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English in private schools

Parents of elementary school students should realize that there is a big difference between learning a language and using a language as medium of instruction.

Go to any bookstore and browse the section labeled “Languages” (or something like that). You will notice many books on how to learn Mandarin, French, German, Spanish, Persian, and so on. All these books are in the English language. That is proof that you can learn a language while using a different language as medium of learning. One way of teaching a language, therefore, is to use another language as medium of instruction. Let us call this the First Way.

Think of how Americans learn all kinds of languages. Their medium of instruction is English, but they learn French, German, and so on. The medium of instruction in China is Chinese, but more than half a billion of them have learned English without changing their medium of instruction. Europeans are famous for learning many languages, but Germany uses German as its medium of instruction, France uses French, England uses English, and so on.

Another way of learning a language is by going to a place where the language is the only one spoken. Many OFWs learn the language of the country where they work, because everybody around them uses that language. Another way of learning a language, therefore, is to immerse oneself in the language without using another language. In pedagogical terms, we could use the language itself that we are learning as the medium of instruction. Let us call this the Second Way.

In the Philippines, where not everybody that children meet in their lives speaks English, the conditions necessary for the Second Way do not exist. There is no place in the Philippines (except inside the embassies of English-speaking countries, perhaps) where English is the only language spoken. Even in foreign households, the domestic helpers and drivers do not speak in English all the time. The playmates of the children most likely do not. Most shows on non-cable television do not use English. In short, there is no place in the Philippines that is comparable to a foreign country where one cannot hear any language other than the local one.

It is theoretically and practically correct, therefore, to use the First Way.

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There are many reasons English should not be used as the medium of instruction in elementary school anyway, aside from the Enhanced Basic Education Law and theories of language learning. We have used English as the medium of instruction for more than a hundred years now in teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic, but look where we are in those areas. We always score low in international tests. How can we say that English is effective in teaching those subjects when we have used it for a hundred years and we have not improved?

On the other hand, we do need English. When students manage to get through high school and particularly if they finish college, they will undoubtedly have to use English to talk to other people, to keep up with research in their areas of expertise, and to do oral or written reports. English, moreover, is the major language of the Internet.

Are these two realities not contradictory? Can they be reconciled?

Even at the risk of being called elitist, I will not talk about public schools. Allow me to focus only on private schools.

In the case of private schools, there is a way to use both the First Way and the Second Way. It is not an either-or situation, but a both-and.

Inside the classroom, private schools have no choice. They have to use the First Way. That is required by the law. The law may be harsh, but it is the law. It is illegal not to use the Mother Tongue to teach inside the classroom.

Outside the classroom, however, is a different story.

The First Way has to be used inside the classroom. The Second Way, however, can and should be used outside the classroom, if schools want parents to get their money’s worth.

There are many activities that happen on campus but outside the classroom. For example, the morning ceremonies. In many schools, this usually includes prayers, aside from announcements. The entire morning ceremony (except, of course, for the national anthem) should be in English.

Students are asked regularly to see their teachers or the administrators outside the classroom. During these occasions, only English should be used. This will give students a chance to listen to correct English. (I assume, of course, that all teachers and administrators speak in grammatical and properly pronounced English. If this is not the case, forget about students learning English at all. One can only learn a language properly if there are good language users around.)

Students are asked to do a lot of projects outside the classroom. If these projects are co-curricular or extra-curricular (that means, not homework), then there is no legal requirement to use the Mother Tongue. English may and should be used during the implementation of these projects.

The idea, therefore, is to use the Second Way outside the classroom, by providing an English-language environment, no matter how artificial. (To be continued)

Read Part 1 here

Read Part 2 here

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