies out there, some of them undertaken under the aegis of UNESCO, indicating that the use of the mother tongue as the medium of instruction at least during the first few years of a child's education is the way to go to prepare our young school children to perform better in their education, including the learning of Filipino and English and their use as media of instruction as required by DepED Order No. 36, s. 2006, dated August 22, 2006.

About the only departure from DepED Order No. 36 that I would recommend at this point is to require the mother tongue as the sole medium of instruction from kindergarten to Grade III. After the third grade, the school child, hopefully, will have developed basic literacy skills in his/her mother tongue. Filipino and English should then be introduced as the other media of instruction in Grade IV and should continue as such as required by the DepED order. Ilocano should continue as the medium of instruction from the fourth to sixth grades, with a course concentration on Ilocano grammar and Iloco literature. This setup just happens to comply with the abovementioned constitutional mandate of 1987.

My strong belief on the use of the mother tongue as medium of instruction during the early stages of our children’s education is reinforced by Dr. Carol Benson's (from Stockholm University's Centre for Research on Bilingualism) compelling article, "The Importance of mother tongue-based schooling for educational quality," a commissioned study for EFA (Education For All) Global Monitoring Report 2005. The article is excerpted here as follows:

While there are many factors involved in delivering quality basic education, language is clearly the key to communication and understanding in the classroom. Many developing countries are characterized by individual as well as societal multilingualism, yet continue to allow a single foreign language to dominate the education sector. Instruction through a language that learners do not speak has been called “submersion” because it is analogous to holding learners under water without teaching them how to swim. Compounded by chronic difficulties such as low levels of teacher education, poorly designed, inappropriate curricula and lack of adequate school facilities, submersion makes both learning and teaching extremely difficult, particularly when the language of instruction is also foreign to the teacher.

Mother tongue-based bilingual programs use the learner’s first language, known as the L1, to teach beginning reading and writing skills along with academic content. The second or foreign language, known as the L2, should be taught systematically so that learners can gradually transfer skills from the familiar language to the unfamiliar one. Bilingual models and practices vary as do their results, but what they have in common is their use of the mother tongue at least in the early years so that students can acquire and develop literacy skills in addition to understanding and participating in the classroom.

Bilingual as opposed to monolingual schooling offers significant pedagogical advantages which have been reported consistently in the academic literature:

-- Use of a familiar language to teach beginning literacy facilitates an understanding of sound-symbol or meaning-symbol correspondence. Learning to read is most efficient when students know the language and can employ psycholinguistic guessing strategies; likewise, students can communicate through writing as soon as they understand the rules of the orthographic (or other written) system of their language. In contrast, submersion programs may succeed in teaching students to decode words in the L2, but it can take years before they discover meaning in what they are “reading.”

-- Since content area instruction is provided in the L1, the learning of new concepts is not postponed until children become competent in the L2. Unlike submersion teaching, which is often characterised by lecture and rote response, bilingual instruction allows teachers and students to interact naturally and negotiate meanings together, creating participatory learning environments that are conducive to cognitive as well as linguistic development.

-- Explicit teaching of the L2 beginning with oral skills allows students to learn the new language through communication rather than memorization. In submersion schooling teachers are often forced to translate or code-switch to convey meaning, making concept learning inefficient and even impeding language learning, while bilingual programs allow for systematic teaching of the L2.

-- Transfer of linguistic and cognitive skills is facilitated in bilingual programs. Once students have basic literacy skills in the L1 and communicative skills in the L2, they can begin reading and writing in the L2, efficiently transferring the literacy skills they have acquired in the familiar language. The pedagogical principles behind this positive transfer of skills are Cummins’ interdependence theory and the concept of common underlying proficiency, whereby the knowledge of language, literacy and concepts learned in the L1 can be accessed and used in the second language once oral L2 skills are developed, and no re-learning is required. Consistent with these principles, it is possible for children schooled only in the L2 to transfer their knowledge and skills to the L1, but the process is highly inefficient as well as being unnecessarily difficult.

-- Student learning can be accurately assessed in bilingual classrooms. When students can express themselves, teachers can diagnose what has been learned, what remains to be taught and which students need further assistance. In submersion schooling cognitive learning and language learning are confounded, making it difficult for teachers to determine whether students have difficulty understanding the concept itself, the language of instruction, or the language of the test.

-- The affective domain, involving confidence, self-esteem and identity, is strengthened by use of the L1, increasing motivation and initiative as well as creativity. L1 classrooms allow children to be themselves and develop their personalities as well as their intellects, unlike submersion classrooms where they are forced to sit silently or repeat mechanically, leading to frustration and ultimately repetition, failure and dropout.

Students become bilingual and biliterate. Bilingual programs encourage learners to understand, speak, read and write in more than one language. In contrast, submersion programs attempt to promote skills in a new language by eliminating them from a known language, which may actually limit learner competence in both.

All of these advantages are based on two assumptions: one, that basic human needs are being met so that schooling can take place; and two, that mother tongue-based bilingual schooling can be properly implemented.

I am aware that there are advocacies out there who want to see the use of the mother tongue (regional language) as medium of instruction in the regions. Dr. Jessie Grace Rubrico, a language expert, emailed me on September 4, 2006:

SOLFED (Saving Our Languages Through Federalism) has for its advocacy regionalizing the official languages. It is working on the revision of Section 7, Article 14 of the 1987 Constitution making the regional languages official languages for the region instead of "auxiliary"...

In fact, Catherine Young's article, "First Language First: Literacy Education for the Future in a Multilingual Philippine Society," provides a glimpse of the Regional Lingua Franca (RLF) experiemental program of the Department of Education requiring the use of Tagalog-based Filipino in Tagalog-speaking regions, Ilocano in Ilocano-speaking regions and Cebuano in Cebuano-speaking regions:

In school year 1999/2000 the then Department of Education, Culture and Sports Under-secretary Gonzalez began a programme of vernacular education on an experimental basis in grades 1 and 2 using the three major linguae francae – Tagalog-based Filipino in Tagalog speaking areas, Cebuano and Ilokano. These pilot programmes were conducted in 15 regions of the country (all regions except the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao [ARMM], due to peace and order problems in ARMM which hampered teacher training and potential programme evaluation). The Bureau of Elementary Education defined careful criteria for schools that would participate in the experimental project (Department of Education, Culture and Sports, 1999a) and the school officials were given the option to select the language of instruction...

Once again, the intent of the programme was to increase the proficiency of pupils in their use of Filipino and English (the national and international languages of education) by using the regional lingua franca as a ‘bridge’. The results were described as ‘encouraging’. When compared to control classes, the achievement in all subjects was slightly better and, additionally, observations suggested an increased vitality and enthusiasm in the classes.

The processes of conceptualisation were said to begin almost from the first few weeks of school rather than the traditional focus on rote learning and memorisation.

Former Education Secretary Gonzalez commented, ‘the programme will improve even more as the materials are subjected to critiquing and improvement’. He continued that rigorous controls were not applied to the pilot schools (he emphasised that this was not a formal experimental programme) but that the Regional Lingua Franca (RLF) programme was an attempt to demonstrate that:

the child is most comfortable learning…in his home language and begins to conceptualise rather than merely memorise formulae and codes as he does in the control classes when the language he is using is not familiar.

I believe we have enough here to allow to ferment till the next post. In the meantime, I would like to give credit to LABAW and the indefatigable visionary people behind it for giving us reason to rally our collective effort to have Ilocano as the medium of instruction at least at the grade school level in Ilocandia. I would also like to laud the Governor and the Mayor for providing the people of La Union, especially the young, the opportunity to experience our rich Iloco literature and for blazing the trail for others to follow.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Labaw: crème de la crème

We salute the movers and shakers of the Labaw anthology the historic book launching of which will be held at the Multi-Function Hall, Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University, San Fernando City, La Union, on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2006, under the aegis of GUMIL La Union.

An anthology of the crème de la crème of Ilocano literary works previously published in various Ilocano media, notably Bannawag and Sirmata, by writers hailing from the province of La Union during the period from 1956 to the present, the Labaw collection is primarily GUMIL La Union President Djuna R. Alcantara’s selections.

While it is understandable why an effort was made to translate Manuel Arguilla’s classic “How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife” (the translation is actually compellingly faithful), I would have much preferred the original in all its splendor (with a brief note as to why a work in English is being included).

The anthology is the right way to offset the understandable paucity of Ilocano literary works cited in school textbooks. This is the right approach to create reading material in Ilocano if we are to pursue the goal of using the mother tongue as the medium of instruction, preferably during the first few years of our children’s education to ensure better quality education as recommended by various studies conducted under UNICEF.

It is regrettable that the use of the mother tongue as medium of instruction is completely overlooked by DepEd Order No. 36, s. 2006, dated August 22, 2006, which provides:

Pursuant to the provisions of Executive Order No. 210, the following rules and regulations are issued for the effective implementation of the policies established therein, and in reiteration of increased time allotment for the use of English for classroom instruction, as stipulated in previous implementing guidelines:

a. English shall be taught as a second language starting with Grade I;

b. As provided for in the 2002 Basic Education Curriculum, English shall be used as the medium of instruction for English, Mathematics and Science and Health starting Grade III; and

c. The English language shall be used as the primary medium of instruction in all public and private schools in the secondary level, including those established as laboratory and/or experimental schools, and vocational/technical institutions. As the primary medium of instruction, the percentage of time allotment for learning areas conducted in the English language should not be less than 70% of the total time allotment for all learning areas in all year levels.

At the secondary level, here's how the 70% allocated to English as the medium of instruction per week from first year to fourth year: English--300 minutes, Science--360, Mathematics--300 minutes, Technology & Livelihood Education--240 minutes, Music, Arts, P.E. & Health--240 minutes. For the fourth year, an additional 50 minutes per week is allocated to Citizenship Advancement Training. The remaining 30% is allocated to the use of Filipino as medium of instruction in the following learning areas: Filipino--240 minutes,, Araling Panlipunan--240 minutes, and Edukasyon sa Pagpapahalaga--120 minutes for first and second years and 180 minutes for third and fourth years. There's absolutely nothing allocated for the use of Ilocano, or Cebuano, or Pangasinense, or any of the other local languages as the medium of instruction.

The Department Order is unclear about the use of the mother tongue or regional language in grade school

I personally believe that it’s atrocious to expect a student whose mother tongue is not Tagalog to start school, basically forced to learn ("immerse" in) two foreign languages (English and Filipino) to survive in school. The system is completely tilted in favor of those whose mother tongue is Tagalog who understandably can transition into Filipino with no problem.

That’s why we need Labaw and more of it. That’s why we need to expand the corpus in which Ilocano is used. That’s why we should have anthologies of representative Ilocano literary works--the crème de la crème--from the entire country and over the entire period of time since they started getting recorded or published. We need to bring out the good from the past to the present and make them more easily accessible, instead of locking them in the vaults of Bannawag or any other media. The technology is there to make them available—either for free or for a fee—on the Internet.

Without a comprehensive body of work in Ilocano, it simply is more difficult to push for the use of Ilocano as the medium of instruction even only at the grade school level—and yet we are told that’s the way to go for our children's early learning stages for them to have a quality education.