13 April 2007

Andrew Gonzalez on Language

Since I am editing two of the late Brother Andrew Gonzalez’s unpublished books, as well as writing the history of De La Salle University while he was its president, I have become even more familiar with his work than I was when we were regularly dining out.

Some articles by the former Philippine Education Secretary on language planning are relevant today, when several linguists, language teachers, educators, and parents are working on a legal way to challenge the Department of Education’s misguided and unlawful drive to increase the number of hours English is used as a medium of instruction in our public schools.

One of the objections against Filipino as a medium of instruction is its alleged inability to handle highly technical subjects. Among linguists, this is known as the issue of intellectualization (spelled intellectualisation in British English). In a 2002 issue of the British journal Current Issues in Language Planning, Gonzalez had an article entitled “Language Planning and Intellectualisation.” The full article is available on the journal’s website (multilingual-matters.net).

Here is the abstract or summary of the article: “The development of the national language of the Philippines is sketched from the initial selection of Tagalog to its standardisation and propagation as Wikang Pambansa (national language), and its renaming as Pilipino, subsequently Filipino.

“The last phase of language development is the phase of cultivation which has many aspects. Usually the national language is cultivated as a language of imaginative literature, the mass media, a medium of instruction in the basic educational system, as the language of governance, and as a language of academic discourse.

“The last phase can be considered as a process of modernisation (through its use to thematise current realities) and as a process of intellectualisation (as a medium of oral and written academic discourse).

“The intellectualisation phase consists not only of lexical expansion (through modern terminologies for the disciplines) but likewise of stylistic differentiation (using syntactic devices for different types of prose discourse). Intellectualisation is examined as process and product and according to its inner (psychological) and outer (sociological) dimensions.

“Some theoretical insights from the Philippine experience are discussed; the intellectualisation of Filipino is unprecedented because it is an ongoing process that can be documented in detail through the corpus being generated and should enrich the scholarly literature on this topic.”

There was no doubt in the mind of Gonzalez that Filipino was well on its way to becoming a fully intellectualized language, were it not for miseducated government officials eager to transform Filipinos from being highly intelligent thinkers to mere telephone operators.

Gonzalez tried to practice what he preached while he was Education Secretary. He changed the medium of instruction of the first three grades to vernacular or regional languages and started the process to change the medium of instruction to conform to what the Constitution mandates, namely, Filipino as the main language of instruction for all subjects at all grade levels, with the other vernacular languages as auxiliary or second languages of instruction and English only as a third or minor language of instruction.

Why did he do that? The answer can be found in another article available on the Web.

In a 2004 conference of the Summer Institute of Linguistics and UNESCO held in Thailand, Gonzalez read a paper on “Language Planning in Multilingual Countries: The Case of the Philippines” (sil.org/asia). In that paper, the world-renowned linguist explained why, based on his experience as Education Secretary and on his expertise as a language scholar, Filipinos were being badly educated due to the use of English as a medium of instruction.

He said, “For [the Filipino] language to be cultivated intellectually, it must be used and not just studied. If school policy makers choose not to use the national language in certain academic domains, the language will not be cultivated for higher cognitive activities in that field of specialization. It is, of course, easier to reach a stage of critical thinking in one’s native language or mother tongue and it takes special tutoring and practice to cultivate a second language for purposes of higher order thinking. In the Philippines, because of the lack of financial resources, the national language has not been sufficiently developed as a language of intellectual discourse. English competence, once attained, becomes a highly effective tool of intellectual discourse and learning of the world’s knowledge. However, the number of those in the system who reach such an advanced stage in a second language such as English is bound to be small and elitist.

“The advice based on investigations and experience of literacy experts is that the best way to teach a second language is by enabling the students to master the first language to the point of critical thinking; these skills can then be transferred to the second language. In spite of this evidence, Philippine decision makers and parents continue to insist on English as early as possible, even though that hinders children’s ability to think critically in the mother tongue or at least in the national language which is structurally similar to the mother tongue. This partially explains the problems of language and quality in Philippine education today.

“In brief, language planning presumes rationality on the part of the language planners in drafting action plans, but these action plans likewise presume rationality on the part of the political decision-makers and would-be beneficiaries (parents and their children) of these rational policies. Unfortunately, in a world not quite fully rational, rational means to realize plans do not always obtain and results are often mixed, which they are in the Philippines!”

This summer break is a good time for DepEd officials to think seriously about acting according to what they know. Since all educational research says that students learn best in their home language and that learning a second language is much easier once the first language is mastered, why does DepEd insist on using English as a medium of instruction?

With English as the medium of instruction, children learn neither English nor the various subject areas. If Filipino were the medium of instruction, children would learn English much more quickly and more effectively.

Since the current Education Secretary refuses to listen to educators, Gonzalez must be turning in his grave or more precisely (since he was cremated, his ashes divided and buried in two places), glowing.  (First published in The Philippine Star, 12 April 2007)

02 April 2007

Nikki Coseteng on Education

“I’ve learned more about education in the past two months that I’ve been running the Diliman Preparatory School than I learned in all those years of studying in school and working in government,” said senatorial candidate Anna Dominique “Nikki” Coseteng to me in an exclusive interview last February [2007].

Coseteng has been president of Diliman Preparatory School only since Dec. 4, 2006. The school has more than 3,000 students, from preparatory to high school, and even offers two years of post-secondary education.

Except for its being hard to get to from Commonwealth Avenue due to MMDA’s pink roadblocks, the school is one of the country’s best. It became famous some years ago when it became one of the first schools to voluntarily license its computer software in compliance with the Intellectual Property Code.

When people commend her for the school’s being “world-class,” Coseteng immediately retorts, “It’s Philippine-standard. Why is it that, when things are in order, we say it is world-class? Does it mean that, when things are in disarray, that is Philippine-standard?”

Coseteng has certainly put things in order in the school. When I visited the school, I could not help but notice how clean it was. How does she do it? I learned the trick from Coseteng herself. I saw her go up to a group of students and point to the litter around them. In effect, she stares down students, making them feel guilty for not caring for their environment. Students themselves prevent other students from littering, to avoid being embarrassed and having to clean up other people’s junk. The need for paid janitors is minimized.

What has Coseteng learned from running a school? She learned that there are three areas that need immediate attention.

First, she put in place a training program for teachers this summer, to prepare them for next schoolyear. She hopes to introduce reforms in the way teachers teach mathematics, for example. Instead of drawing straight lines, curved lines, circles, squares, and triangles on the blackboard, teachers will use, starting June, actual cultural objects that students can appreciate. For example, she wants teachers to use a photograph of Kennon Road or a print of Van Gogh to illustrate curved lines, a picture of the pyramids to teach triangles, and a Mindanao weave to show what a square or rectangle looks like. In technical terms (which she never uses), what she wants to do is to do Content-Based Mathematics.

Although she admits to not being a math wiz, Coseteng understands the importance of math in the curriculum. In fact, she has ordered the brightest pupils in each grade or year level to be placed in a special section, so that they do not get bored.

“In each class,” says Coseteng, “there are Ferraris, Volkswagens, and carretelas. Everyone is a Ferrari, but in a different field. We have to develop the Ferraris in their particular fields.” In her school, students are streamed according to their aptitude and ability. Even without using the buzz phrases “multiple intelligences” and “homogeneous grouping,” Coseteng has put in place a system that does not discriminate against the verbally-challenged.

Second, Coseteng has moved to address the lack of analytical thinking in classrooms, by discouraging low-level questioning and exercises. For example, instead of a teacher asking pupils to describe what they see in a photograph, teachers now ask what is not shown in the photograph or what is just outside the borders of the photograph. Instead of pupils merely coloring dress outlines in books, teachers now tell pupils, “Here is a child. Draw her (or his) clothes.” The pupils are thus forced to use their imagination and to think outside the box.

Third, Coseteng has paid particular attention to the textbooks used in the school. She discovered problems with the textbooks that are much more serious than mere errors in facts or grammar. One textbook exercise, for example, says: “My brother is a he. My sister is a she. If he becomes a she and she becomes a he, it is funny.”

“We are teaching kids to be liars, hypocrites, and bigots,” Coseteng complains, “by teaching them to discriminate against gays, for example.”

Coseteng points to a textbook that says that the Crusades brought civilization to the believers in Islam. “What about the pillage?” she asks, incensed by the pro-Christian bias of textbooks.

Believing that schoolchildren have the right to an aesthetically pleasant and educationally-sound campus, Coseteng has also introduced physical innovations in her school. She brought the grade school blackboards down to the level of the students, instead of the usual level convenient to teachers. To save costs of airconditioning and blinds, she asked students to paint their own classroom windows to keep out the sun. She plans to have murals done along the walls of what she calls “Learning Corridors,” with information that all literate citizens are expected to know. Again, without using the buzz phrases “core knowledge” or “cultural literacy,” she is working towards a knowledge-based campus.

What Coseteng is advocating and has implemented in her own school is what education theorists would call “Creative Reading” or “Culture-Based Teaching.” To her credit, the jargon is noticeably absent from Coseteng’s vocabulary. What she is passionate about as far as education is concerned comes from watching schoolchildren in other schools transforming from creative individuals to miseducated herd members. In her school, she wants children to remain creative.

About language, her stand is clear and realistic: all Filipinos, she says, should be articulate in both Filipino and English. If she is reelected to the Senate, we can be assured that she will focus on student welfare and not yield to the recruitment demands of a small portion of the business community. (First published in The Philippine Star, 8 March 2007)