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Rejoinder to Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr.: YES to Reviewing K to 12! No to English as SOLE Medium of Instruction!

Today is Tanggol Wika’s 8th founding anniversary but there is little to celebrate as the incoming president has already made clear what his administration’s language policy would be.

Allow us to give a short commentary on Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s statement yesterday which clearly shows how that he favors English as the medium of instruction.

This is written in English because speakers of Filipino and other Philippine languages are typically intelligent enough to know what we’re talking about. It is a great irony in our country that, in many instances, our purportedly English-speaking “leaders” lack even a basic understanding of our social realities and hence, are unfortunately incompetent in discussing (more so, shaping) relevant national policies. We are reminded of the rant of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) character against a traitorous landlord in the movie “The Wind That Shakes The Barley”: “All your learning, and you still don’t understand.”

Hoping that if we relay the message in English, our leaders will understand our point, here it is.

We have transcribed the relevant snippet from a media interview which Manila Bulletin’s YouTube page posted yesterday (20 June 2022):

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…”

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?…”

To be fair, reviewing K to 12 is long overdue.

Section 13 of Republic Act No. 10533 (the K to 12 Law) established a “Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Enhanced Basic Educational Program (K to 12 Program)”tasked “to oversee, monitor and evaluate” K to 12’s implementation. A cursory online search did not yield any public comprehensive report released by this committee as of this writing.

Section 14 of the K to 12 Law also requires DepEd to conduct a “mandatory evaluation and review” of the said program “in terms of closing the following current shortages: (a) teachers; (b) classrooms; (c) textbooks; (d) seats; (e) toilets; and (f) other shortages that should be addressed.” The same provision requires DepEd to include the following items :”n this midterm report”: “(a) participation rate; (b) retention rate; (c) National Achievement Test results; (d) completion rate; (e) teachers’ welfare and training profiles; (f) adequacy of funding requirements; and (g) other learning facilities including, but not limited to, computer and science laboratories, libraries and library hubs, and sports, music and arts.” Again, no public document is available on this as of this writing, though there are reports about DepEd’s plan for a curriculum review as early as 2021.

To help produce a research “assessing the effectiveness of K to 12 instruction by looking at empirical data from the aforementioned standardized tests which the DepEd regularly administers,” we in fact filed a Freedom of Information (FOI) request covering “National Achievement Test, Basic Education Exit Assessment, and National Career Assessment Examination Results (all levels) for every year available (2010-2021)” on May 25, 2022 but DepEd has not yet provided the data that we are requesting.

Thus, to be fair, Marcos’ order for a K to 12 review is very much welcome.

At this point, allow us to enumerate some practical insights to inform whatever K to 12 review that the national government intends to conduct:

  1. Any K to 12 review will have to be conducted in a bottom-up, rather than top-down approach. Such review will have to engage stakeholders/all sectors affected by educational policy (especially teachers, students, and parents), in a democratic, deliberative, and consensus-building manner. Another top-down review won’t suffice and will even worsen things.
  2. Any change in the curriculum’s content is useless and won’t change anything if the government fails to resolve existing backlogs in teaching personnel, instructional materials (including textbooks, educational gadgets, functioning learning management system, reliable internet infrastructure, to name a few), and facilities (classrooms, laboratories, libraries, sanitation facilities etc.).
  3. Any change in the curriculum’s content is useless and won’t change anything if the government carries on with the illogical policy of using English as the sole medium of instruction for Science, Math and other related fields in basic education. We are all 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 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.” Other than 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.
  4. Instantly raise the salaries of our public school teachers. No explanation is needed in a country where the incoming Department of Finance secretary earned 41.81 million in salaries and allowances in 2021 – that’s equivalent to a monthly income of 3.48 million pesos – while failing to tame inflation and/or contributing anything significant to wipe out poverty in the Philippines. If we can pay redundant bureaucrats millions of pesos monthly, we can certainly pay our hardworking public school teachers with salaries that would help them reach a (more) comfortable life for themselves and their families.
  5. Restore Philippine History as a mandatory subject in junior high school. No explanation is needed. That there are some people who think it is not needed is enough reason to restore it again.
  6. Restore Filipino, Panitikan/Literature, and Philippine Government & Constitution subjects as mandatory subjects in college/higher education. Again, no explanation needed. Many of our legislators, bureaucrats, and top officials can’t even write a proper paragraph in Filipino (not to mention produce their original thoughts extemporaneously in the same language). Philippine Government & Constitution subject is also badly needed when even the president is unaware that the country’s Constitution requires the government to take measures to ensure that Filipino becomes a functioning language of official instruction and communication (language of schools and the whole government). Our students have a good chance of becoming more “nationalistic” or “patriotic” too if we restore Filipino, Panitikan/Literature, and Philippine Government & Constitution subjects. These subjects are the living, breathing expressions of our collective consciousness, pride, and identity.
  7. Reduce the salaries and allowances of top officials and bureaucrats to raise additional funds to resolve existing backlogs in the Philippine education sector.
  8. Hire a DepEd secretary among the ranks of public school teachers or national leaders of teachers’ organizations. Anything short of this will not be good enough. We have had enough of so-called ivory tower experts and at the same time, let’s admit that the current plight of our education system can’t be effectively resolved by a non-expert. Only an expert with actual grassroots, classroom teaching experience (preferably, long years of experience) is competent in dealing with our education sector’s current problems.
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